Jean Morgan, Parishioner
We may be locked-down but we still come together for worship and that is a tremendous blessing, says Jean Morgan, a parishioner at St Michael’s Church, Aberystwyth
The first digital Sunday service before lockdown was fully implemented came from our church building, with the various people participating in the service being based in the building itself. That was lovely, and I enjoyed it. I remember we had technical issues, and there were comments about it - mainly favourable - but we got there in the end. Because I am deaf, I have to say that I appreciated being able to see the people who were talking or singing up close.
Once lockdown proper began, things changed entirely as we were no longer in the church building. That was a big adjustment for me and took some getting used to. But it did emphasise to me that "church" is not the building. "Church" is the community that worships together. When I watch the service on Sundays now, I tend to watch on Facebook as it goes live so that I have the experience of joining with others who are saying hello as they come in, and we can exchange comments with one another. That certainly helps me have the feeling of fellowship with others and I have valued that. I know that other folk watch at their convenience on YouTube and that also is useful, especially if you want to go back and listen to something again or sing the song again!
Pictured: Jean Morgan
What have I enjoyed most about virtual church? I like the immediacy of it. I - who am always late - can go to church in my pyjamas; I can sit in comfort in a warm room; and sing as loudly and off-key as I like and it won't bother anyone; and I can nip out mid-service to refill my cup of tea. I have also really enjoyed that, as the weeks have gone by, the services have changed. You don't know which vicar will be preaching today, or who is doing the readings. I enjoy seeing faces I've not seen since lockdown began, and some faces that I don't know, as the services are being contributed to from across the LMA, not just St Michael's. The services zing, with shorter sermons in more than one part (sorry, vicars!), readings and prayers being done from people's homes, different styles of music and worship. There have been surprises, and challenges, and unexpected blessings in the live-streaming of the services. When we had Holy Communion on Easter Sunday, we were invited to join in and take the elements ourselves at home: this reduced me to tears as it just was so special. The efforts that folk have made to connect, and the short meditations that happen mid-week, or the invitation to join the prayer meeting, or to take part in a challenge to find a cross in the every day things of life - all have combined to make fellowship possible, despite our physical absence one from the other.
I like the fact that the services are available to anyone who wants to see them - whether they be a regular congregant, or someone just dipping their toes into church life. Streaming church gives the ability for the watcher to be anonymous. To come and go as you please, and to engage however you feel you want to engage is definitely a good thing. It takes the fear of having to go into a specific building away; and it takes church out into the community. I think the fact that we are all experiencing lockdown and yet can come together to worship a good God is a tremendous blessing; it gives us relevance and links with the world outside and is thus a major evangelistic tool for the 21st Century that we lose at our peril.
Yes, there are things I miss about not being able to go to church itself. I miss the mental preparation, and going into the building, where there is a buzz and an atmosphere of welcome. There are people about, friendly known faces, with a hug here and a handshake there; and a smile to someone I might not know. I miss the atmosphere that years and years of worship and prayer has endued the building with. I miss singing together, hymns and songs, and I miss corporate worship. I miss looking up to the huge East Window depicting the Ascension, as I go up for Holy Communion.
My conclusion? I think that it is amazing to participate in Digital Church - and it is definitely something to continue when we come out of lockdown. I think that we can also still come together in our church buildings, but perhaps the shape of the service there will change. Perhaps it won't be every Sunday? Perhaps it will be on a weekday? Perhaps it will be simpler? I don't know. I do know that there is room for both virtual church and physical church, as we go on. I'm reminded of Jesus' words, "I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18 NIVUK)