On Saturday evening the snow started to fall heavily and the wind began to howl. The forecast for the morning looked dire as a blizzard approached. Consulting with our leaders here at St. Paul we decided to cancel worship Sunday morning – which is never a decision to take lightly as it is our primary time to gather together as a community.
Sunday morning however, something extraordinary happened. Our congregation along with so many others in New England were invited to join in online worship led by Sanctuary Church; an ELCA/UMC congregation in Marshfield, MA. The leaders, Mark Huber (a pastor) and his wife Sarah Huber (an Associate in Ministry) put together a worship service from their living room and called it “Couch Church.” Unlike so many of the religious programs one can find on television, this worship service was both interactive and participatory. Through a Facebook event page, worshipers were invited to download the lyrics to the songs we would sing together from their church homepage. (We mirrored them on our television screen though my iPhone and Apple TV while we used my laptop to interact in worship.) At the beginning of our time together we were encouraged to post a picture of ourselves and say hello to others. (Personally, I thought this was the best part of the morning as the shared images bring us together into a community.) There was also an opportunity to read the scripture online and follow along during the message. A thread started at the beginning of the prayer time on the Facebook event page invited participants to list their joys and concerns as we prayed aloud and music played in the background. When worship concluded we were also invited to linger online and interact with one another – as sort of an “at-home coffee hour” which was also brought people together. Overall I would say the experience was a success, and was a wonderful way to share our faith together on a snowed-in Sunday morning that would have gone without corporate worship otherwise. As a participant, I was grateful for the opportunity and my perception was that the hundreds of others that also joined-in felt the same way.
Thank you Mark and Sarah! Great job.After it was over I wondered if this could be sustained as an ongoing opportunity. Perhaps leadership could be shared by multiple congregations/locations as to not burden one community’s time, leaders and resources, as the idea of it was really great and had me longing for more.At the same time I do not believe that anything can replace the community experience of physically being together. The idea of sharing the same space, of sharing the peace with real handshakes or hugs and sharing the Lord’s Supper together in person cannot be done fully (at least not yet) in a digital way. I’m not ready to suggest that we ditch our in-house gatherings of Word and Sacrament because we could just get it online somewhere else. However, “Couch Church” (or something like it) could present new opportunities for outreach and connections that might not otherwise be made. For example, it could be a great way for visitors who are little shy to see what this “Christian thing” is all about. It could be a great way for those who are traveling or are homebound to stay connected. It could also be a place of healing, for those who have left the church, who still long for some kind of a connection or spiritual expression, but have real difficulty crossing the threshold back inside. There is something meaningful to explore here as we consider doing church in a whole new way in the 21st-century.It must also be said that “church” is more than worship. There is community-building and community-outreach, friendships formed and deepened, discernment and planning that takes place, interactive learning of what it means to follow Jesus together in the here and now that longs for physicality. The digital community in and of itself cannot replicate those relationships and faith expressed in real time and space. Yet an opportunity like “Couch Church” can open an otherwise perceived shut door. It can keep the connection and conversation going among the diaspora and distractions that fill 21st-century life. New community can form where there was none before. Connections can happen where there is isolation. Comfort, forgiveness and peace can be shared where there is anxiety, guilt and uncertainty. Something like “Couch Church” can remind us to look beyond ourselves even when all other indicators suggest we are snowed-in and out of touch.Now that I am dugout, I’m looking forward to getting back to church in person. I miss my people. There are relationships around my neighborhood to foster and develop; and while I’m inside, I’m missing out on them too. But I’m also looking forward to the next time when I can be part of the church while on my couch, knowing that God also meets us there: pajamas, coffee mug and all.PGS—-“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)Sanctuary Church:www.sanctuarymarshfield.orgFrom the Boston Globe:http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/02/16/churches-get-creative-offer-sunday-services/aOQRepUxbtGtITaP53KdZN/story.html#comments