Colorado Congressman and GOP chief Ken Buck caught a little fire recently for proclaiming that he would return to church on May 3 even if he had to “wear a scuba outfit.”
While I agree with Buck’s assessment that many of us “don’t get through this without prayer,” my personal faith experience tells me that church and socially responsible action are not mutually exclusive.
About a month ago, I lamented the loss of Holy Week services to the coronavirus but wrote that though “I couldn’t go the house of God, He found His way to me.”
The intervening time has not changed my opinion. If anything, it has strengthened my belief that common solutions should be prioritized over false dichotomies. The former is the path of unity that, in the words of conservative columnist David Brooks, allows “us to see each other on a level much deeper than politics – see the fragility, the fear and the courage.”
And of course, for Christians like Buck, R-Windsor, and myself, bringing people together is the path charted by Christ.
For me, the solution has come via Facebook watch parties and YouTube live feeds of services performed by my priest in an empty church. Just last week, he addressed this new reality directly when he recognized that, “Preacher and pastor types are not just preaching the Word to our people across new platforms, we are proclaiming the good news during a global pandemic to a people who are stranded in their anxieties and uncertainties and fears and uneasy and vulnerable hearts.”
Then he sang a refrain from the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” – because that’s just what Father Allan does when he’s really inspired – and later declared, “Zoom calls, by the way, are of the devil.”
Yet, it is moments like those when our new reality presents new opportunity to come together.
In person, my fellow parishioners and I would have sat attentively in our pews just listening. Maybe a rare “Amen” would bubble up through someone’s lips. In contrast, heart emojis flew by as the virtual congregation signaled their appreciation for passages like those. The comments board lit up with questions and praise.
It became interactive not just between priest and parish, but among fellow believers.
As Father Allan noted, “the coronavirus is not the only thing going around in our world.” There is also compassion and courage and faith, hope and love. For those of us gathering for church online, there is also, still, community.
Of course, I do not begrudge Buck his desire to get back to his place of worship. For all the benefits of attending online – gym shorts can qualify as my Sunday best – it cannot replicate the sense of serenity I get simply by sitting in the nave and looking up to the altar. I suspect Buck’s words were driven at least in part by the same longing.
I also recognize that my personal workaround may not be an option for everyone, particularly those without internet access. The coronavirus and its effects have not rid us of the less fortunate but instead multiplied them.
While those without access may maintain their faith through prayer and scripture alone, it is not the fertile, interpersonal soil of a community where it thrives. But Father Allan’s sermon had an answer for that problem, as well.
“Life is not on hold and the avenues of compassion are as open as they ever were,” he proclaimed. “I guess that’s my way of saying pick up your phone, call somebody, anybody. Let them hear a loving voice that is healing. I guess what I really want to say is that you don’t have to wait until the pandemic is over to see that God is good and with us.”
When it is safe and we do not pose a threat to one another, there will be a time for us all to return to our churches, temples, mosques and similar places of worship. Until then, there are still plenty of common solutions to keep our faith communities strong.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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