A Message from Fr. Neil
With the rapid pace of news reporting about the Chinese Corona Virus, it is difficult to write something timely. Things change almost hourly as new reports come to us on the status of our forced ban on gatherings, when this might be over, the progress on vaccines, and the status on drugs already being implemented to name just a few. So, I figured I would just jump in where we are now and make some comments and try to offer some of my thoughts. …which will most likely be outdated by the time you read this.
One of the things that has captured my attention during this time is the whole “virtual Church” concept that is going around. I was sent an article by a parishioner that addresses the status of the Church during this Virus outbreak and how it is, according to the author of the article, helping the Church flourish. I want to make some comments on this article as I think it might be indicative of many people’s thinking right now who are very progressive (in the good sense) about how to, as they say, “do Church.”
The author of the article argues that right now, since the Chinese Corona Virus is inhibiting our Church attendance, many Churches are turning to social media. We at St. Mary Magdalene Church have also turned to social media to fill some of the gaps that have occurred since we cannot meet together.
I would question first whether we can say that because people are logging on to YouTube or some other social media outlets in large numbers, to watch a Church service or a sermon or a message from the pastor, that the Church is necessarily “flourishing.” It certainly helps to make up for some of the loss in actual time in the Church. Our own YouTube channel had many more views than we have members in the parish, but are we right now, flourishing as a parish or even as a Christian Church in general?
The author makes six points in the article. I will not address them all one by one, but I will cover the main thrust of his points in summary. He first says, “The World is Digital, Now the Church Has to Be” To that comment, I say, “Does it?” Perhaps. I can certainly see a use for going digital especially at this time. You can reach people who are unable to leave home. You might reach people who are not even in your country. You can reach people who may not have evert entered a Church. But to all of these points, there are counter points.
He, using poor grammar, says that the Church needs to “reach people where they are at.” He says that the Church is commissioned to “Go into the world and preach the Gospel.”…quoting Jesus. Actually, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) So we are more accurately to go into all nations, and we are to preach the Gospel. Doing so through video streaming is certainly going into all the world, as the “www” means World Wide Web, but notice that baptism is the next step for the new disciple… and that cannot be done via YouTube. The Church needs to boldly go into all nations and even local neighborhoods, with the Gospel. The Church should be making disciples of Jesus in those places, but this cannot be done fully and effectively through the lens of a camera or through the screen of a computer or phone. Real, one-on-one, face to face, encounters are what will truly make full, proper, deeply devoted, deeply rooted, deeply effective disciples of Jesus. I understand at the moment, that is hard to do, and I do see the great importance for online Church services and other things like them at this time, but these, I think should be secondary to our actual presence in the Church in the presence of one another and in the presence of God.
Online Church does not challenge us like actually getting out of bed, getting dressed for Church, and then driving there. The Church challenges us in many ways. The Bible challenges us to a lifestyle that is very counter not only to the culture around us, but to us as well. One could hardly call St. Paul a lazy man. Not only was he a tentmaker, which helped fund his ministry, but his entire existence was devoted to the spread of the Gospel. My fear (borne out by a keen understanding of human nature and by plain observation) is that the easier we make Church attendance, the less one will go. I want a zeal like St. Paul, or St. Peter, or the others. Yes, for now, online Church is exciting. We love to tinker with the latest technology. But when that becomes old, will we find ways to put it off like we do other things? Will we say, “Hey, the Church service is online. That means that it is available 24 hours a day. I can sleep in. I can ‘do it later.’” Later may never come. I know I myself do this. Once I find I can delay something, I manage to find ways to do so.
I do not believe anything will ever replace people attending the local Church. Nothing will replace physically being able to receive the Holy Sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ in our hands in the elements of bread and wine. The Body of Christ is placed into the palm of our hands. The Chalice containing the Blood of Christ is pressed to our lips. The waters of baptism and the oil of Chrism are poured over our heads. The scent of incense…(I know some don’t care for the incense) wafts through the air and into our noses. The smoke rises, carrying our prayers with it. The vibration of voices singing from the choir and the other people around us, and the touch of a hand or an arm in greeting and embrace. These are what make the Church. Even the plate being passed and money being placed into it. I have written before about “online giving” and chip readers being passed from pew to pew as some Churches are doing to make giving “easier” and more “convenient.” And to that I also said, if you can't make time to take out the check book and write a check for God then you have to rethink your priorities. I understand that it might help in raising income. I understand it might be easier for some and maybe someday I will be forced to do it myself…however I don’t see that day coming in our lifetime.
The author goes on to say that online Church is not expensive, that content is king, and distribution is essential. To the cost, he is right. Signing the Church up with YouTube cost the Church nothing, but will absence of people gathering and us forgetting to give financially in the long run end up costing the Church in other ways? The Church is not closed permanently so I encourage you all to not forget your pledge to God to support His Church. As to “Content is king,” I’m not sure how to even address that. That sounds like a Church Growth Seminar…or worse, a secular seminar. We will continue to put up the best content that I, Dn. Sean and those working behind the scenes can create. But don’t forget that the content was still made by us, physically going down to the Church and recreating a service or an Office for others to view. We still had to create the service in person. The content that should be king is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If content is king, then the King of kings should be preached…and that I will continue to do, even through this time of separation and digital services. As to distribution, this is the best we can do for now. One-on-one encounters right now have been curtailed. I pray that the end of this is near and that the desire for all of us to return to being with one another is your prayer as well. I am heartened that so many of the congregation are calling one another and checking in on each other. In the meantime, pray for God to restore us to where we should be, in the Church, with one another, fellowshipping with one another and sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ as a community. In closing let me take some of St. Paul’s words…paraphrase them a bit and apply them to our situation.
He says in Colossians 2:1–5, For I want you to know how great a struggle I have in not being with you… for all of us who cannot see one another, face to face, that [your] hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.”
In the meantime, please visit our YouTube Channel and click on VIDEOS to view our Sunday services as well as Morning and Evening Prayer Offices and Stations of the Cross. We pray these videos will be a temporary comfort until we are allowed use of our Church building again.
Today's Devotional Prayer
A Prayer for Times of Great Sickness
O Most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.