Will church ever feel the same again?

We’re coming up on one year since we’ve met in person for sacrament meeting as an entire ward family. An entire year since we sidled into the pews, chatted quietly with the family sitting behind us, then pulled out our green hymn book to sing the opening hymn while a neighbor played the organ a little slowly for my taste. A year since the pre-pubescent boys walked around holding trays of bread and water and I whispered to my kids that they should think about Jesus when they’re instead fighting over the church bag. A year since we mingled in the hallway after, packed in shoulder to shoulder in an older building not designed with traffic flow in mind. A year since we stayed around after religious services to chat in the gym, eating slices of giant Costco cakes, to celebrate the birthday of the ward centenarian. A year since we pulled into the parking lot and drove to the back to find an open parking space. A year since we had to wait for one of only three bathroom stalls for the women. A year since we walked around the hallways trying to herd teenagers into their classes. A year since we folded up metal chairs after class to stack them against the wall. A year since we watched the primary kids put their mouths over the drinking fountain spouts. A year since we laughed and hugged and smiled in the hallways, no worries about social distancing or keeping our masks over our noses.

Will it ever be the same again?

Religion has become unbundled for me.

Before These Unprecedented Times, I often went through the motions. Cruise control spirituality worked just fine. I waded into scriptural waters for moments at a time during Sunday Gospel Doctrine classes. I listened half-heartedly to talks during sacrament; I also took church naps and drew mazes for my kids to solve while people gave those talks. I would listen to some podcasts about the weekly Come Follow Me lesson. Sometimes, I tried to pull something out of the hat for a home church lesson with my kids. But none of this included any spiritual deep diving.

When the pandemic changed Sunday worship, it unbundeled my spirituality which was based on the larger religious experience and community. I was on my own. Many of the rituals went away. What did my religiosity look like without community?

One area that grew: personalization. How could I take this verse in the scripture and relate to it with my authentic, whole self?

Where would I find new connection? To be honest, some of that new community came through social media. But, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It meant that I needed to be intentional with it. That is a difficult thing. At times, it failed me. I had put a full stop on social media for several days in the springtime of 2020. We had an earthquake and it crumbled the foundation of my emotional health. Twitter, in particular, was toxic for me. Too many people kept tweeting about aftershocks or even sharing posts about how the 5.7 tremor was really just the warning before the big one to come shortly. So at times I paused and went on break. At other times, I used it carefully, looking for connection, and carefully filtering out the emotion to focus on the facts.

The thing that makes connections matter, whether they’re in person or virtual, is their ultimate value. This year has forced me to realize not only the connections I valued most, but those whom valued connection with me as well.

When we emerge from this, I will be a new person spiritually. And I’ll be a new person socially. Certain relationships grew stronger. Others faded out. My relationship with a God and His Son feels stronger. When we emerge from this, I don’t want that to fade out.

Taking a pic with the windstorm debris after attending masked, socially-distanced church. September 13, 2020

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