Wednesday 29 April 2020

On (Not) Meeting Together

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

As some of us have discovered, and as several well-researched pieces are telling us, meeting by Zoom (other video conferencing apps are available!) can be emotionally draining.

As you’d expect, it’s down to a mixture of reasons. The physical proximity of each other when we get together has a way of stirring all our senses, much of which is lost when we connect via screens. Then there’s the constant presence of our own image as we interact with others, which raises our self-awareness and affects how authentic and available we are in the conversation. Zoom works well for lectures, or for formal meetings with rules about who speaks, but is less suitable for more interactive meetings when more than a few people are present. Even on the fastest of internet connections, the slight delay in saying something and it being registered by others on the screen can play havoc with the natural rhythms of how we normally communicate with each other. Those who have studied this area draw attention to unwritten rules about eye gaze, turn taking, and our reliance on microsecond timing. We have to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, and all this consumes a lot of emotional energy.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to God every day for the provision of technology which allows us to connect during this time – as families, friends, and colleagues, as well as a church – and I still get a happy rush when I see all the windows opening on the screen of my laptop. Plus, we should probably think about putting some online provision in place when this period is over, for those who are housebound.

Even so, I’m missing our gatherings, and I hope you are too.

I’m missing the smell of freshly-baked lemon drizzle cake when we meet for housegroup, the sounds of chinking mugs as drinks are prepared in the kitchen, the hubbub of catching-up conversations between friends, the way someone is able to detect by the slightest flicker of a look in our eye that the day hasn’t gone so well...

From beginning to end, the Bible makes it clear that God designed us to be embodied creatures – and social creatures too! The blessings of the digital age aside, church isn’t meant to be an experience we consume, like the latest series on Netflix, from the comfort of our sofas. Our gathered worship is meant to involve our physical togetherness in one place alongside people with whom we experience the highs and lows of real relationship.

It’s reminded me that there’s an important ‘horizontal’ aspect to our worship which we sometimes miss in our concern to get the ‘vertical’ aspect right. Our moments of gathered worship are not merely a place for our individual expression of worship upwards to God, but the place for the Spirit’s transformation of us together as the body of Christ. And it’s our immersion in the life and relationships of the gathered church that forms us and equips us to be God’s people in everyday life.

Lovely though it has been to meet via Zoom on Sunday mornings and at other times during the week, I’m looking forward to when we’re next able to gather, and I hope you are too.

No comments: