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7:30 a.m. – Holy Eucharist, Rite I (In-person only)

9:15 Rector's Forum discussion group in Library

10:30 a.m. – Holy Eucharist, Rite II (both in-person and online via FB & YouTube)

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. – Holy Eucharist (In-person only) in Chapel

8:30 a.m. - Lectio Divinia Bible Study in Library

Wednesday

11:30 a.m. - Contemplative Prayer Group in Library

Thursday

12:05 p.m. – Healing Eucharist, Rite II (In-person only) in Chapel

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A Message from Duncan- January 23, 2024

A Message from Duncan- January 23, 2024

When is going to church NOT going to church?

 The very brainy of you (i.e. all of you) may have found yourself asking the question above last week when you heard my presentation to the Annual Meeting.  When is going to church NOT going to church?

In the days before we streamed our 10:30 service the answer was pretty easy.  In fact, the question was redundant.  If you weren’t in church, then you weren’t in church, and if you were, then you were.  End of story.  But since we began providing online worship during the pandemic it has become less straightforward to know who is in church and who isn’t.

Just to remind you of a couple of statistics from my presentation.  In 2023 our average Sunday attendance rose from 171 to 191.  The number of views of our 10:30 service on Facebook or YouTube rose from 241 to 276.  So, thousands of people joined us for services online last year.  That’s good.  Obviously it is.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the folks at St John’s who had the technological know-how and the vision to pivot to new ways of doing things.  But those thousands of online views … That’s not really going to church, is it?  I mean, not REALLY going to church?  Well…

Well, today I want to celebrate the fact that some people usually ‘go’ to church online.

This is exciting, but also bewildering.  As a pastor who believes in church growth, I am thrilled that we have made connections with people who would not have looked at us if it had not been for the pandemic.  There are probably folks who have not been to an in-person service at St John’s, but have been to an online, digital one. 

So, why do people ‘attend’ church online, but not in-person?

  1. Illness or immobility. Possibly the greatest thing to come out of streaming our services is that people who physically cannot make it to church because of illness or immobility can take part from home. If this were the only good thing about streaming our services, then it would still be enough to lead us to joyfully continue the practice forever.
  2. Convenience. Enough said. It’s now possible to watch the service at 2am on Thursday if 10:30am on Sunday doesn’t work for you.  And that is a good thing.
  3. Geography. Online streaming is an excellent way for people to still feel connected to John’s, even though they now live hundreds of miles away.
  4. People can fast forward through a recorded stream. If you only want to sing along to the hymns or just like to listen to the Bible readings, sermon, and prayers, it’s now possible.
  5. People can multitask while worshiping. As well as munching on your bagel, you have probably also checked emails, chatted with a family member, and even fed the dog. Try any of these things in church and see how the folks around you respond.
  6. Anonymity Here’s an interesting one. There’s no pressure watching online.  Walking through the church doors for the first time (or even the one thousandth) can be intimidating, especially if you are unsure of your faith.  You can imagine you’ll look foolish because you don’t know what to do and fear that people may judge you.  Attending online is a refreshingly low bar for participation.

All of that is well and good.  But, does participating online actually count as going to church?  Well, let me nail my colors firmly to the fence I’m sitting on and give a resounding, unequivocal “yes and no”.

“Yes”, because in our digitally-connected world, five minutes of intense concentration is a big deal.  There has never been a time in human history when attention spans have been shorter.  Thanks to smart phones, there are a million options to turn to if you’re bored.  So it would be unfair to call ten minutes of listening intently to an online sermon worthless.  After all, when you’re sitting in church, are you focusing 100% on everything that happens for the whole hour?  Five minutes of serious focus may be just as much as people devote to a church service when they are actually in the building.

And “no”, because there is no substitute for real in-person human interaction.  The point has never been to get bottoms on pews, but to get feet following Jesus.  The best way that can happen is in relationship with other Christians, worshiping together, supporting one another, and taking sacraments in community.

So, it is possible to view online attendance as lacking something vital.  But I prefer to look at it another way.  Building connections with people online is a great start to our relationship with them.  Hopefully we can build on this by creating true community with them.

Duncan