This past weekend, after being away for seven months, I went back to in-person church.
My church meets on Saturday night and also on Sunday morning, and I’ve always gone to the Saturday night service.
During the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the church first went to an all-church online service, and then sometime in July eased back into in-person Sunday worship services. Last weekend, they added the Saturday night service.
To be honest, it wasn’t an easy decision for me to go back. After seven months away, I’ve gotten used to being at home, working from home, worshipping from home. I’ve got my laptop, my Kindle e-book reader, my TV, smart phone, husband and my cat — what more do I need?
I need my church, which is not the building, but the people who gather there.
Even so, it caught my breath to see the sanctuary again, the place I’ve called home for nearly 30 years. “It’s good to be home,” I thought. Still, it wasn’t easy coming home after being away for so long.
I’d gotten complacent being away, which I hadn’t realized until a few weeks ago when, during the pastor’s sermon about worship, I was eating popcorn, leafing through the Sunday newspaper and checking my phone. During a sermon about worship. That’s when I realized how far I had drifted and how much I needed to get back home to my church family.
The New Testament book of Hebrews says, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer” (Hebrews 10:25).
It’s not good for a family to be apart, whether its members are at odds with one another or just complacent, content to be alone.
The psalmist writes that God “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). He puts people who might not ever choose to be together into families.
He does that with churches, too. We were made for community.
At the end of his emails, one of our pastors always writes: “It won’t be the same without you.”
He once told me that the thought is, “not only does the person who is not there miss out on something, but everyone else’s experience is diminished by the person’s absence. If the Holy Spirit lives in each one of us, then there are things about God that I can only learn through other people.”
Of course he said that several years ago, pre-COVID and pre-social distancing.
Even though now the practice of meeting together is changed and more challenging, the need for each other hasn’t changed.
In fact, it may be even more needed now.
Yes, it was definitely strange to be in church with most everyone’s face covered by a mask, but because we’re family, I recognized everyone there, even after seven months.
Absence has definitely made my heart grow fonder, and it was good to be home.