Today’s highly interesting read (02/06/22): Streaming online has been a boon for churches, a godsend for isolated

Last Sunday Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren wrote a column in the NY Times calling for churches to end online services. Here’s a portion:

A refrain has become common in churches and other religious communities: “Join us in person or online.” I was a big proponent of that “or online” part. In March of 2020, we knew little about the new disease spreading rapidly around the world but we knew it was deadly, especially for the elderly. My church was one of the first in our city to forgo meeting in person and switch to an online format, and I encouraged other churches to do the same.

Since then Sunday mornings have varied. Our church met online; then met indoors with limited attendance, masks and social distancing; then met outdoors; then, after vaccines, indoors again. Precautions rose and fell according to our city’s threat level. But even as most churches now offer in-person services, the “or online” option has remained. I think this is good, given how unusual the past two years have been.

Now I think it’s time to drop the virtual option. And I think this for the same reason I believed churches should go online back in March 2020: This is the way to love God and our neighbors.

For all of us — even those who aren’t churchgoers — bodies, with all the risk, danger, limits, mortality and vulnerability that they bring, are part of our deepest humanity, not obstacles to be transcended through digitization. They are humble (and humbling) gifts to be embraced. Online church, while it was necessary for a season, diminishes worship and us as people. We seek to worship wholly — with heart, soul, mind and strength — and embodiment is an irreducible part of that wholeness.

We are not in 2020 anymore. Even for vulnerable groups such as those over age 65, Covid has a roughly similar risk of death as the flu for those who are fully vaccinated, and the Omicron variant seems to pose even less risk than the flu. A recent CDC study found those who are fully vaccinated are 90 percent less likely to be hospitalized because of Covid-19 than those who are not. Certainly, the Omicron variant brought a surge in cases and hospitalization that has threatened to overwhelm hospitals in certain regions, but it appears that Omicron is waning.

There is still risk, of course, but the goal was never — and ought never be — to eliminate all risk of illness or death. Throughout the past two years, we have sought to balance the risk of disease with the good of being present, in person, with one another. And the cost of being apart from one another is steep. People need physical touch and interaction. We need to connect with other human beings through our bodies, through the ordinary vulnerability of looking into their eyes, hearing their voice, sharing their space, their smells, their presence.

Whether or not one attends religious services, people need embodied community. We find it in book clubs or having friends over for dinner. But embodiment is a particularly important part of Christian spirituality and theology. We believe God became flesh, lived in a human body and remains mysteriously in a human body. Our worship is centered not on simply thinking about certain ideas, but on eating and drinking bread and wine during communion.

On this Sunday I recommend another perspective from Bob Smietana and Elizabeth E. Evans. Here’s an excerpt:

A report on churches and technology during the pandemic found that by offering online services, churches were able to expand their reach, often connecting with people outside their community or reconnecting with former members who had moved away. Even small congregations that had once struggled to reach outside the walls of the church were able to expand their reach, according to “When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat,” a report from the Tech in Churches research project, led by Heidi Campbell, professor of communication at Texas A&M University.

“With the shift online, churches were shocked to discover the ways that an online service can become a wide-reaching net to whoever is interested in tuning in or watching,” according to researchers. “One pastor described this widening reach and shift as ‘shut-ins being no longer shut out.’”

Read the entire article here.

One thought on “Today’s highly interesting read (02/06/22): Streaming online has been a boon for churches, a godsend for isolated

  1. Pingback: The Super Bowl; GOP, take no prisoners; hero kids refusing masks; COVID odds; truckers; churches streaming online | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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