Re-Gathering Begins (But it Might Take a While)

This is the week! After four months of online worship only—nothing in the building—we will be having public worship services starting on Sunday morning, July 26. No one has pressured me and the other pastors to do this, and our folks are of different minds on the subject. Many have long been ready to return—others think we should wait still longer before we do.

We said that we would wait until Virginia was in Phase Three, and we are now there. But I want you to come back to the building only when you are ready and comfortable doing so.

We are taking all the recommended precautions for your safety. Masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer, wiping down seats between services, little singing—and then only quietly and while seated, and limited rest room use. A briefer service. One-way traffic in, and out. Nothing that you have to handle or pass to others. And... reservations required. I cannot say that there is absolutely no risk, though. Just leaving your home and going to the grocery store or college next month opens you to the possibility of catching the virus.

A group of church leaders and their families joined me for a "soft opening" this past Sunday, just to practice and to see what we might be missing in our plans. It went very well—adding to my confidence.

I did notice, though, that my preaching is different when back in the FAC. It's not the same as the videotaped presentations I had become used to all these weeks. It may take a while for me to get back into the rhythm I have known for decades.

Here are seven differences-- 

1.  I have been seated on a stool, but now it is back to standing. It doesn't have to be, I guess, but I am more comfortable that way in a public service.Actually, preachers in Bible times (including Jesus) were seated while preaching or teaching (Luke 4:20).

2.  I have been talking to one person—Erin, our Communications Director--and her camera. Now it is scores, maybe hundreds, of people.

Really, though, I have always tried to think of myself as addressing just one person—you.

Something I learned from an old radio announcer who told me: "Don, when you are speaking on the radio you aren't talking to 'thousands of you out there in radio land'-- but to one man driving his car, or one person cooking dinner or washing dishes.”

I still want to convey that intimacy, as if in my living room talking just to you and your family.

3.  When on video, I have no way of knowing if I am "connecting" with my listeners. There is no   immediate feedback, like the nodding of the head to signal understanding. Of course, nodding off to sleep sends me a clue, too! Laughter when a punch line lands. An "amen" to punctuate a truth with your agreement.

On video—nothing. You could be rolling your eyes for all I know.

4.  I am more sensitive when I can actually see the people who are hearing me. Because I have been pastor here for almost fifteen years now, I know about the woman struggling in her marriage. The man with the drinking problem. The guy who is praying desperately for a job. The parent whose child is dealing with the matter of sexual identity and all the confusing messages he's getting from the culture. I try to be more a pastor than a fire-breathing prophet.

Sensitive—but also more passionate and authentic in person than on video.

5.  On video I am in complete control of the environment. A phone rings, and I stop. The neighbor chooses this day to cut his lawn and we just set up in another room. Distractions can be minimized or eliminated entirely.

6.  On Sunday mornings in the pulpit, live, there are no "Do Overs." Not that it happened a lot when we were videoing, but occasionally I would stop mid-sentence and tell Erin that I wanted to "try that point again." A skilled editor can make it look like one continuous idea.

Now—whatever happens, happens. I'll have to clean up my messes and lack of clarity all by myself.

7.  With video, I have been able to preach at a time convenient to me. And if the sermon wasn't ready on Wednesday, we could shift it to Thursday. Now it is back to Sunday morning—ready or not. Whether I feel good or a bit under the weather.

But this is the rhythm I have known for almost half a century: Start preparing and studying on Monday. Outline by Wednesday. Do the writing on Friday. Deliver the goods on Sunday. And, even though this is the longest break from that routine that I have ever known, I think it will come back quickly-- after a week or two. We'll see.

Join me on Sunday, either from a seat in the FAC or in your pajamas in your living room. I promise a message from God's Word that will encourage you and strengthen your soul.

It will be "live" either way.

1 Comment

Peter Roff - July 21st, 2020 at 9:06am

Don - if you want to preach while seated it would not bother me in the least. I probably wouldn't even think about it. Just keep proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ and that there's a place in heaven for everyone who wants to claim it -- as you have done during your entire time in our pulpit -- and things will quickly get back to normal. And let's hope we have more reservations than we can handle.





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