Published in the Rains County Leader on May 19, 2020:
I’ve missed a lot of things during self isolation: lunch with friends at the Senior Center, picking out my own produce and meat at the grocery store, going to the library to choose what books we would read next, and going to the gym several days a week among others. The thing I missed most, though, was meeting with my church family.
Even before the shutdown officially began, the elders at Believers’ Baptist Church began recording devotions and sermons and making them available for those who chose to stay away from public gatherings. As isolation continued, they explored options for keeping BBC members and friends connected. For several weeks there was drive-in church where the congregation gathered in the church parking lot and listened to worship music and Pastor Jason’s message on KRER 102.5. Windows were rolled down and waves and greetings were shared from family to family, but everyone stayed in their cars. Then, last week a group of almost one hundred met for lawn chair church in front of the Family and Children’s Building.
David and I chose to forego those meetings and to catch the services on YouTube. One reason for our decision is that we are both in the vulnerable age range and both have health issues that might put us at increased risk. In addition, our car radio turns off five minutes after the engine is shut down, and it has no accessory switch. Finally, our inexpensive folding camp chairs have passed beyond their “best used by” dates after spending several Texas summers in a metal storage building. But when plans for resuming services in the building were announced, we were ready.
In order to allow space for following CDC safety guidelines, two services were planned – one for 9:00 am and one for 10:45 am. We opted for the early service, but I have to admit a little bit of reluctance when I thought of having to set an alarm and be ready to go so early. I also felt a bit of confusion when I tried to remember what I used to wear besides sweatpants and oversized T-shirts. I shouldn’t have bothered with the alarm – Kitty was bouncing all over the bed demanding her breakfast before it went off anyway. With an early start, we managed to have our own breakfast, remember how to make ourselves presentable and pull into the church parking lot with ten minutes to spare.
We’ve driven by the church at least a couple of times a week and even stopped in to say hello to the pastors and the secretary a few times, but I was glad to see people streaming from their cars and herding children toward the doors. When we went inside, I was so glad to see everyone that it was hard to refrain from shaking hands and hugging, and it was impossible to stop smiling. Every other row was blocked off, and people obediently sat on opposite ends of the available rows, but there was lots of moving around the room to say hello and catch up on the latest news. By the time the prelude started, I’m sure there were lots of smile-weary faces in the room.
While we were in isolation, I sang along with the choirs we watched on TV, but the joy of community was missing. When the service began on Sunday, I was glad to join in the songs of worship and praise with those around me. I was also glad to hear Pastor Jason reading and expounding the Bible live and in person rather than on a flat screen. And when the service was over, I was glad that no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave. We hung around talking about what we had missed while we were apart until the volunteer sanitizing crew began spraying Lysol in preparation for the next service.
The last weeks and months have been a time of turmoil and uncertainty that have caused a mixture of uncomfortable emotions. But because of what we have missed during that time and because of the uncertainty of whether we will be able to continue to meet, Sunday morning was unusually specially and wonderfully sweet – and for that I was glad.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Psalm 122:1