Every other pew was roped off, complete with red ribbon. My daughters looked back at me, a little confused. Were we allowed to be close to our friends and neighbors? Should they sit on the end of the row, making the exit to children’s chapel smooth? Will the collection plate still pass between parishioners, and can I shake our priest’s hand at the end? And, most importantly, will there be cookies and lemonade by the playground after the service?
“Just wait and see,” I whispered quickly. This is a phrase I used with regularity over the past fifteen months. Never sure what to expect next, I try to embody flexibility. This is not a comfortable space for me. I would love to give my children reassurance, firm directions, and confidence as to our next steps as a parish, and as the Body of Christ in the greater world.
They scurried off to Children’s Chapel, and I settled in for the readings. My mind wandered back over the past school year, reflecting on all the ways our church community remained intact. Changing guidelines and intergenerational needs didn’t make it simple, but I remembered fondly all the ways our leadership made sure that we were cared for throughout the pandemic exile. Craft kits on our front porch, Bible School dances over Zoom, even a gingerbread nativity project kept our daughters engaged throughout many months at home. We became adept at recording choir anthems and enjoyed decorating recipes for our outreach food pantry.
As we stood for the gospel reading, I realized the question, lurking below the surface in my heart, was layered, not as simple as my moments of reflection. Was our children’s spiritual growth delayed due to our time away from the sanctuary? Will they remember this time as a period of exile and seclusion from our church home, or as one filled with creative outlets to know and love the Lord? How much does it matter, both to children and parents, that our comfortable, traditional faith practices were upended?
I stifled a smile while I recalled our time in drive-in church. The local Boy Scout troop constructed an outdoor pulpit. We streamed the service over the radio when it was too cold to roll down the windows. My first grader claimed the trunk of our Suburban as her spot to absorb each week’s teachings. It took some time for her astute parents to realize she was throwing goldfish at her sisters from the back of the car.
The exchange of the peace included short retorts of “Don’t touch me” from our tween, while our preschooler crawled all over us to find the marker top she dropped into the abyss of the car. Our often quiet, always calculating third grader waited until the conclusion of the service to remark, “We really don’t remember how to behave, do we?”
I had to agree with her. This dissent into disorder did not reflect well on our ability to return to the sanctuary with any sort of decorum. I had to question just how much good it was doing our family, in the midst of a challenging year, to keep marching forward as if nothing was different.
Returning to the present day, I gazed around our church home. It looked different; that much is certain. But so much was still the same. We made our familiar route to the front for communion, and I locked eyes with treasured friends. Behind our masks, and the mist forming in our eyes, the connection returned. While we had seen each other over Zoom screens, across carpool lines, and on the side of soccer fields, it had been since March 2020 that we had taken communion as our own church community within this hallowed space. I had to pause and acknowledge this sacred moment.
Reacclimating to our seats, my first grader pulled out the hymnal. She is just learning the long, tough words present throughout our worship. Matching the number in the bulletin to the top of the page, she followed along with the closing hymn. The organ swelled, she pulled her mask off to the side, which she does when she wants to be understood.
“Do you think I’ll get a shot soon, so I can sing too?”
My voice caught in my throat, and all I can muster, “Just wait and see.”