The smiles make everything we’ve collectively been through worth the effort. Looking at familiar faces, complete with their smiles and comments and laughter reminds me how much I have missed these people, and more surprisingly to me, how much I love them.
There’s an old adage that says we don’t know how much we cherish something until we no longer have it. Way, way back when COVID numbers drove us all to the edge of caution and church houses along with all other venues were shuttered, we suddenly realized just how much it meant to us to religiously gather. Ironically, many of us who’d been casually going to church because that’s what we do on Sundays suddenly really longed to be in church with our congregations, partially because we needed their mutual love and support more than ever, and partially because it was now alarmingly prohibited.
So Zoom church it was, which meant smiling at the computer in our pajama bottoms or no screen on at all, listening to the same discussions we’d be listening to if we were all dressed up sitting in a pew. Congregation leaders did their best to make it as normal as possible, and we adapted because it’s all we had. Yet it wasn’t normal because the missing element was the people factor — the unappreciated, unrecognized, previously taken-for-granted fact that going to church by yourself isn’t near the experience as attending with your congregation family.
Eventually the way opened up for us to gather again with dozens of cautious rules imposed, including masks. So we trudged through what seemed like an eternity of attending church with our fellow bandits, sitting in these familiar pews, staring at that familiar pulpit, listening to that week’s speaker. But it was still off. We were together, but not entirely — still distanced, still cloistered, still untouchable, still unhuggable, so close yet still so far apart.
We did all of that because we mutually chose to do whatever it took to gather. We practiced obedience to the rules set for religious congregating. What better place to practice obedience than in church, right? We wanted to be together so much that we sat every other row, kept our masks on for the entire duration, accepted a new way of receiving sacrament, sang garbled hymns through our masks, distanced ourselves in the aisles, scurried out after meetings, and were grateful to be there.
We did this, plus dozens of other practices, to get to the point where a cautious new rule was recently handed down from the powers that be that church mask time is over. There are still multiple rules to follow, still precautions to take. Common sense tells us this far more than any list a government agency can produce.
But the point is we went to church without masks. And it was the best Sunday many of us have had in a long time.
Watching the faces — the complete faces — of my congregation family members, listening to their comments, hearing them sing intelligible hymns, and chatting with them from a habit-induced distance brought unanticipated joy as I realized how much I have missed them — their collective goodness, their strength, their support, their wisdom, and especially their presence. These people are my other family and we have been apart too long.
The morning’s jubilation was complete when the youngsters came out of the children’s classroom carrying balloons. A cascade of colorful balloons bobbed down the hall as kids sought their parents. Balloons? I asked the children’s class leader. She grinned, shrugged and said, “We are celebrating coming back together again.”
Indeed we are.
Praise the Lord and Hallelujah!