When I pictured the last months of my first year of seminary, I expected to be sitting on the grass with friends, our notes in front of us, half studying and half talking about our big summer plans. I thought we’d skip cramming for a day to watch the Boston Marathon and go to pub night with the deans to celebrate finishing our last final. Instead, I spent hours in Zoom lectures I couldn’t focus on. I got calls with friends who had to leave their student housing and move back in with their parents, calls filled with fear and doubt and loneliness. “Out with a whimper, not with a bang” sums up the end of my first year of seminary. I was grateful to do well on my finals, but who cares about grades when I have friends working with COVID-19 patients every day?
In May, I prepared for my initial interview with the UCC’s Metropolitan Boston Association Committee on Ministry. This meeting would decide if I could begin the official process of discerning a call to ordained ministry, decided by a group of local pastors and lay leaders. This decision was based on papers I wrote about my spiritual journey and call to ministry and this Zoom call. The conversation was wonderful -- the group asked interesting questions, my advisors Katherine Schofield and Don Wells and I talked about Jeopardy in a separate Zoom room as the committee deliberated, and I was voted into the process. Yet, when I logged off of the call, I wished that I was in the car driving back with Katherine and Don. I wished we were celebrating in person. These little details that make being a human so wonderful are what I’ve missed the most.
Yet, I find joy and God’s presence around me all the time. I feel the Spirit moving in weekly youth group sessions when Old South’s teens share the best thing they’ve watched, made, listened to, or read this week. I feel joy when the young adult happy hour group celebrates a baking achievement or great new book. I treasure the messages I receive when people say that they love watching online church and seeing the familiar names in the chat function, making it feel like we’re all greeting each other in the pews.
I miss so many things. I miss what this year was supposed to be. But I am grateful for the moments of joy, laughter, and connection that make the Spirit known to me. I begin every closing prayer for youth group with the same line -- “Creator God, thank you for giving us this hour to connect every week, even though we cannot be together in person.” Because those moments of connection are why I love the church, virtual or not. Though I can hardly wait for my next pub night with the deans, the next worship service with song and fellowship hour, or the next time I can hug a friend, the connection remains.
Church is not a building. I’ve heard this refrain about a thousand times on Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media site that pastors have infiltrated. But it’s a cliche because it’s true. Church is valuing human life by wearing a mask. Church is protesting from six feet apart and donating to bail funds to show that our faith tells us that Black lives matter. Church is thanking essential workers and advocating for a society that protects the vulnerable. Church is virtual happy hours and coffee hours filled with laughter and stories and sharing the burdens we all feel right now. Church is not going anywhere.