In The New York Times this morning, Esau McCaulley writes about why virtual church services are just not enough. He notes:
It is true that Zoom religious services are fundamentally inadequate. This is not a criticism of the clergy and lay leaders who have put in tremendous creative effort. In a sense it is an indictment of the very idea of what we look for in church, and a chance to realign our perspective. That is because even in-person services are, in a sense, inadequate. Everyone who has come to follow a religion knows of that initial season of zeal. People are excited and energetic about their newfound faith; the services seem transcendent. But that feeling often fades and becomes something else.
If bodies and physical spaces are really means by which we attempt to encounter God on earth, something immeasurable is lost when worship goes virtual. This loss becomes all the more acute during the holiday season, a time when churches are usually filled with candles, flowers and flowing vestments. Instead, the choir stalls and pews will be largely empty.
W.E.B. Dubois is famous for describing the Black church as “the preacher, the music, and the frenzy.” That is true enough as a sociological analysis, but to members of the congregation there is a fourth element to that mix: finding God’s own presence among them.
There are few things more powerful than being in the presence of a Black gospel choir, its lead singer clapping and moving in rhythm testifying to the power of God. There are moments when the choirs and the preachers that follow can lift an entire congregation and transport it. They can fill the despairing with hope and the fearful with the courage to demand justice.
These days, instead of choirs, we mumble along trying to harmonize with a virtual worship leader…
… The very inadequacy of church services, Zoom and otherwise, is a reminder we do not come into churches to encounter a life lesson on how to raise our children or to learn to be good Americans, whatever that means. Our aim is much more audacious. We are attempting to encounter God and, in so doing, find ourselves, possibly for the first time.