We need our communities of faith
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon as I stood out in front of the main doors to the church at St. Mary, Charlotte, on the first weekend of June. It was our first opportunity to welcome people back to weekend Masses after the coronavirus-related shutdown. I found myself wondering if folks had received and read the letter that we had sent to every parish household detailing our new policies and procedures as we returned to the public celebration of Mass. Did anyone take the time to view the “Welcome back to Mass” video that we had posted on the parish website? Would they be willing to follow our new procedures? I found myself wondering if anyone would come back, or if they would simply stay home and continue to take advantage of the Mass via livestream.
Then, right on schedule, vehicles began to roll into the parking lot. Our parish greeters were all staged in their proper locations and began the process of offering a warm welcome to each person as they made their way toward the main doors of the church. I repositioned myself in the church’s gathering space and began offering my own enthusiastic words of welcome along with a fair number of elbow and fist bumps. On a certain level, this opportunity to welcome parishioners and visitors back to church after nearly three months felt to me like the first day of school. People were genuinely excited to see one another even as we practiced physical distancing and wore our masks. I will say that trying to read facial expressions from the eyes to the forehead is something of a challenge.
It was an exciting and exhausting weekend, but it was the “good” kind of exhaustion. I think all of us learned valuable lessons that first weekend back in church together. The first lesson is that we can take the opportunity to gather and to worship too easily for granted. Watching Mass from home via livestream and producing that same livestream in a church devoid of an assembly isn't the same. On the one hand, it was what we could do under the circumstances, but it also felt a little strange.
The second lesson I think we are learning is just how much we need God and the opportunity to thank and praise God. In a world in which church attendance is dwindling and life is getting busier, I think it is too easy for us to turn Sunday worship into just one more thing to check off our to-do lists. Being back in church after such a prolonged absence brought tears to the eyes of many and reminded all of us about why we go to church in the first place – not just because it is our duty to worship God, but also that it is our privilege and our joy.
A final lesson we are learning is just how much we need our community of faith. Everything that we have experienced during this pandemic time is simply more bearable when there are others to help share that load. We can help one another to carry the cross, even as Jesus helps to bear the cross for each of us. God did not design us to live in isolation from one another. Instead, he designed us to live in community and in communion with one another and with himself. Living in community with one another means we rejoice when others rejoice and we weep when others weep. Living in communion with God means that we allow the goodness of God to be infused into our daily lives.
This process of welcoming folks back to the public celebration of Mass is going to go on for some time. It is a joy to invite them into deeper community and communion in the Eucharist. As we grow more and more accustomed to returning to Mass, I hope we are also unafraid to invite others to come back to reclaim their places in church. Together, may we rediscover the energy, the beauty and the joy of worshipping God together in church. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.