How just an hour changed my attitude about ‘virtual church’

Rev. Ginny Wilder leads worship service for St. Anne’s Episcopal via Facebook.

How just an hour changed my attitude about ‘virtual church’
March 26
04:00 2020

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

When the coronavirus stories first started getting notice, I admit that one area I didn’t think about being affected was church. Where could you be more protected than in the Lord’s house?

But as the virus continued to spread across the country, first in Wake County, and then to other counties across N.C., discussions began about “social distancing,” staying at least six feet away from others, and washing your hands frequently and not touching your face. 

The first change that came down from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina was to change from bread to wafers during communion and to sip from the cup at the altar, not dip the wafer into the cup of wine. For those who were at high risk or felt uncomfortable, they could receive a blessing at the altar. That change felt weird, but was acceptable. Just one week later that changed. Church was to close to all activities. 

No church? Emotionally, I felt a sense of loss and isolation. I depended on church – the fellowship of believers, the joyful music of the choir, the scriptures and sermon to uplift my spirit and set the tone for the following week. We’re in the season of Lent, a time of reflection and sacrifice, but giving up church? Would we all be wandering in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights?

Then the announcement was made that church would continue via Facebook Live on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. I will admit that at first I wasn’t sure if I would feel the same spiritual uplifting while looking at a Facebook video. In my heart I knew that “when two or more are gathered in my name, I am there,” but I wasn’t sure that Jesus included Facebook Live. 

One of the things that I love about the Episcopal Church is that it is dependable. No matter what church you attend, you can count on the same scriptures being read for that week, the same liturgy being followed, and for me, there is something comforting in that. How would this transfer to Facebook? There would be no choir, no communion. On the plus side, I could drink coffee while I watched … in my pajamas.

So on March 15, I turned on my laptop, went to the Facebook page for St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, and listened as our rector, Rev. Ginny Wilder, explained that we were all going to take part in Morning Prayer. She humorously added to beware if her very friendly dogs decided to join in. When I am in church, I usually sit toward the back and on the side, so I can see Ginny, but from a distance. This morning, she was full face, and it was like she was talking just to me, leading me through the liturgy, the scriptures, the psalms. But then I looked to the side of the screen and there were so many pictures of my church family who were also attending “virtual church.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone; I was among friends who I desperately needed to see.

Ginny conducted a beautiful service from her living room, and even though there were a few blimps, it was so real, so honest, and so spiritual. No choir? No problem! Ginny played her guitar and sang, her beautiful voice lifting my spirits as I watched hearts and happy faces rise up across my screen in responses from those who were watching along with me. Requests for prayer were posted in the comments and Ginny was able to see them and include them in the Prayers of the People.

The following Sunday, March 22, I upped my game by actually getting dressed, although more casual than my usual Sunday attire, and hunted through the bookcase until I found my copy of the Book of Common Prayer so that I could follow along with the scriptures and psalms assigned for that day. It was again a meaningful and uplifting service.

My first reaction to “Facebook church” changed over the course of that first hour of Morning Prayer. I realized we didn’t have to be in a sanctuary to worship together. We were still a church family, even though we were not gathering together, thanks to the Internet (to which we gave thanks during the prayers). 

And I found that where two or more are gathered … even virtually … He is there.

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