Covid Thoughts: Sundays and At Home Worship

Recently I started writing down thoughts and events that are happening during the Pandemic. Then I read a story at the NY Times about Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary. So, I’m breaking out a little of what I had written into categories and then expanding a bit. I usually write book reviews, or try to have solid content on Theology or Biblical Studies, or even occasionally wade into how I think a Biblical Worldview should influence political thought, but I had never really thought about just writing down in Journal format (with one exception). This is somewhat ironic, as the word blog is a portmanteau of Web and Log (diary).

I’m a putting it all into one word doc and saving maybe for my future grandkids or something, to understand the day to day, from our families view, of what life is like right now. I’m posting it here, in case anyone else finds it interesting or relates. We are also interviewing Sprout in video form, maybe for her grandkids, so she can say in her own words what life is like dealing with the ‘sickness’. I was fixing our neighbors fence about an hour ago and she told me the world is no fun right now. Obviously, I won’t post a video of her here, but I’d recommend if you haven’t heard of that idea yet, to record a few quick thoughts of your kids, or even yourself, you should give it a try.

I shared recently what it was like trying to find rhythm, which was excluded what Sundays and at home worship looked like, so I’ll do that today.

Before the quarantine, we typically left for church around 9:15 and returned home around noon, ate lunch, then had community group at 1:00, which usually lasted to 3-3:30 depending on how things went. We do a rotation of group, then just the girls, then group, then guys, with the fifth Sunday either being off or a party.

We were one Sunday into Meaning of Marriage, so when our church made the decision to go online for service on March 15, it worked out well, because it was going to be the girls meeting. So, we switched to a video call for the girls, figuring we’d do guys the next week, and then maybe we’d be meeting again in person. That obviously hasn’t happened, as I write this on April 25, tomorrow will be the seventh straight week of not meeting in person. Our new rhythm is rotating girl/guys video call, as I didn’t think we’d be able to really have a discussion as a group over video. This also means the ‘meetings’ have been shorter, usually only about an hour.

So now our days look something like this: sleep as late as the Nuggets will allow us (usually 6:30-7:00), have breakfast and hang out as a family: 9ish Nuggets go down for a nap (though tomorrow we’ll try to push them a little so they will sleep through service), Mrs. MMT and Sprout clean the house while I read or do some other chore; Service is at 10:00 more on that below; 11:00 Nuggets are usually up and service is over, go for a Bottle Walk (in which we’ve run into our pastor a few times, because he wishes he could live in this neighborhood) and then eat lunch before the call at 1:00; Glorious Quiet Time from 2:00 to 3:30, then another Bottle Walk, then just hang out before dinner, family devotional and bedtime.

We have much more time with our immediate family, but no time with our community group or church family (except those that live in this neighborhood).

At home worship has been…interesting. The first Sunday (March 15) did not go as planned. Our church decided to do a Zoom Webinar where the lead pastor would make announcements from his home, our adjunct preacher would give a short message from his home, the Chair of the Elder Board would give the (previously scheduled) update from his home, and then Mrs. MMT was tapped to sing a few songs and play the piano. As we had announcements and the service was only going to be an hour, she was going to sing two songs between announcements and the sermon, and then one at the end while people took communion at home.

We spent almost two hours the day before doing a run through, testing lighting and testing a microphone to see what would pick up the best, and how people could hear both her and the piano well. Then Sunday came. She starts the first song, and about a minute into it, Zoom drops us. We wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t had my phone also running as a participant. Our pastor comes back on to say we’ve been dropped and gets ready to move us to the sermon, but then we are back on. Obviously, just some glitch, so she starts the song again. Then, about a minute into it, Zoom drops us again. Both of our phones are blowing up with texts. Hers was from her friends with words of encouragement such as ‘so sorry, I know how hard you prepped’ or ‘sounded beautiful while it lasted.’ I just had texts from jackasses with things like ‘get it together’ or people who apparently thought we didn’t have internet. Guys versus girls, right?

Anyway, we were on the phone with our lead pastor while the sermon was going on and decided that we’d try again, but with no video, in case it was bandwidth. So, she was still able to sing during communion, and it worked out pretty well. A few people took video and sent it to us. The next week, they decided to stream from our church building, but it was all at once, and the bandwidth couldn’t hold and many people either had a lag or the video dropped. Finally, the follow week (March 29), they split it into to streams at different times and there were no issues.

We’ve not had Sprout in service yet, so our at home worship was the first time she has been with us to sing songs or listen to the sermon. She sings as much as she can, and actually knows some of the hymns. Even if she doesn’t know the song, she tries to sing along because she enjoys it and considers herself a good singer. I find it difficult to sing, one because her cuteness make me laugh, but also Mrs. MMT is a trained singer and can sing out like normal, but be able to lower her volume. I cannot do that, so it is either me singing loudly, over the two of them, or me trying to turn the volume down, but that devolves to something like quite talking (somewhat) in tune. She also likes to sing the harmony, but unfortunately, I often don’t know the melody.

Sprout can’t quite make it through the sermon, despite it being shorted to the 15-20 minute range. So, we’ve given in and allow to her play on a tablet during the sermon, before the last few songs. I actually wish the sermons would be longer, if not back to the full length, but I understand trying to keep the whole service to an hour, plus I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to try to preach to an empty room (or one with four or five people). We don’t even make it through a whole service before we have to get the Nuggets, so I’d miss it either way. We take communion before a final song and the benediction. I know the in home communion is controversial (or even not allowed in some denominations), but our church does it every Sunday, so I appreciate attempting to keep that rhythm. (It feels a little weird opening a bottle of wine before 10:00 A.M., but if the pastor says so…) That is not to say that it is the same. It isn’t, and I miss going to place to worship with other people. I’ve already about worship during separation, while lacking, it is our only option.

Our church has also posted some kids worship videos. It is really geared for just over Sprout’s age, so it doesn’t work very well for us, but I have heard great things from people who have kids that age, that know the songs and movements with most of them. We’ll try them anyway, especially on rainy days when we can’t walk after service. This usually ends up with us watching other songs, typically Wolves at the gate.

              

That is Sprout dancing to one of the songs, in the other picture, we can just barely make out her Ukelele, while she plays along with the song, and, yes, those are maracas she brought so that the Nuggets can also join in the fun.

Sadly, Easter was spent at home. We did have a successful Zoom call with Mrs. MMT’s sister and family, her parents, and grandma. We had a fairly diasterious video call with our community group, which includes 14 adults and seven kids (all under five, with four less than a year old). Then a nice video chat with my parents before watching that opera guy sing from a church in Italy and having a huge Easter lunch.

So, that is about it. Sundays feel empty, compared to how we used to spend them. Worship is falling into place, but also lacking and a reminder of our call to be together, but we continue on and remember the anticipation our coming reunion with our brothers and sisters, and our future hope of worship with all Christians together with Christ, forever.

 

Thoughts on Covid-19, Quarantine, and Community

I suppose it was inevitable that I would write something about all that is going on. I wanted to get back to posting my reviews and some other thoughts, but it seems impossible to get Covid-19 off your mind, especially after having remote church service again yesterday.

Providentially, perhaps, I was reading part of Psalm 42 yesterday. Psalm 42 & 43 were likely originally one but were broken up at some point for an unknown reason. The psalm is a pretty well-known one, it is where we get the song ‘as the deer pant(eth) for the water.’ It is not written by David, but by the Sons of Korah (or Korathites), yet it is often attributed to David as a prayer and during a when he is away from the temple, possibly when he was hiding from Absalom. Some modern critics, of course, give no attribution to David, but what is not in dispute is we have a man who is not in Jerusalem, and is longing to be back so that he can worship God.

Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we no longer need a temple or priest or anything else to worship God. We can go directly to God with our prayers, songs, praise and lemants. However, when we are seperated from our community of worship, as we have been the past few weeks, there is a sense of loss. The psalm is in three stanzas, each ending with –

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

It struck me how I do long to praise him again, in community, with other believers and friends at our church home. Again, we can all sing and praise God on our own, in our homes, as we have been doing. But I think it is important to remember that it is still lacking, something is missing, it just isn’t the same. Pastors can ask their congregants to post pictures of their families singing and taking communion together, and that helps, but we must acknowledge the longing. We miss some aspects of God that He reveals to us in and through community and taking communion together. So, I feel that deeply right now, that as a deer longs for streams of water, I long to worship again in community.

This time of longing should also remind us of future hope. That one day in the new Earth we will have perfect communion, all believers worship together, before God himself. We need to remember, always, that one day perfection will come and all the feelings of missing and lacking will be no more.

While it isn’t as enjoyable, please remember we are all ‘social distancing’ for the good of others. This is loving your neighbor. It is important to remember that no matter how inconvenient it is to be stuck in your house, it is far less of a pain than being hospitalized or seeing a loved one on a ventilator. It is a sacrifice for us, but Christians should not be scared to love others in this way. Another thing to remember is that while you may be able to work from home (which, again, is quite inconvenient) others may have no work at all.

Ask your pastors or community group leaders if they know of someone in your community in need, someone who has not received a paycheck in a week or who may not receive one in the next few weeks. I’d challenge everyone to personally decide if the need all (or any) of the stimulus money they are receiving in a few weeks. Maybe you need to shore up your own emergency fund first, but if you are still receiving your regular paycheck, consider giving most or all of it to your Church to be distributed to those who really need it. This wouldn’t be the first time Christians did this (see Acts, Galatians, etc. in the New Testament) and is unlikely it will be the last.

Also, keep in touch with your community and your actual neighbors. Maybe some are old or immunocompromised and cannot go out to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. This should be a time of Christians being once again known for charity in the community.

Remember, too, that while it is annoying, staying at home will help. In a month or so when rates are (hopefully) dropping, let’s remember not to look back and see it was all for nothing, that not that many people were impacted. It will be because of the actions we took to slow the spread, that the rates will decline. As a population, it is hard to see counterfactuals, something that cannot be proven. It is easy to see rates drop and be flippant, but it is because they are actually effective measures that are taken. It is a good reminder that the original vaccine was for Cow Pox (vaccine roughly means ‘no cow’ in Latin) and it took only a single generation before we have the original anti-vaxxers, people who questions the use of vaccines (and this was over 300 years ago). Of course, we still have these problem today, such as the measles outbreak last fall, a disease that was eradicated in the US 20 years ago.

Finally, look for the good where you can. Sure, maybe your babies are crying during communion, but maybe you also have the opportunity to talk with your other children about the significance of communion or what it means to be baptised. Our daughter is too young to attend service at our church regularly, but now she watches it with us. And she loves to sing, whether she knows the words or not. If she doesn’t, sometimes we laugh as she pretends she does. Or yesterday, there was a song she did know – It is Well – which is quite significant to us and so she sings and you wish you had closed the windows because no the pollen is getting to you and making your eyes water. Maybe like us, you have tried to keep your community group going by video conference. It isn’t always the best, and soon all men will have only two hairstyle – buzz cut and hat – but it is good to see everyone and at least check in on each other.

So, keep connected, everyone, we will be together eventually. Admit that longing to be together again. Remember that we are in a fallen broken world, but will live on day perfectly, together. Hope in God.