A Seat Kept Warm
Yesterday the church where I serve as lead pastor held its first congregation-wide, in-person, indoor worship service in over fifteen months. It was awesome to see our sanctuary filled with people again.
I was chatting with some church members after the service yesterday and the comments they shared were heartwarming and bittersweet. They said things like, "I can't believe how good it feels to be here again." "I've missed this so much!"
One of them also said, "I didn't know how I would feel when I came back, I was kind of nervous about it, but then once I got here and sat down... it just felt right."
After a long year of isolation brought on by fear, caution, anxiety, and no small amount of dread, it felt good to be in familiar surroundings, to smell the familiar smells of the church, to see friends, to share hugs (with those who were willing and vaccinated), to laugh, clap and even sing.
It also felt good to realize that there is still a place for us to gather, to connect, and to have tangible, touchable signs and symbols that we are not alone in our journey of faith.
I have also heard from so many of my church members about how our weekly online worship broadcasts (which we will continue to do and improve upon) were a lifeline to their faith family. One member tearfully thanked me for doing them, and then added, "The online worship service saved my life."
Those weekly broadcasts were a reminder of her faith family, and what it meant to her. They gave her an anchor to something that gave her hope and joy in the midst of a trying time.
I recently read a wonderful poem by Jericho Brown, and these lines spoke to me so deeply about what it means to have a place in a faith family---to belong to a community within which you experience love, acceptance, and where you see a greater purpose at work.
In the audience
Or alone, sit
And thank God
We have had to learn how to be a community of faith in radically different ways than ever before this past year, and we will definitely have to navigate the future differently as well.
There will probably be fewer people worshipping on Sundays than before the pandemic, and more people choosing to watch our services online from the comfort of their home, or a coffee shop, or any number of non-church-y locations.
I'm good with that---the church left the building last year, and we proved that we can still be the church no matter what. Plus, our congregation expanded to include people from all over the country and the world.
Even so... it's good to know that there is a seat for you---a seat that has stayed warm because you are part of something that is bigger than walls, greater than buildings, and imbued with a purpose that is best pursued with others.
If you don't have a community of faith to call home, I'd be happy to commend mine to you. We welcome everyone, and we don't just welcome everyone we include everyone---there's a difference. And there's a seat kept warm for you here, if you want it.
But if you want to explore a bit, I'd be happy to help you with that exploration. You can message me, and I'll do my best to help you find a faith family where you can feel that feeling of belonging, and greater purpose.
We all need this now more than ever---even if we think we don't. Find your place, or rediscover it. There will be uncertain days ahead, but when you know that there is a place, and a community to surround you---you'll face them with hope and courage.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.