Sitting between the two females with whom I share my “safer at home” space, we watched the screen of my iPad and pretended we were actually — not simply virtually — in church. Sammie, my wife and sweetheart, pressed against my right shoulder. With her head on my left leg, Sophie lay on the other side of me, stretched out on the couch.
Sophie is our little girl that just turned three years old. She was born on Easter Sunday, 2017. Some would say that makes her twenty-one in dog years, but while full grown, our spoiled Boxer is still a baby in many ways. She has never attended an actual church service, but since we’ve been worshiping by livestream or video, hunkered down at home, she has been right here with us.
When I was serving as pastor, there was a service dog that attended church regularly — more regularly, in fact, than many of our human members. At the feet of her partner, she slept through most of my sermons. Occasionally her snoring inspired a nearby parishioner — or two — to join her in nodding off. But when the benediction was pronounced, she knew precisely what “Amen” meant. That word always overcame her slumber, too. When she heard “Amen” she would stand at attention ready for the postlude and exodus from the building.
Sophie knows “sit,” “lie down,” “come” and — her favorite — “walk,” but I don’t think she knows any church words.
Because of her spiritual illiterateness, I assumed she was asleep at my knee until Sammie pointed out that her eyes were wide open and she was staring attentively at the praise team as they sang and played — practicing proper social distancing, of course — leading the worship service. It was actually pretty amazing, considering that only recently did she begin to recognize Reagan when we FaceTime with our son’s family. Their Boxer is a litter mate of hers.
Our electronic devices have been very important for us humans during the past several weeks. Have you been joining an occasional church service while sitting on the couch? Many folks have had to rely on television or internet for their connection to the people of God for years, but now nearly all of us do.
In some ways it has been a good thing. We have visited more churches than would have been able to attend in a normal time, churches from near and far. This has been a real blessing. Have these trying times caused you to seek God?
Obviously, it’s not the same as being together, able to see the smiles and hear the voices of those around us. No handshakes or hugs, no pats on the back ... it’s different alright. Even drive-in church lacks that personal touch. But we do the best we can, under the circumstances. We can still mail in our offering or give electronically; we can call or text the preacher and say, “Good job, Bro!” For the time being, it’s the best we can do.
The writer of Hebrews admonished us to keep meeting together. My prayer is that we will accept that admonition more than ever before, even if it is adhered to in a virtual way. Hopefully our world will begin to recognize the need to depend on God more fully than ever before,
When things begin to open up again, it will be interesting to see whether church attendance increases or continues to fall. Will we, as a nation, welcome the opportunity to be together in houses of worship? Or have we become even more complacent while forced to stay at home?
Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” That’s good advice whatever the state of the world.
Steve Playl — chaplain, columnist, college instructor and former pastor — can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.