Last Sunday I attended my first service at our church for seven months! The last time I had physically been to one of our services was on Sunday 16th March, which was our last gathering prior to lockdown. I have been attending our virtual services but it was great to be finally returning to church at last
My church reopened again in July. However we have been subject to certain restrictions for our services: numbers are limited to 30 attendees, face masks must be worn at all times, no singing is permitted and no drinks are served after the service. Additionally, if we want to attend a service we must book a place via our church office beforehand and understandably priority is given to those who do not have internet access.
We are currently running what our website describes as hybrid worship services. Basically this means that the service takes place in the church itself and it is streamed via Zoom and Facebook live. The services are also recorded and uploaded to our website. Those that actually attend the service watch parts of it on a large screen as some elements of the service are still online. All music is pre-recorded and as previously mentioned no singing is allowed.
When I first read about the restrictions that we had to follow, I decided that I would rather continue to worship virtually than actually attend a service. I did not want to sit in a service wearing a face mask and I certainly could not imagine not being allowed to sing. In fact I decided that not singing in church was a “red line” issue for me!
However, over the last month I had been thinking about possibly returning to church for a service. After pondering this I decided to apply for a place for last Sunday. One of the things that persuaded me was that it was a communion service, and I personally have found those services harder to engage with virtually. So I applied a few days beforehand and was allocated a place.
I found myself getting quite excited about the prospect of returning to church and set off eagerly on Sunday morning. Upon arriving at church I had to tick my name on the list of people signed up to attend. I was then given some hand gel to put on my hands. There were about thirty chairs set out in pairs in the service area, with good social distancing between them. I had a quick chat with someone and just before the service started our vicar went over the rules, including reminding us not to sing. Although we could hum to ourselves.
The service started and after opening prayers we watched the first song. Unfortunately, it was a song that I really liked and I suddenly realised that I was singing along to it, but quietly though! I decided to revert to humming instead. I think I got away with that!
The service continued as usual with prayers, a sermon and another song. As we came to communion our vicar reminded us how this would operate. We only took the bread and not the wine. Before we took the bread someone came round and gave us each hand gel to wash our hands. And after we had taken the bread we again were given hand gel to wash our hands. This is the first time I have taken communion for seven months and it was really good to be able to participate again. The service finished with a song and then we had to leave.
Although the service was the same as the other communion services I have attended virtually, it felt so different actually being at church. I really enjoyed the service and found that I was able to engage in it and focus on God much better than when I am at home watching it on the laptop. Of course I would rather not wear a face mask and would prefer to be allowed to sing, but I did not feel my enjoyment of the service was diminished in anyway.
Going forward I certainly want to go back again and will probably look at attending the communion service again, numbers permitting.
If you have not gone back to your church yet I would strongly encourage you to consider doing so. I realise that some people may have legitimate health concerns, which may mean that it is wiser to attend virtual services. However, if you are able to attend please seriously pray and think about it. Virtual services have been important over the last few months and no doubt will be going forward. But they are not the same as attending a service. I certainly enjoyed returning to church. Why not give it a go?