I had it fully mapped out in my head what an excellent Sunday morning we were going to have, which was the first sign that it was definitely going to go in another direction.
Once the stay-at-home order came, I spent a few weeks hustling to arrange our parish’s Sunday services as their clergy. Until everything was in place for us to stream our own worship, we “attended” other online services as an entire church. On Palm Sunday, we worshiped at the Washington National Cathedral via YouTube. No biggie for many people, but for this clergy-parent, this was exciting. I was going to be at church at home! With a cup of coffee! With my beloved family next to me! I figured out how to get the service on our television, got the kids up and ready, and started the stream thinking this is the dream.
Then the 4.5-year-old wailed to play with his trucks. The six-year-old wanted to draw in a different room. And my husband decided that on this ‘free’ Sunday, he was going for a run.
Despite the map I created in my head, I spent Palm Sunday listening to gorgeous strains of the Cathedral’s organ over the television, cup of coffee in hand, pouting and snorting over the egregious sinfulness of the rest of my family. I saw photos on Facebook of other families doing happy, church-y things that same morning, Next week, I said. Next week is Easter. We’ll do church right then.
It’s absolutely possible in this Grow Christians community that there are gads of parents nailing this school-and-church-and-parenting thing from home. I’ve read your posts; I see your gifts in this vein. This is not one of those posts and I am not one of those parents.
Easter Sunday was again, a sofa church day, as we celebrated with our Diocesan Cathedral online. My husband stopped in for the sermon then wandered out to read the newspaper, as our children enjoyed their first Easter morning full of freedom to play with plastic eggs. I, however, clung to the music, the words, the scripture of the service in front of me.
I needed those words of comfort, hope and resurrection so badly those Sundays. My family did not. Or at least, not in the same way.
This is something that the pandemic has shifted in our household: where once we went to church as a family, right now, we are not. And I’m learning that that’s okay.
My children have zero interest in ‘computer church’ or coffee hour Zoom, after a week of online learning, teletherapies, and mandated FaceTime calls to family. Instead of being surrounded by people, hugs, and the warmth of our small parish coming alive in surprising and whimsical ways, they see me on Sunday mornings at a computer, trying to create a holy space in the technological ether.
I tried though. I tried to get them to attend worship. Bribing them to sit with me (neither child is bribable, how Lord?!) and say hello to their beloved Church School teachers and church friends. I’ve offered them fire if they join me (i.e. lighting a candle, a high-stakes gamble). But they refuse. It’s not the same. They long for church—for the deep community who loves them, and where they know, if not the love of God just yet, then the love of God’s people for one another. They long for church, and for them, it’s not on a screen.
So until we gather again in person, we are trying other ways at other times, of showing love from home. We wave to joggers and cars passing by our house. We bake together. We play Uno and Memory, and created a mother-daughter under the blanket joke time. We say grace before dinner, even though my daughter has already mastered the priest-kid habit of just yelling ‘GRACE’ when asked to pray.
It’s not church. But in a strange way, it’s not not church either.
A few days ago, my husband drove our children by our church building on the way to another destination. As he turned the car away from the church, our son who is limited verbally, threw a fit in the car, reaching out towards the church building, clearly asking to go inside.
The hunger is real. The desire is still there. It’s in them, it’s in me, it’s in us. Nothing we can do can replace an entire community of care with a really good at-home craft or Bible activity or stellar bulletin PowerPoint. We can approximate, but never fully replace, that time of gathering.
Somehow, even as my family finds their own holy spaces on Sunday morning, God is working in them and through them, and even possibly through their bribing mother. Despite pandemic. Despite separation. Despite the detached Sunday morning activities. God doesn’t stop loving us or working in us that which is pleasing in God’s sight just because we aren’t all amassed in a room. This is where my faith rests right now, and where I think it will have to remain for a time.