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Preparing your Heart for Public Worship: Embracing the Awkward

Over the next few days, I hope you will read these brief emails to prepare your heart for the re-gathering of the body.

It was 10 weeks ago when we stopped having public worship at Providence. We were blessed that we already had a fantastic Media team in place to livestream our services. The elders decided to proceed in that manner. I was the first to preach in that environment. I cannot adequately describe the feelings of preaching to an empty room. I did not know where to look either at the camera or one of the five other people in the room assisting with music. There was a camaraderie among those of us participating (six feet apart from one another) knowing we were serving our brothers and sisters sitting at home. But we longed to be able to gather the body together. I perhaps could summarize what I felt as ‘awkward’.

Two weeks ago, we had our first group of families back. We had our sanitizing team with their families and the families of those leading the worship service. In all, there were maybe 40 people in the room. All the families were more than six feet from one another and many of them were wearing masks. As I preached, I could not gauge reactions. There were still elements of the service we could not perform such as the offertory or special music. Despite having more people in the room, it still felt ‘awkward’.

But I am learning to accept ‘awkward’. There is no telling how long we will continue in this strange environment we find ourselves. As a historian, I can’t help but think of times in history when the church had to gather under ‘awkward’ circumstances. In the first century, Jewish believers had to embrace having Gentiles participate and eventually even lead in the services. In the late second century (and it continues to this day), many Christians had to go underground to have secret worship services- sometimes having to sing in whispers so as not to be heard and arrested. Attending those services could even lead to death. In my travels around the world, I have had to sit in services when languages that I didn’t understand were being used. Sometimes translators sat next to me and whispered in my ear in English. I could look around and see faces that I knew were being distracted by my presence. But even in those scenarios, I was with God’s people. It wasn’t the same as what I found comforting. But there was a blessing to be had in the awkwardness.

I can’t help but think of that scene in Isaiah 6:1-7. The prophet could not help but be aware of his sin before a God who was surrounded by angels shouting ‘Holy, Holy. Holy’. How awkward was that?!! And yet even in such circumstances, God made provision for Isaiah by having a hot coal placed upon his lips to atone for his sin (a sanitizing coal no less!!!).

As we re-gather, don’t miss the ‘Blessing of the Awkwardness’. A worldwide pandemic has temporarily separated us from one another. It is normal to return to the usual. But that will not be the case for a while. Instead, allow God to work through your discomfort. You will discover a God who is much bigger than you imagined who can grow you in sanctification through masks, six-foot conversations, and a refrain from handshakes or hugs. God is still at work and present among us.