May 2020 saw the release of Dr Gladys Ganiel’s report on a Survey of Church Leaders in Ireland During the Pandemic. It states that many churches have found their viewing figures for online services exceed the numbers of their ‘real-life’ congregations.
Faith leaders have reported an increase of people returning to childhood faith and people new to organised religion joining them. Other Internet statistics show an increase in searches for terms around prayer and Jesus. The Church, as it shows the faithfulness of God and love for our neighbours, is perceived to be a place of safety in a tumultuous sea of uncertainty.
However, Church and safety, or at least comfort, have not always been two concepts to sit neatly side by side in my experience. In less socially distanced times Church has been difficult. It is a practice of holy discomfort to be in a community where you have, on occasion, to learn to disagree well. To be unified in fellowship with people who may think differently, vote differently, spend money differently and worship in a different style. This is not a complaint; a healthy church can and should make space for this.
As an introvert and a homebody and someone extremely averse to conflict, I have enjoyed watching church services from my sofa, bare-footed and with coffee in hand. It’s the easy part of church for me. Pausing the service to answer questions from the children or chatting about how long it has been since we have seen the person on screen in real life. It is detached and it is comfortable. It feels safe.
Of course, it is done well and with prayer and forethought, but my favourite parts are always when the unplanned happens. It then feels like less of a product and more of a community. When a child creeps into frame in the background or an unexpected dog is in shot. This is the messiness of church. Real life. Real people with baggage and questions coming together to worship in truth and grace.
We must ask ourselves how we can bring the new consumers of online church with us, past lockdown into the difficult reality of being community? We must first recognise our own messiness that can be obscured by a well put-together on-line product. When we return to our church buildings we will be bringing our humanity, prejudices, doubts and questions with us as well as most importantly our love for one another (John 13:35).
In the meantime, I miss the discomfort. I miss having my rough edges knocked off by those who will lovingly challenge me to become more Christ-like.
Lisa Rea Currie has just finished a two year training programme to become a Diocesan Reader in Down and Dromore, she is now trying to look very busy in case God asks her to do more. Lisa works in the community sector in east Belfast and lives in Ards where she attends Movilla Abbey.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.