Fostering a Sense of Communion

Mar 30, 2020

Dear Preachers,

During a conversation with a group of pastors last week about worship in the time of Covid-19, a question was raised about the difficulty of attracting worshipers to a virtual “show” each Sunday. The consensus of the group was that our goal right now, as it always has been and always will be, is to think creatively about how our worship and preaching is fostering a sense of communion—communion with God, with one another, and with our world. This does not require a show, but it does require putting time into new forms of connecting and relating.

I’m thrilled to see the creative explosion of virtual worship and preaching practices that are emerging. I’ve noticed something rather unexpected, though. When watching a preacher or worship band leading in front of an empty sanctuary, I feel a very strong sense of separation—I am alone and isolated, I am not able to go where I would usually go, I am at a distance from a community that means a great deal to me. In contrast, watching sermons, music, praying, and even Sunday School lessons broadcast from living rooms, dining room tables, and back porches makes me feel connected—we are all in this together, God is present with us in all these places, and by extension, we are present with one another.

The tiny church I serve is gathering on Sundays via webinar. A few join via video chat, and another twenty or so listen from their landline telephones (the only technology available to many of these senior citizens). Last week, sitting in my living room, I looked into my Macbook camera and preached, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, (nor coronavirus), nor anything else in all creation will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Later, I invited those on the call to share what convictions of faith they’re holding onto right now, and nearly every person spoke up. (I assure you, this is not the norm!) None of us were in a sanctuary. There was no show. There was no pulpit, no candles, no font or table, but we were communing with God and with one another.

It is likely we will be spending many more Sundays in isolation. Certainly we should all take full advantage of the technical expertise and talent available on our teams, but while we do so, let’s invite the Holy Spirit to move in new and creative ways in worship and preaching that facilitates connection-in-isolation.

Rev. Jennifer Ackerman, PhD
Director, Ogilvie Institute of Preaching
Brehm Center | Fuller Theological Seminary