As is true for many church-goers, my wife and I have been “attending” church virtually over the past year. Our church broadcasts its services live on both Facebook and YouTube, and we can tune in from the comfort of our own living room. To be honest, it’s been a little difficult to feel at all connected with the church as a whole while watching services on a screen every week, though we’re also part of a smaller group where we do feel much more connected.
With more and more people being vaccinated, there’s been talk of returning to in person services. Many in our church are especially excited for this day, since in the interim we have built a new church building. However, I personally have found myself struggling to be excited about a return to in-person worship. I love our small group, and have been feeling in my heart a pull toward a more local, focused ministry rather than the church of hundreds we’ve been attending.
Last Wednesday, I shared some these thoughts with the group at our midweek meeting. We discussed it a bit, but there wasn’t much of a conclusion drawn.
That night, I had a dream that I was in the new church building (which I’ve never been inside before, and I don’t claim that my dream was architecturally accurate!). But it wasn’t a new building anymore. As I walked around, the walls were covered with the marks of a thousand tiny fingerprints. The carpets were worn and stained by coffee spills and the treads of many shoes. The ceiling had the remnants of decorations from dozens of weddings, birthday parties, and funerals. The big kitchen was covered in layers of food particles from thousands of meals prepared there. The whole building felt very lived-in…not neglected, but covered in the sort of patina that develops after decades of occupancy and use.
Playing in my head as I walked around the building was the song “93 Million Miles” by Jason Mraz. That’s the song I chose to dance to with my mom at my wedding. Although the song had no real special meaning for us (I’m pretty sure the first time my mom heard that song in her life was when I sent it to her asking her what she thought), I chose it because of the repeated refrain: You can always come back home.
I woke up after that dream and just lay in bed, thinking about the parable of the missing sheep, and the lost coin, and the prodigal son. I realized, lying there, that the reason I wasn’t feeling very excited about coming back to the building was because I was confused. I had confused the thing I see on the screen on Sunday — the worship, the communion, the lesson — with church. Church is family; it’s God’s people, building a community, helping the poor and the needy and the hurting and the hungry, proclaiming the good news that no matter what we’ve done or how lost we feel, we can always come back home.
I realized that somewhere in this pandemic and in this lockdown I’d lost sight of that truth and categorized church in my head as just another show I watch on YouTube.
After having had that dream and those thoughts, I realized my whole attitude has changed. I feel excited to go back, not because of the new building or because of what I will experience worshiping in person but because of what the body of believers, together, can build there. Because of the people we will convert together through God’s grace and the family we will build and that through our combined efforts, Triangle Church will be a home that people can always, no matter what, come back to.
I look forward to the day when our church can meet together in the new building. But even more than that, I look forward to the day when the new building has become the old building, as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans, lived-in and lovingly cared for over the years, and when we show up there we feel like we’re home.