My church, Northminster Baptist, gathered to worship yesterday. If not in body, then in spirit. In our sanctuary, which can seat about 500, nine were present to lead worship – three pastors, an organist, a lay reader, a violinist, a choir director, a soloist and a technician. Beyond that, the sanctuary was almost empty. And yet….
While the pastors, musicians and lay reader continued to experience the disorienting sensation of preaching, reading, playing and singing to an empty room, 422 devices tuned in to watch the stream. Since five of us watched on one device at our house, that 422 represents many more worshippers from around the state and across the country (17 states Sunday). And if other worshippers are like us, when it is time to do so they stand and sing, bow and pray, and read responsively. And while the pastors may not hear it, they perhaps may feel it when we all reply, “And also with you.”
Our church follows the lectionary. We know by doing so we are connected with churches across the globe which are reading the same passages on any given Sunday. The lectionary passages our worship leaders read yesterday were from Ezekial, Romans and John’s gospel, with a responsive reading adapted from the Psalms.
While we didn’t have one yesterday, when we have a baptism in our church the pastor always references the countless millions of baptized persons over the centuries to whom the newest member has just connected.
When our church worships via livestream we are separated clearly by space – few of us are in the same room. But we are also separated by time. The stream has a 10-15 second lag, so what those in the sanctuary experience in real time, those of us on our computers, phones and tablets experience 10-15 seconds later. If we can worship as a community of faith separated by space and time, it is simply a matter of degree, a leap of faith, if you will, to realize we are the community of faith worshipping together across space and time.
I can’t help but think that good will come of this. Which is not to diminish the suffering and loss of those around us, suffering and loss that may touch some of us personally before it’s all said and done. But this forced time of slowing down may help us appreciate what we have and too often take for granted. And it should connect us with all those who have gone before across the centuries, who have lived through their own diasporas, exiles and times of trial.
Time and space. Space and time. The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Kelley Williams Jr. is a Northsider.