The Wonders of Dual “Virtual Church” —by Jinny Batterson
For the past few years, I’ve attended services at two different religious congregations, one a predominantly “white” Unitarian-Universalist group, the other a predominantly “black” African Methodist Episcopal church. This “dual citizenship” religiously has enriched my spiritual life greatly while posing some practical problems. The physical buildings of the two congregations are several miles apart—a ten-minute commute by car. Both churches have traditionally held their in-person services at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, so I’ve had to decide each week which service to attend. Sometimes I can “double up” and slip belatedly into the latter part of the AME service, which tends to run a little longer.
Enter the covid-19 pandemic. This viral scourge has caused lots of changes in our customary ways of ordering our lives, not the least of which has been a temporary set of restrictions on large interpersonal gatherings. Now both churches hold their Sunday services virtually. If I set up my computer correctly, I can switch instantaneously between the two, catching both sermons and most of the music both places. Most weeks, the recordings of the services stay on the internet for a few days, so if I miss part of a reading or story, I can catch it on Monday or Tuesday.
This past Sunday, the UU sermon centered on learning to slow the pace of our often frenetic lives, to savor time with family, to relearn habits of connecting that may have gotten diminished or lost altogether in our pre-covid frenzy of work/commute/family/physical health activities. The AME service reminded us that God is the ultimate arbiter of our reality, not the latest breaking news, case counts, or polling results. “We shouldn’t discount the very real challenges,” the minister counseled, while he warned us not to focus on them to the exclusion of our connection with the holy.
The wise words from both sources helped prime me for the week ahead. The music that went with each service was healing, too. In so many ways, I’ll be glad when we have fewer issues related to corona viruses. It will be special to be able to see fellow parishioners face-to-face rather than via computer or smartphone screen. Maybe eventually I’ll have chances again to shake the ministers’ hands. There’s something for me about the experience of physically worshipping together that no virtual environment can fully replace. Still, I don’t want to forget the spiritual gifts and scheduling flexibility that this hiatus from “regular church” has offered me.
Please stay safe, pray a lot, and remember that the gift of life is just that—a gift, to be used as wisely as we can discern, with as much spiritual help as we can find.