I haven’t attended church since Sunday, March 15, 2020.
I haven’t attended church in person since March 15.
On April 2, 2020, the governor of Georgia issued a statewide shelter-in-place order to stunt the spread of Covid-19. Like others across the United States, my church quickly pivoted to the internet. Week after week, month after month, I rose on Sunday mornings—after sleeping in—to watch worship and the accompanying teaching through Samsung pixels. The church resumed in-person services sometime in September 2020, but I decided to cling to Christ from my couch.
Now the internal tension to return is palpable.
On second thought, it’s actually not.
I love the church. I remember memorizing verses from the holy scriptures for Little Debbie treats as a kid; walking alongside men three and four times my age as a teenage usher to distribute the Communion elements; and teaching a Wednesday night discipleship class about theology and film in college (in a pentecostal church no less). Somewhere along this upward trajectory, sadly, the rising fire subsided to warm embers. I’m still trying to pinpoint the descent, though I suspect that my parents’ divorce and visiting my alcoholic father in the years that followed played a substantial role in the decline.
In hindsight, I’ve never really thought of myself as an extrovert, but it seems clear that I was given to serving people with gusto before 2001. After that, year by year, I slowly lurched back into my pensive self. Incidentally, my wife recently told me that she believes churches are made for extroverts. Pastors (usually extroverts) typically thrive as ministers with effective people skills. Likewise, extrovert parishioners are quick to sign up for the next semester of small groups and volunteer opportunities that open. Introverts like us still have a tough time with the social component of church. We oblige, begrudgingly at times.
A few years ago, I decided to commit to serving again by joining the nursery. I love newborns, though I ended up in the walkers classroom. Obviously those kids are precious too. I also decided to join the technology and production side of things, because, unsurprisingly, interacting with one-year-old kids every Sunday is exhausting. Now I wonder if the older guy I worked with in the nursery returned to in-person services as I continue to watch the teaching on a television.
After the Centers for Disease Control started advocating for masks last year, I quickly obliged since it’s a tangible way I can exhibit kindness to others. I decided early that keeping my spittle and my snot inside my body was (and is) an act of service towards others. In fact, I might have unknowingly kept someone from being infected. I remember a tweet last year about someone calling people who wear masks “sheep.” Fair enough. Sheep are prone to wander, which is why I reside in the field of the Good Shepherd.
Presently, mask mandates vary greatly from church to church and state to state as in-person churches resume. Personally, I affirm that masks should be a requirement at all churches upon entry, and I’d like to believe that’s not a partisan statement; it’s intended to articulate my angst and overwhelming sorrow as the Covid-19 death toll rises towards 400,000.
In addition to masks, I’m still trying to comprehend the numerous “Jesus Saves” signs that appeared at the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6. But I was unsurprised that people attempted to overturn a free and fair election through the use of violent force after four years of listening to a leader that disregarded morality and science and character and decency. Nationalism in the name of God.
“We do not worship flesh and blood. We do not place our faith in mortals. We are the church of the living God. We can’t sanctify idolatry by labeling a leader our Cyrus. We need no Cyrus. We have a king. His name is Jesus,” tweeted author and preacher Beth Moore back in December. An AP VoteCast survey says that 81% of white evangelicals voted for the incumbent president in the 2020 election. Based on the continuing fallout of the January 6 horror, I’m still attempting to wrestle down the gravity of that figure and what it says about the church.
‘Til Kingdom Come
As for when I will return to church, I’m not sure what to do at this moment other than pray for clarity and an accompanying peace about the decision. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask [pray to] God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him,” writes James. Honestly, the return to church will likely occur after I receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Whether that’s four weeks or four months from now, I will feel more at ease after being stuck. It’s a matter of safety for me, my wife, and young children.
I further recognize that one day I will once again worship in-person at church with people that I have fiercely sharp disagreements with concerning the pandemic and masks and racism and culture and politics. I doubt those subjects are likely to come up in casual conversations, but I’m deeply bent on pursuing honesty in all things in 2021. Honesty with God. Honesty with others. Honesty with myself. And somehow, I must—I must, dear reader—remember that we (you, me, and the folks at my church and churches the world over) are all reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. One day we will all inevitably gather together to bend a knee before him when his kingdom arrives and the sandcastle kingdoms of man collapse as holy waves of a radiant, glorious heaven sweep across the shore of his bride, the church.
Cover image by Rob Curran.