Each Sunday morning at my church, a lot of people got involved in tiny ways. More than a dozen congregants, one by one, would silently step out of their various pews to light a candle or carry a basket or read from the handout. Sometimes the New Testament reader won’t even get up until the Old Testament has sat down. The worship leader won’t say “please rise” until the middle schooler has really gotten the candle lit on their third try. On the right mornings, I like that a lot. Announcements take a while, and everything creaks.
The sermon is still the climax, like any proper Reformed service, but all the formalities don’t feel like just a lead up. It reminds me a little of the Episcopal church, in which my sister’s ordained, where the homily is brief and every call-and-response leads instead up to the slow, processional Eucharist. There’s an accidental and easy liturgical gravity to a roomful of people putting on a service like this.
Can I say “my church?” It’s the church I go to, yes—though of course I’m not going to church right now, ha ha. I might say it’s the church I attend. I took the congregational opinion survey and I read the whole report when it came back. They’ve been doing Sunday morning streams on Facebook, but I’ve never attended those. They put each sermon on Spotify, but I haven’t kept up.
I miss sitting in church, and I miss sitting in movie theaters. I don’t miss the big screen or the big sound or the comfy chairs. (I would miss the popcorn, but you can order a human-sized bag delivered.) I miss sitting in silence and in the dark next to friends, next to strangers. Movie-talking or texting bothers me not because it’s distracting but because it feels like a rejection of that big silent group-sit that we all began as the previews gave way to the main feature.
But there’s still lots of ways to watch movies. And I’ve come to love looking through the doorway, as it gets dark and I cook dinner, catching whatever thriller my roommate’s just started. I prefer everything with subtitles anyway. Kendra and I talk over romantic comedies and documentaries on her couch, and when Celebration Cinema makes a drive-in out of their parking lot, we go. When my battery dies, we can still hear the movie from everyone else’s radios, with windows rolled down.
I don’t miss concerts exactly, though at one point I might have defined myself by being into music, even live music. I didn’t even have to get much older to prefer the venues that aren’t basements or bars, that begin to smooth over every cool inconvenience. Concert hall architecture comes with built-in etiquette, and so without shuffling or drinking or talking, in between songs and applause, hundreds of people will just sit, happily waiting together, watching the guitar hand-off or the setlist check as if it were the entertainment too. That’s what I miss most.
It’s okay, but there’s been no non-sad COVID-safe facsimile for that simple presence I couldn’t have named before: a group of people sitting in the same room reverently facing the same direction. In that posture, long silences pass without awkwardness. At this point, most people have found inventive and fun ways to be together. As the days get darker, porch hangs will turn into bonfires, and outdoor movies will move to open tabs of Netflix and Zoom. It’s all been an exercise in that Christian community buzzword “intentionality.” Though I really miss the basics of bodies in a room—when participation was as easy and accidental as attendance.