During the past several months of physical distancing due to the pandemic, I have been encouraged by the many ways the people of the Diocese of New Westminster have embraced our identity as the body of Christ, even when we cannot meet in person. Some folks have even emphatically proclaimed that church has nothing to do with the building; that it is all about the people. I hear what they are saying. At its roots, the church is indeed made up of the people of God. However I would like to also suggest that in very profound and important ways, it is also the building.

I think like all created beings, we are made to express love in unique ways; it’s part of who we are. For example, as an artist, I have a particular passion for beauty. The sensuous nature of our Anglican liturgy is one of the most fundamental ways I express my love for God. For others it may be making glorious music, offering generous hospitality, a lovingly prepared community meal, hugs, or conversation at coffee hour. For ALL of us who consider ourselves sacramental people, it is the tangible in-person sacraments vital to our faith, especially the Eucharist. The beautiful, beloved buildings that house all these practices and expressions; that soak up our love, prayers and heartfelt devotion into their very walls are – for the moment – lost to us in some of the most important ways, and for some of us, altogether, until it is safe to return. Our buildings are not just inanimate structures. They are alive and sacred, by very nature of having been set apart for holy things.

It is of course right and proper that we are being careful out of love for one another right now. Love demands this. What I am saying though, is that it is also okay to grieve. I think part of how we can authentically be community right now is to lament together the loss of those God-given expressions of creativity, love and devotion that are so dear to us and that (I imagine) are dear to God too.

It may seem like a moot point to post this now. After all, many of us have returned in some capacity to our buildings. However, not all of us have returned – and even those of us who have will still have to wait to fully express ourselves within them. Anticipating the lead-up to Advent makes us realize that we will have to watch another beloved liturgical season go by with heavy restrictions on our expressions of worship. As the theme of Advent itself reminds us, we are there but also not quite there yet. Tasting its nearness makes it harder in some ways.

In our Eucharistic celebration, we affirm as one that Christ died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. We can therefore, as people of faith, imagine a ‘coming again’ that has not yet happened. We WILL return to our full expressions of worship, I have faith in that. And in the meantime, I am so proud of how we have discovered new ways to be community and to care for and love one another. I hope we will retain many of these lessons and practices going forward.

But I still grieve. I missed the episcopal anointing at the Chrism mass and at my ordination. I miss Adoration, the taste of the Eucharistic wine, the joy of distributing the elements, the sound of the congregational voice, and the surrender of kneeling at the altar. I miss being together with the full body of Christ present; seeing whole faces not covered in masks, and bodies not hidden by Zoom screens. So, even if just for a moment, I invite you to lament with me the things you miss too so that we can be community together now, and then rejoice together as community again when we may (safely!) celebrate the return of the things we love that we will quite possibly never take for granted again.

by Rev’d Amanda Ruston

Photo by Rev’d Amanda Ruston

We have learned to see our world through megapixels. Our reality is affirmed by likes and taps on screens. Today walking down the street I saw two men engaged in a verbal fight that almost came to blows over one having walked into the other while looking at his phone instead of where he was going.

As the one man imitated a stooping figure face towards the pavement tapping at imaginary phone, I pictured the image that depicts human evolution moving from primates to modern humans. Have we passed our pinnacle in evolution I wondered? Will we gradually go back to being nonverbal bent backed creatures who walk along interacting through touchscreens?

Let’s hope not, because I’ve seen the Matrix and it looked like Neo was not happy when he woke up in the primordial soup that was the prison for his mind! No thank you! Don’t get me wrong, I like having a smart phone as much as most people, and like a lot of us, I’m pretty bad at putting it down. What’s worse is sometimes when I’m home alone, I find myself reaching for social media, only to end up feeling totally alone.

I was checking through the gospels and it turns out that Jesus didn’t have a cell phone, but was a master communicator. How is it that Jesus’ message went viral at a time when there was no “click to share button?” Why is it that at a time when we are more connected that ever and communication technologies seem to have limitless capacity, the church can’t seem to get the message across effectively?

One answer might be that we’re to busy looking for an app or platform to do it for us. There are so many tools that help us communicate and stay connected that we can forget the most important ways.

Jesus told stories that identified with peoples basic human needs. Jesus communicated truth with authority and creativity. People liked to listen to him. Jesus spoke to people with pure motives, there was no hidden agenda. The hearers of Jesus’ teaching knew that he was the good shepherd, ready to die to sheep, why? Because they trusted him, he was real, they had a real relationship with him, and he practiced what he preached!

Jesus was a straight talker, he got to the point, and he asked engaging questions to challenge people to move beyond what they thought they knew. Basically Jesus told stories and built relationships, and not only with the in crowd, with the out crowd too. In fact Jesus went out of his way to eat, speak and associate with people that his contemporaries thought were beneath them.

When the first apostles began spreading the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, the message was carried from person to person, part of an ongoing oral tradition. Gradually the apostles began writing extensively to fledgling churches. The messages of hope and encouragement were shared aloud in house churches; communities who were learning how to live in a new way. Words, conversations, questions, gatherings, these were real communities living in relationship. This is how the good news of Jesus Christ spread across the known world without anyone having to Google it.

Now is a time when our cell phones, our tools have become to big for us, pulling us away from real conversations, isolating us behind our key pads as we battle for friends, follower and likes. The matters that were urgent, now get missed as we are constantly notified about everything else.

Today I discovered that a person from my church had been in hospital. When I asked why they hadn’t called to let me know, the answer was that they had, but no one answered. They went on to acknowledge that they know how busy we are and wanted to let me get back to my work. Ouch. The old saying goes: “a bad workman blames his tools.” Did my phone fail me, or have I not been using the wrong tools?

When someone isn’t in church for a couple of weeks, do we notice? Do we ask where that person is and try to find out? Too often the answer is no.

We are connected in the Eucharist in a way that unites us, past present and future with the whole body of Christ across time. You’d think that in such an intense relationship, we’d be close to the people in our present given the multitude of ways we can connect using technology! Perhaps we’re relying too much on voicemail, email and text messages and not enough on building relationship.

Time to get out from behind the keyboard and look up from the phone. Put those tools back in their box and do what Jesus did: tell the stories, ask questions, love people genuinely and build relationships where we know more about each other that our online profiles, and notice when someone is missing.

If the church is the people, not the building, then we should know our people better than our building, so we can leave our building ready to serve all people and practice what we preach.

 – The Revd. Lucy Price

Photo Credit: Selwyn van Haaren