We thought we would be open by Easter! When we shut down for the pandemic, we thought we’d be open again before long. We thought that live streaming worship was a temporary measure at best. Virtual meetings were useful, but really they were a stop gap, and when things got back to “normal,” they would still be useful but in person would be preferable. That was more that than two years ago.
Throughout that time we adapted, we learnt and we had conversations—about what it means to be a community, about what we need to remember as we move into an endemic stage of COVID-19, about our understanding of the Eucharist, and about online worship. Eileen Scully, Director of the Faith Worship and Ministry Department of the General Synod (Anglican Church of Canada) edited a book entitled “Eucharistic Practice & Sacramental Theology in Pandemic Times.” It compiles reflections by Canadian Anglicans on worship and the Eucharist.
At the beginning, being online was the only means by which we were able to worship together. Gradually, as we were allowed to gather together with restrictions, some congregations still provided a separate online form of worship while others live streamed their regular worship service. Now, with no restrictions, the conversation about online worship continues with a slightly different focus. Some objections I’ve heard to continuing to offer live streaming and online worship: people won’t return to the building when they can sit in the comfort of their own home in their pyjamas and “attend church;” watching is not the same as gathering in community; those who stay home and watch may not still contribute financially to the community—the “if people don’t come, they don’t bring their envelopes” argument.
There is truth in these objections. But there’s more to it. People who are housebound are now able to participate, albeit virtually, in weekly worship; those who are immuno-compromised and afraid of gathering, particularly in these early stages, have an option. There are people who tune in to online worship who would not normally attend in person worship. Some are now able to keep in touch with other worshipping congregations across the continent—more than one person has mentioned that they watch any number of worship services on a Sunday. In a sense, it enlarges what we mean by community—there is the community gathered and there is also the wider community that is held together by the connection we have as members of the body of Christ, a connection that is strengthened by being able to access online worship.
I believe that some form of online worship is here to say. I’ll give the last word to Richard Leggett, a priest in the diocese of New Westminster, who contributed to the book edited by Eileen Scully with an article, “Virtual is real: Some preliminary reflections on Eucharistic worship in a pandemic.” He says this “Online worship is real. Online worship is personal. Online worship is a way that people can be nurtured into genuine Christian discipleship.”