Restarting Sunday Morning Worship

Yesterday my church met for worship in person for the first time since March 2020.

It’s been a long 16 months apart due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. During that time, some of us have worshipped together over Zoom, others have used Face Time or worshipped together at home as families, or met as a small group outside when that’s been possible, or spent time alone reading through the liturgy and listening to the music that’s been provided each week. But now as vaccinations have risen and COVID case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths have dropped, we were—finally!—able to restart Sunday morning worship in person.

Image by Tom Sramek Jr from Pixabay

What Remained Unchanged

Much remained the same as before. We met to begin the worship service at 11:00 a.m. in the Great Hall as usual. The hangings in the worship space had been chosen in keeping with the liturgical season—green for this seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time—and there were fresh flowers at the front as usual. We were warmly welcomed to worship, we read aloud and sang together, we stood for the gospel lesson, we began and ended with a moment of quiet reflection.

What Was Different

Yet there were also some changes. Instead of a full choir, there were a couple of singers, a violinist, and two pianists. Instead of passing the offering bags, there was an offering box near the entrance/exit. Instead of walking around to pass the peace with a handshake or hug, we were invited to remain in our places and bless our nearest neighbours verbally with the peace of Christ. For communion next Sunday, instead of dipping the bread into a common cup, it was announced that the elements will be individually pre-packaged. But perhaps the most obvious change was that some in the gathered congregation wore masks the entire time, and there was a remote option available as well.

What Is Still in Process

While I refer to the gathered congregation as “we,” for this first Sunday I decided to join remotely for a number of reasons:

  • although I’ve now had my second vaccination, I’m still in the two-to-three week waiting period before I’m fully vaccinated;
  • my husband is immune-compromised due to his cancer and ongoing chemotherapy, and we’re still working out what that means for him and for us going forward;
  • the church is still in process on how we will worship together. So for example, last Sunday and for the next few Sundays, the offering bags will not be passed. But is that a temporary measure as we emerge from the pandemic, or might it become an ongoing practice? Will the church develop a communicable disease prevention plan to replace the COVID-19 protocols as some churches have done?

While we’re still figuring this out, I’m grateful for the efforts being made to respect and work with the diverse needs within the church:

  • Sunday’s words of welcome included both those meeting in person and those of us joining online.
  • Our opening prayer expressed thanks to God for sustaining us during our time apart and for the rich ministries and gifts of our community:

Receive our gratitude, Holy God,
for the past through which you have led us,

and open us to the future of your making.

  • The homily, based on John 6:1-21, focused on Andrew, perhaps one of the less well-known disciples of Jesus. While his brother, Simon Peter, would later preach to crowds, it was the quieter Andrew who had first introduced Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:35-42). It was Andrew who brought a group of seekers to Jesus (John 12:20-22), Andrew who had been talking with a boy in the crowd, and who drew Jesus’ attention to the boy’s five small barley loaves and two small fish that Jesus then multiplied to feed the crowd (John 6:1-21). As a small part of the body of Christ, we needed this message:

We need more Andrews.
There are no minor roles.
Never think your contribution
to the kingdom is insignificant.
It matters.

  • Our closing prayer beautifully concluded our time together:

Holy Spirit, teach us.
Help us to remember that the body
is made up of many parts;
each one unique and everyone necessary.
Teach us to embrace the discomfort
that comes from our diversity
and to celebrate the fact that we are unified
not through our sameness,
but through the blood
of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

As we continue to move forward, I wonder how things are going with you and your church. Are you worshipping in person and/or online? What has stayed the same, what has changed, and what is still in process? What encouragement can you offer? Please leave your comment below, or drop me a line.

_______________

For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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