I remember a lot of debates as to the importance of meeting together and what the right course of action for churches was, in regard to in-person or online gatherings. These are important discussions but I’m not talking about that in this article, I’m reflecting on a time after those decisions were made.
I want to tell you about my experiences returning to meeting in person, the things that stood out to me on my first service back and the months which have followed—an encouraging time!
“...We are one body, unified in Christ…” We’ve all heard this and statements like it many times. But, I feel like I gained a new appreciation for the experience of meeting together. Sometimes, you lose things, but you don’t quite realise what that thing is until you find it again.
This symbol of meeting together as a body of believers really emphasises how this relationship with our sisters and brothers in Christ is part of our identity as Christians. Upon returning to face to face meetings I felt my focus snap back to this reality. Bringing me to look up out of myself and instead as part of the family of God.
This reminder of the unity we share in Christ was already encouraging, but I had also forgotten how valuable a time each service can be to keep in touch with my church family.
Online meetings have necessitated a change in how we approach conversations, avoiding talking over people and the limited expression is challenging! Being in the same location as other people also makes it easy to catch up with people who haven’t been in the same break out room or small group with you all year.
Hearing the encouraging stories of people's lives and even just hearing about changes in their lives since you last spoke (before christmas or even longer ago!) brings its own happiness, a feeling of being grounded, connected to your fellow believers. Something, which through this experience, I am reminded to be thankful for.
I feel uplifted to embrace this change, but I also want to remember what we’ve learned from the last year. Yes, I want to remember the feeling of joy upon returning to meeting together in person, but I think there are some valuable skills we learnt along the way which can help in furthering the gospel.
Nearly overnight, my church went from ministering to a local congregation, to being an international congregation. As many of our members returned home interstate or internationally, we adapted to online services and catch ups. This was a great way to support each other through teaching, prayer and worship. Given the circumstances we were thankful for this provision, but God used the online services to reach even more people.
We have some members that we’ve kept in touch with who normally can’t attend services due to their nursing home arrangements. But when we started meeting online, those barriers of location disappeared and they enthusiastically engaged in the services and our church community.
This event, in and of itself, is encouraging, but it also should motivate us to take on a newly revealed opportunity for the gospel. As a country our population is aging, a growing section of the population lives in aged care facilities, or under intensive home care arrangements.
This can make it challenging or near impossible for them to attend and participate in a face to face service. But now that so many churches have developed the skills to run services online, it seems like we have a mandate to reach out to people who have been in a level of physical isolation well before the pandemic.
I’m overjoyed by the reminders and encouragement that I’ve experienced returning to face to face services. But I think we should remember the skills and strategies we developed, through necessity, and continue to apply it to reach those who can’t be in our services. Even in the trying times, God still opens doors for the gospel.
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html