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The Gathering

It was a particularly lonely day for me. It has been two years and one week since I have seen my sister. We talk every day by text and always say goodnight at the end of the day, but this day the memories of our four years together when Hubby and I tried living in Nova Scotia came flooding back every minute of the day. I would just stop crying and get on with doing something, when some little thing would remind me who I was missing and the tears would come again. I have those days. My sister says I have a tender heart. She is so easy to love. And so easy to miss.

Of course, I texted my sis that I was having a hard day and when she knows that’s happening she always takes the extra time whether she’s working or on vacation to make time for long texts back and forth. I told my Sister that I desperately needed a real hug from her. I can imagine the next time we actually are together, our hubbies will be waiting on the sidelines for a while because that hug will be an extra, extra long one you can be sure! But it wasn’t going to happen that day so before long I got a really cute gif with a sister hug! I told her it was nice but “it’s not the same.” I need to feel my sister’s arms around me. I need to hear her voice right next to my ear. And I long for us, as we often do, to spontaneously say something truly profound that sets us laughing until our stomachs ache and our cheeks are wet with tears.

Covid has, for the most part, kept church goers apart for over two years. Statistics show that many of those who have not returned to worship at the physical church building have no plans to attend any time soon. When I told my sister, “It’s not the same,” I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit where local church attendance is concerned. Online services were necessary and served a good purpose during covid. Those churches that never live-streamed nor were otherwise online, scrambled to make it happen for their parishioners and those parishioners included more than just regular attenders. It was a positive necessity that gifted those folks who were unable to physically attend services to have the opportunity to “be with” their own people.

During these years, though, there has been a seismic shift in the philosophy of physical attendance among church membership. We’ve managed online for a few years and we’ve gotten used to “going to church” with coffee in hand and still wearing our pajamas. It has become convenient. And since the relationship has already been established, the basic life services of the clergy are still readily available. How this philosophical shift about church attendance impacts members and the local church, will no doubt be discovered in the same way as the impact of the last two years has been discovered. We’ll know it when we see it, but it won’t be possible to prevent it.

For those who are able, though, physically making the effort to go back to church, is critical to the life of the church. Online simply “is not the same.” There are many reasons why being physically present with believers is so important. Here are just three of them:

1. It is in the gathering that the Holy Spirit moves best. Oh, it’s not impossible because nothing is impossible with God, but for those who long to sense the Holy Spirit’s presence as the deer longs for streams of living water, they will most often find it in the physical presence of the church gathered.

2. It is in the gathering that God speaks. Steve DeNeff in a recent message to a group of camp meeting attenders, outlined his devotional time consisting of centering, scripturing, interpreting, and actioning. In the context of interpreting, he boldly declared, “Me, God, and the Scripture alone, scares me!” A moment of pregnant silence allowed that statement to sink in. He went on to explain that it is in the community of believers that we test and evaluate our interpretation of scripture. There is an arrogance involved in saying that we have the Bible and that’s all we need. God created us for community from the very beginning and without it, we can grossly miss the voice of God in our lives. It is in the gathering that we hear God’s voice up next to our ear.

3. It is in the gathering that spontaneous praise has its greatest impact. The point is, we need each other. There are moments during gathered worship where spontaneous praise from one person will evoke a doxology of laughter or tears from someone else. It is in the gathering that praise and petition is strengthened.

If you are able, don’t miss out on being physically present in the gathering because it is the gathering that moves the heart and hand of God.

Hebrews 10:25

Matthew 18:20

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