Church is about to start and the Zoom link doesn’t work! For some reason it keeps sending me to a YouTube video of “Seek Ye First,” and I can’t find my church!
I quickly text my pastor husband, who not only leads the service and preaches every Sunday morning, but is also the lone manager of all things technical. And then I see the email with the new link. Of course, he already knows the link led everyone astray because he must have been sitting in a Zoom meeting all by himself, wondering where his congregation was.
We all seem to finally find our way to church and still have 10 minutes or so of “foyer time.” While I hold the iPad, wiggly and unsteady due to hyper children grabbing at my arm, my eight-year-old flies his new Lego set across the screen. And then my two-year-old puts his face right up to the iPad so everyone can see his left eyebrow, and he waves an enthusiastic hello to all his friends. After my daughter yells “Hi, Daddy” over and over, and my toddler starts crying in the background, I notice my pastor husband, with one click, has muted the chaos of his kids. Other voices can now be heard. Smart move, Pastor!
Before the service starts, I send my kids outside, hoping they’ll be less inclined to crawl all over me. My two-and-a-half-year-old, having recently learned how to ride a bike, wants to show everyone his new skills. When I point the camera at my little guy, we hear many oohs and aahs and “Way to go!” and my toddler-biker beams. So does his mama.
Last year at this time, we were at Camp Squeah, and he had just learned how to rip around on his strider bike. While the live-on-camera viewing doesn’t beat a weekend of biking with our church family at camp, I take the moment to thank God, sun shining on my face, kids running and biking up and down our quiet street, and our church family cheering us on.
Our experience of church and of community has been completely altered, but here we are on the street, sharing this toddler-in-diapers-learns-to-bike milestone together and being the church in a new, unexpected, messy yet beautiful way.
When the service starts, I sit down in my lawn chair, coffee in hand, and participate in the “call to worship” readings. After a song, the screen goes back live to my husband, and while he looks at us, lips moving, I wonder if something happened to my speaker.
And then I see the uneasy looks in all the Zoom squares as they wonder the same thing. When someone finally tells our dear muted pastor that we can’t hear him, he laughs and clicks something and we’re back on!
During sharing time I hear stories of birthday visits with grandparents from their retirement home’s third-floor balcony, the 40th birthday surprise parade for our friend, and the challenges and joys of homeschooling.
When the service comes to an end, we say goodbye to our friends who are in pyjamas, our friends who are sitting in their backyard, our friends who are in retirement homes, and our friends who are a block away yet feel a world away.
I put down the iPad and don’t know what to feel. This is odd. It’s community, it’s beautiful, and it connects us, yet it is strange and not ideal. As I get used to this new normal, I grieve the real faces and the real touch, yet I’m also thankful for this very real community.
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.