“What is it like for you to preach virtually instead of in-person?”
The tone of this question has been one of two types. 1.) Those who imagine these last 10 months as a “vacation” for the lead pastor or preaching pastor. 2.) Those who realize the weight of this time, and the energy it has taken to minister during this year, and wonder how we keep going.
Yes, there have been blessings in 2020. Amidst the pressure, loss, anxiety, and demand for constant flexibility, there is the joy of time together as a family, being grounded in the present, cooking and baking together, and taking in the home space. Without outside gatherings or meetings our only “downtime” is together time, and we have grown closer because of it.
Still, the things that I love most about ministry – people and proclaiming the Word of God – have looked dramatically different during this season. During this time, I preach in my office. Just myself and my camera.
On a “normal” Sabbath, pre-Pandemic, I would arrive at the church at 5am, pray, sing hymns, and run through the message for the day (and any other Sabbath school or additional preparation needed). I then ran home to have breakfast with my family, and returned to the church to prayer walk the campus – praying for each Sabbath School teacher, family who would attend, and person involved in service for the day. On my walk around the facility I ran into deacons unlocking rooms, teachers preparing crafts, and fellowship meal teams readying rooms for guests. Together, we worked to make space for connection – with God and with one another. Then, I would head to the sanctuary to greet people. I got the gift of hearing about people’s weekly activities, family, and prayer requests.
All this has now changed. So what is it like now?
For me, preaching in this context requires me to pray and pace around my office. I sing hymns and prayer walk around the empty church. I take time to imagine the faces of our congregation, to picture each pew. In my “mind’s eye” I see where each person sits and I think of what they have been through during this week. I pause to text, call, or email members to find out what is going on in their lives and to pray with them.
Only when I see their faces, when I am in prayer for each one, am I able to preach. The Word again comes alive again for what it means to be this body of Christ, here at this church.
I turn on the lights. I double check the camera and make sure I have power, a memory card, and speaker set up properly. And with people in mind and heart, I begin. It’s at those moments that motorcycles race by, someone comes with a delivery, or the landscaping is taking place outside my window, and I begin again, from the top. When I have had to share something heavy, there have been times I have began the same announcement multiple times, sometimes needing to cry and pray longer for the family before I can share. It goes beyond comfort being behind a camera – I actually enjoy that part. It’s about how I wish we could be together during these challenging times.
Does it take less time to preach each week? Well, no. Maybe for some. But I find the preparation work is not shortened it just looks different.
As they say, you don’t know what you have until it’s taken from you, and I think for many of us, took for granted the gift of gathering for worship and fellowship as a congregation.
It is not the same. Still, God has been present. I am so grateful for the mercy shown to us and the strength and resilience, compassion and generosity I’ve seen in this church body. I’m grateful for the support of my husband and the hours he has edited video. I’m blessed to have a competent and caring team of pastors to serve alongside.
At the end of this strange year of 2020, I pause to thank God for the beauty of this year, while allowing myself the space for my longing. Longing for the day when we won’t live under the cloud of anticipatory grief, wondering who we will lose to COVID-19. Longing for the day when we can hug, worship, study, eat, and be together. And yes, longing for the day when I can preach in a room with real people🙂
Until that day, may God bless us and keep us all.