With churches nationwide shut down by government orders, pastors are leading congregations in virtual worship on Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom, and other platforms. Tens of millions of Americans go to church weekly, according to surveys.
People who regularly would attend in person are now learning how to do it from home. But just as there are distinct types of people for in-person worship, there are distinct types of worshipers online. Which one are you?
Somehow Still Rolling In Late
Before the coronavirus hit, you were the family that attended church regularly but no matter how hard you tried, you were never on time. All h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose in your home on Sunday mornings, with everything conspiring to keep you late. The chaos and stress of trying to get out of the house on time means that you’re fighting in the car as you careen into the parking lot of the sanctuary.
Somehow, virtual church has changed none of this dynamic. You’re still running around getting ready and the family isn’t seated until the end of the opening hymn. Several members are fighting as they leap over the sofa to grab a final seat.
Dressed In Sunday Best
Whereas my husband and I ran downstairs into virtual church on Palm Sunday wearing our pajamas, our adorable children were dressed in their finest duds. Week after week they put on their best, as my husband and I fail to brush our hair or otherwise get presentable in time for the service.
Choir Member Reporting For Duty
Sure, your congregation’s virtual service has someone playing the organ or other musical accompaniment and a bit of a choir, but nothing like what you can provide at home as you belt out the hymn with particular gusto.
Perhaps you’re in a very talented singing family that can break into four-part harmony. Perhaps you’re in a mixed family, where some of you can sing and some of you can’t, and some of you get angry at the others for singing alto and leading you astray on a particular hymn. Maybe none of you can carry a tune and you sound like a bunch of seals.
Whatever you’re doing, just remember my grandfather’s advice to his grandchildren when we’d go to church with him: “Sing loud, and off key!”
The Loud Visitor
One thing about virtual church is that you can attend easily from anywhere. I’ve dropped in on my childhood congregation in California and the congregations of various friends and family members. Facebook Live prompts you to announce that you’re attending, and many visitors love to announce precisely where they’re joining you from.
“Hello! I’m Roger and I’m worshiping with you from Kissimmee, Florida!” writes the visitor into the Facebook chat. “Reporting in from Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska!” says another, as if signing the guest register.
The Full Liturgical
In my church body, there is a ton of standing, sitting, and kneeling during worship. We’re always on the move, kneeling for the confession of sins, bowing toward the processional cross, and always standing at the mention of the Triune God.
But when you’re home alone, some people just camp out on the couch. Constantly getting up and down from a big, cushy couch is more difficult than a hard pew. But that’s no barrier for the liturgical stalwart. He’s following every rubric as if he were back at church. He’s kneeling on the hardwood floor, genuflecting during the creed, and processing into the family room with the family crucifix held high.
Some people close that laptop the moment the benediction has been said. Others stay through the postlude. Still others stay to chat afterward in the comments. “Miss our friends! Hope everyone is having fun!”
A close analog to this are the folks who get there early to mingle. And the jokesters in general who issue such helpful remarks as “It’s go time!” when the service starts or, my favorite, “Go Steelers.”
Every church needs an usher, and these times are no different. Coronavirus ushers are the folks who mute everyone who forgets to mute themselves, clean up the aforementioned comments, and provide links to service bulletins for late arriving visitors from Fargo.
The Pew, Make That Sofa, Discipliner
One of the best family traditions is creative ways mothers and fathers discipline children while in church. My mother was an expert at the “dig her fingernails into my arm while continuing to smile and sing” trick. Even with no one watching behind you, virtual church requires careful discipline of the children to keep everyone on track without being so loud as to miss an important point from the sermon or distract from the hymn-singing.
So which one are you? Or are you a combination of them?