My first post-COVID non-virtual service was in my parents’ ancient parish church a couple of weeks ago. Social distancing restricted us to only 20 people but I was amazed by how special it felt to once again pray and worship in audible communion with others – my voice, one of a congregation, rather than alone in my kitchen. Having said that, I believe many of us have been overwhelmed by the sense of communion we’ve experienced during online services – the opportunity to worship with friends and family around the world, and include people who struggle to attend services in person, regardless of COVID.
I experienced that sense of being part of a much larger church family watching St Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg’s service for Women’s Day, focussing on gender-based violence (still available on their facebook page). After a wonderfully caring but direct sermon there were two recorded messages from St Martin’s, and a beautiful video from a Diocese in Nigeria, showing their solidarity with the cause. I knew nothing about those placard-bearing, mask-wearing Nigerians, but there, online, we were one church, one body.
But, living as one church body can often seem less about shared passions and words, and more about misunderstanding, anger, disappointment and rejection. As St Martin’s, together with parishes and diocese across the country, works through the implications of the current financial crisis, we are all left wondering what it means to be one body when it feels like parts of us are being amputated. Maybe Paul also recognised how hard it could be because he goes on to say ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.’ And maybe, when we cannot do any of those, we can fall back on our fellow members of the body to rejoice, hope and pray for us.