After 5 months, I finally went back to church last week. I had expected it to be an emotional event for me, but I have to confess—it wasn’t, really.
Since churches were closed following the Circuit Breaker in April, I had missed going to church a lot. For me at least, watching the online Sunday service at home, on a screen, just didn’t capture the same “atmosphere” of sitting in the pews worshipping with fellow believers.
So when I stepped into the worship hall last Sunday, I had expected to feel some stirring emotions, possibly of gratitude or relief, or of awe that I could finally come back to church.
Except that I didn’t.
The restrictions, of course, didn’t help. Under the rules, congregants were not allowed to sing or mingle. We could wave and smile at each other with our eyes (masks on at all times, please), but we weren’t supposed to go round and chat. Communion was almost a private affair—get your bread and wine, and back to the pews to partake of it on your own.
Mind you, I’m not complaining; I believe we need to proceed carefully and considerately if we want to return to a “normal” life without causing COVID-19 infections to rise again.
But as I sat there, I realised that while it was great to come back to church physically, what I missed most about church was the fellowship and the mingling. And that’s when I thought: Perhaps these are key elements of a church service—maybe even as important as the liturgy, the singing, the sermons, and the prayers.
What Really Matters
Over the past few months, many of us have discovered that some elements of church—such as the preaching of God’s Word and praying—can be done online effectively. But no video conferencing can fully replace singing together, exchanging handshakes and hugs, and catching up on the past week.
Of course, you could say this is no different from any social meeting. But it’s one thing to meet friends for dinner, and another thing to watch an important football match together. Nothing beats cheering and celebrating—or weeping, sometimes!—together when you know you share a common belief, conviction or cause. (And, as you know, watching a game on TV on your own isn’t the same, either.)
No wonder the Bible often uses the Greek word “koinonia”—meaning a holy, divine fellowship and community—to describe the meeting of fellow believers.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” —Acts 2:42
Hebrews 10:24–25, too, notes that mutual encouragement is part of “doing church”:
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This reflection has made me rethink church yet again. While the COVID-19 situation has prompted many of us to see that “doing church” can be done in new ways (including online), these thoughts on what we miss most is a challenge to “do church” differently.
Indeed, friends who have shared that they miss the congregational singing and interaction, also say that they will now be more intentional in greeting each other, catching up, and encouraging each other spiritually and socially. After all, these aren’t an unnecessary extra before and after church service—they’re an essential part of meeting as believers.
So Why Bother?
So why go to church at all, if all these restrictions are still in force? Why bother when current church services aren’t what they used to be?
I’d like to suggest one good reason to go back to church if we can: because life must go on. Because, deep inside, I believe that these things shall soon pass. I’ll go to church because it represents my dogged belief that one day, we’ll all be back in church, worshipping and fellowshipping together joyfully.
And when we can do that, I’ll make sure to give more attention to fellowship. I know that there’s been a lot of talk about a “new normal”, and about doing church in new, creative ways. But I believe that some things will never change. Church formats and services may need to adapt to the new challenges of our times, but good old koinonia will always be a part of the body of Christ.