Just came back from a great nine days in Melbourne. Celebrated Lunar New Year there. Since mum has passed on, we didn't go to Penang for New Year this year. We (whole family except son Mark who just started a new job) went to Melbourne because son Stephen and his wife Kallie are there. Son John and his wife Eliza were with us. Son Andrew joined us from Toronto. We especially enjoyed seeing our two grandchildren, Austin (4) and Kieran (1+). We have had personal time with Austin before, prior to the Covid lockdowns. Kieran was born during the Covid years. We have seen him on Zoom/WhatsApp but have never met him “in person”. It was also special that we were able to celebrate Austin’s birthday while we were there.
Can’t adequately explain the great joy we had spending time with family, especially with the two grandchildren. While we appreciated the times we shared over social media, that was nothing compared to seeing them in person; seeing their smiles, playing with them, and communicating face to face with them. A highlight was a trip to the zoo on a rainy day with Stephen, Kallie, and the two lads for Austin’s birthday. It was rainy and wet and memorable. Connecting in person was special.
In the early days of Covid we had to switch from in-person meetings to meeting over platforms like Zoom. I had to be dragged yelling and screaming (at times literally) to make the change. I have always believed and still do that the ultimate human interaction requires our showing up because God made us embodied beings and we live out our lives through our bodies. But I made the switch. Indeed, I have come to appreciate the things we can do while meeting online. It has allowed me to meet and minister to people from all over the world. And there were those who couldn’t or wouldn’t join a course if wasn’t online. Online learning is here to stay.
But now that the worst of Covid seems to be over, most of us can meet in person again. Should we now cancel online meetings and move back to in-person meetings? One, that is not going to happen. And, two, we are clear now that online and on-site meetings both have their own impacts. Having said that, we should return to in-person meetings for those meetings that are best served when the “whole” person shows up. And that is NOT Sunday morning corporate worship services.
On-site corporate worship services have resumed for most churches, but for many churches the numbers have not been the same as pre-Covid. I have been asked by some church leaders for suggestions to get folks back to on-site worship services. In my mind, on-site corporate services are not really occasions for human interaction. I think corporate worship services are great for inspiration and instruction, but not for fellowship. The heart of human interaction is conversation, where we listen to each other and where we share our hearts, but that is precisely what does not happen in corporate worship.
A few churches have made the switch to small-group gatherings as their main expression of church life and large-group gatherings as supporting the former. This makes sense. Small-group gatherings where believers connect face to face and share life seems to me what the Christian life is about and where showing up in person makes sense. After all, you can still experience most elements of corporate worship online but some elements of human interaction can only happen when we are physically together.
It was really special to hug, kiss, smell, play with, and chat with Austin and Kieran. More messy, of course. But we miss them already. Zoom calls, yes. But just not the same. As John said:
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (2 John 1:12 NIV)
He (John) uses a Greek phrase almost always translated as “face to face”. The phrasing is stoma pro stoma, which literally means “mouth to mouth”. The idea is two people directly communicating without any barriers or distance. It means to speak in person, directly. (BibleRef.com)
There are many things we can do through Zoom, but some things can only be communicated face to face.