You will know, at least as well as I do, that we are living through some unprecedented days.
It has been my privilege to work with churches and circuits and help them navigate their way online. Zoom has become a very different expression, rather than zooming to meetings (or away) we are 'zoom'ing our meetings.
Earlier this week I read this article Holy Week in the midst of a pandemic; Two practical ideas for your online youth ministry gathering. and at the end of the article was this, "Despite the novelty of our virtual gatherings, let's not forget the power of place and presence". This got me thinking.
I have in some way loved the idea of the church going online. If I’m honest, I'm a closet techie, a nerd or whatever you might wish to call the likes of us - I have way too many apple devices than I should admit too. So, the challenge of helping people learn the art of Zoom, Live Stream, YouTube services is in some ways exciting and, across the Southampton District, many churches and circuits have really grappled well with the new opportunities that have been thrust upon them. In my own church we have had regular viewing numbers into the 600's which is many times more than would attend for real, across the whole Circuit. I have heard stories of Messy Churches doing online groups, youth groups doing TikTok dances, churches emailing bible studies, recording audio services and posting them to folk, people holding conference call church. And the list goes on!
All of this is amazing and to be celebrated.
But what about "the power of place and presence”? At the heart of the Christian story is incarnation. I know we are in Holy Week and, as I write this, Good Friday is tomorrow and Easter Sunday seems a long way off. But I've been casting my mind back to Christmas and to Emmanuel "God with us". Why didn't God just wait until we had created the WWW. world? Why didn't he just create a Facebook page or a YouTube channel? Why did God choose to come as a human being? Why did God choose to risk it all and become one of us? I think at the heart of that is "the power of place and presence".
As we journey through the pandemic, I haven't been asking myself ‘where is God’, because I believe in Emmanuel, "God with us'. And so, I continue to wrestle with the new and the old, recognising that I'm an extrovert, who loves being amongst other people as struggles to be isolated. We need to find ways of bringing "the power of place and presence" wherever that may be - online or in the flesh. We may well change a lot of what we do, how we meet etc but let’s not forget there is much in "the power of place and presence".