The pandemic, also known as COVID-19 (plus all its mutations), decimated attendance at schools, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, and public transportation to name but a few institutions. Not been to a hardware store (my personal favorite), the mall, or a movie in quite some time. none of these community events had a more lasting impact on each of us than places of worship. Be honest now, how often have you been to church in the past six to 12 months? (Do you find Zoom or on-line worship still lacking a certain closeness? Miss everyone throwing the peace sign or laying their hands on you and praying for you and your loved ones? We will find out why in just a few more lines.) The pandemic struck at the very heart of worship. Worship is the spiritual art of community prayer. Over the past three years the pandemic has destroyed our sense of community in every village, town, city, state and nation throughout the world.
But nowhere has more damage been done than in the houses of worship. Historically, weekly worship developed a sense of habit. While many denominations required regular Sunday attendance most of us realized the true nature and value of regular Sunday worship. However, over the past 50 years church rules have grown less stringent. Soccer, football, baseball, concerts, and family outings have all eroded our sense of a weekly responsibility. We began to leave out the one true “head” of our families. We all grew lackadaisical. Then the pandemic hit with all the force nature could muster. As a community of believers we could no longer adore God, ask for forgiveness, gain sustenance and strength and then go back out into the world to love our neighbor knowing that God is with us every step of the way. The grave risk to the well-being and health of all the community grew. The government prohibitions of collective Sunday worship completed the near death-knell.
Have you been feeling a little queasy these last few months? Lost some of that good old confidence? Wondered where all the good friends are that used to be helpful and kind? Found your neighbor a little less forgiving these days? Maybe even a little less helpful? Cannot understand why you cut someone off in traffic? After all, that is not like you now is it? Felt more stress in your life? Been thinking something is missing these days? Want to know more about spirituality? Just looking for more in your life?
I believe those thoughts are very common these days. We have been locked up away from our communities. And though I hate to admit it, we are all growing older. We have been unable to communicate with each other. And no, social media like Facebook, Tik-Tok, instant messaging, Zoom and all those electronic means of “talking” to each other are just not truly communicating. The tone of voice, the tongue-in-cheek, the wry smile, the furrowed brow, the body language all contribute mightily to communication. By way of example, how many times have you been misunderstood or misinterpreted through social media? It is clear that to survive in a community there is no substitute for in-person interaction. To “press the flesh” as politicians would say. To “pass the peace that surpasses all understanding”.
Nowhere is this more important than in our worship. Worshiping together, in a communal setting is not just required by God, it is required for each of us. Ever eat alone? I find eating alone to be disquieting. No doubt there are times when our spirituality requires we be alone with our God. But there is nothing more powerful than a group of human beings asking God to bless each and every one of us. Nothing more powerful than a large and deeply prayerful group of us asking God to guide the hands of a skilled surgeon as our friend, family or neighbor undergoes heart surgery. Nothing more comforting than a church family asking God to comfort those who are dying and the family members that surround the person dying. There is nothing more glorious than to come together to worship our God in song and prayer. And, I believe, there is nothing more pleasing to God than all of us in unity and peace praising the Creator of all there is.
The pandemic is waning. Our houses of worship have once again thrown open their doors and are calling to us to come back home. Waiting for all of us to return. To renew ourselves. To revitalize our communities and to close the gap that has been stubbornly standing in our way of growing spiritually both individually and collectively. There is an old acquaintance patiently standing by the door with open arms to greet us in peace and love and joy once again. Let’s renew that acquaintance with a new found passion. I assure you; you will be filled with joy and awe that you did!
Francis (Frank) Remkiewicz is an area resident and contributes a monthly column focused primarily on faith and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.