Magazines 2020 May - Jun Being the Church when we can’t be in the church

Being the Church when we can’t be in the church

24 June 2020 , 2020 May - Jun By Gregory Butler

To be honest, it astounds me that every Sunday morning I drop what I’m doing to log into Facebook in time for the first hymn, and to see the comments scroll by full of “hellos” from all the people in my congregation. What draws me there?

My friends all know I am a huge fan of the Canadian singer and musician Sarah Harmer. I’m always dragging them to her concerts. During the last few months, I think that she has been doing some concerts online to promote her new album, but honestly, I haven’t been able to get organized to track them down.

On the other hand, every single Sunday morning without fail, I’m drawn to be online with the people of St. Peter’s and St Paul’s Anglican Church in Ottawa all at the same time. It’s hard to fully explain, but it would hurt a little to miss a Sunday.

Maybe I can describe it in terms of how some insects are attracted to light. There have been bugs long before there were humans with cottages. Those bugs didn’t need electric light, but once they discovered it, they were drawn to it. They needed to get as close to the light as they possibly could.

And, until I really knew that there was a God who loved widows and orphans, and loved mercy and justice, and Who even loved me, I was ok too. But now that I do know Him, I’m like one of those flying bugs, bonking my head against my Facebook screen trying to stay as connected to Him and His Church as I can.

This is the longest period of time that I can recall in my life when I haven’t been in a church on a Sunday morning, and it hasn’t killed me. I mean logically, I knew that it wouldn’t. But what I have also learned is how much I long to be in church in a way that I don’t long for anything else. Somewhere inside of me, I know I’m missing out, and I will take as much church as I can get, even if Facebook has to dish it out to me.

And do you know what? If Facebook shut down, we Christians would find another way. It’s clear to me that something I can’t explain happened to me when I was baptised, and confirmed, was converted, and then was received into this church, and that that undefinable something ties me to all of you. 

I literally cannot help being drawn to this bright light that only my soul seems to be able to perceive.

I’m a scientist, I can’t prove to you that our triune God is real, and I haven’t really experienced definitive miracles of the kind you read about in the Bible. I can’t prove our faith rationally like I can prove a scientific fact.

Years ago, when I was studying experimental psychology, someone I respected saw me carrying around C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and told me he found it troubling that a person with my level of education still believed that stuff. As someone who has always battled with imposter syndrome, basically the idea that you are occupying a job that someone smarter than you should be doing, that comment continues to mildly haunt me.

I think it partly explains why I am so obsessed with learning and education, and why I read so deeply. I don’t want people to think that I have an intellectually lazy faith, or that I’m a Christian because I’m ignorant of evolution, physics or philosophy. Sometimes I feel like a real oddball for believing in this improbably beautiful, just and kind God, and I can’t adequately describe how comforting it is to swarm around this light with all the other people from my little congregation bumping our heads against the glass and saying to each other, “Isn’t this light amazing? It’s so bright, I wish I could see it better.” 

Being a Christian in a church isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s been really hard. Being in the church means forming a community with people who have different politics, musical tastes and even different ideas about how to do church.

Earlier in my career, I started a new job with a group of high achievers. We were fresh out of university and we had tons of things in common. We were inseparable for the first two months, but slowly it dawned on me that the 20 of us had started to split into groups. Some people just preferred the company of a subset of the group and not everyone.

I noticed it because something similar happened to me in my first year in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at McMaster University. There was a guy there I just did not like and did not want to be around. We were like oil and water, but in IVCF you can’t just avoid someone. Instead, do you know what happened? God changed my feelings about him. I learned from him, and I got new insight into how to see the world and how to be in a community because of him.

Instead of wanting to avoid him, now I would love to bump into him and hear about his life. Deep life-changing connections to fellow Christians, like this one, happen to me all the time when I am committed to the Church. I feel this way about everyone at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s.

So, you know, I think I was wrong when I said I’ve never seen a miracle of the kind you read about in the Bible. Jesus told us the Holy Spirit would turn us into the Church at Pentecost, and that it would be an amazing gift to us and that we would feel at home in this Church whether it is in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or in places like Paris, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Ottawa, Greenwood, and Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

The Church for me is a living miracle. My fellow believers are the miracle. It’s the only explanation I have for why I’m staring at a little screen every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.

Buzz, buzz, isn’t this light amazing?

Adapted from remarks given during the St. Peter and St Paul’s Anglican Church online service on June 20.