I continue to be amazed at the terrific work that parish clergy have done during the Covid pandemic especially in finding ways to offer worship and other services via live streaming. I would estimate that only a handful of churches offered services on-line before Covid and now easily a majority of churches offer this. At the heart, clergy are in the people/relationship calling and not the technology or media presentation building, but they have learned. This learning continues. For example, my home congregation, Grace in Georgetown, Texas has daily services and Sundays live streaming. This is great, but now that we are gradually coming out of the pandemic, you will want to pay attention to two important dynamics.
First, there is a dramatic upturn toward the need for human touch. Early in the development of computers and on-line services psychologists coined an important concept. “High Tech leads to High Touch.” What they noted is that the more people interfaced with computers and other technology, the stronger their desire for human touch.
This came back to me in a conversation with a colleague. She noted that despite the continuing demand for masks and distancing in the wave of delta, people were coming to in person events and staying longer. She noted this in Sunday services and in funerals she had performed. I had noticed this too in returning to church, but I had not fully realized what I was seeing and experiencing. Our people were longing, not just for in person worship, but for connectedness. My suspicion is that we clergy are so focused on Sunday as a worship event and anxious to get back to “normal” meaning what we know that we may not be responding to this deeper need.
Simply said, we have often confused community and fellowship with the coffee hour. I often remind folks what I learned from one of my professors 50 years ago. He pointed out that the New Testament Greek word translated fellowship has become a weak word for Christians today. The better word, he suggested, is solidarity. “When one suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice,” as St. Paul stated. Whatever this means, it does not mean superficial greetings.
My point is this, attend to ways to make the need for high touch realized among our people. Yes, of course, continue to provide alternatives to live events, there are folks who will need this. More importantly, we have learned to connect to a wider community via media to people who may never intend to attend a Sunday service. The church got a crash course in catching up with the 21st century and especially millennials and younger generation folks, however, remember that high tech leads to the need for high touch. And this is true for clergy as well as our laity.
Second, there is a distinct difference in seeing people on Zoom, sending them emails and filming You-tube, Instagram messages, and in being physically present with people. This distinction has profound implications for the church as well as for our culture.
I learned this from the young tech professional who, in a workshop, commented about Facebook. He made this observation. “Sometimes Facebook confuses us because we think being connected is the same as being in relationship!” He went on later to say that sending “an email to someone may connect us, but it doesn’t bring us into relationship!”
For example, because of my writing, teaching, and speaking at conferences, I have over 850 “friends” on Facebook. Truth is that I have about 20 real friends on FB with most everyone else an acquaintance. Having 850 people that I connect with on Facebook often confuses me about my need for real friendship which almost always involves real contact.
As we move to a post-pandemic world, let’s remember these truths. We need to create opportunities for our people to relate in meaningful ways and to create more and deeper relationships. Of course, worship especially the Eucharist is important, but passing the peace and going to coffee hour is hardly solidarity with our fellow members of the body of Christ.