Back in the Mighty Fortress: A Christian’s Take on Virtual Church and Returning to the Pews

Church on Sunday is a fixture for me, as it is for so many other Christians. Every family and group has “their” unofficial official pew, every smiling face is familiar, and all meet in the same place to worship the same God. The pastors and congregation alike share handshakes and hugs after every service. Like everything else, COVID changed everything almost overnight. My churches, both on-campus and back home, transitioned to an all-online format. 

I found early on that online church services had (and frankly, remain to have) many of the same drawbacks as online classes. Attendees sacrifice concentration on the service and the fullness of worship on the altar of convenience. When church services are moved online, congregants are faced with the challenge of staying focused on a screen for an hour or longer. Surrounded by distractions aplenty, this amounts to a spiritual battle fought through Wi-Fi every Sunday morning. Being able to experience worship in person among a congregation keeps one focused on Christ, and on the reflections of Holy Scripture that are explicated in the music, readings and sermons.

Being able to experience worship in person among a congregation keeps one focused on Christ and on the reflections of Holy Scripture that are explicated in the music, readings and sermons.

On top of this, Lutherans like myself lose out on the spiritual nourishment that comes from the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, our weekly experience with Christ’s real presence in the elements of the Last Supper. My Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ feel a similar sort of loss, as they too hold the Eucharist in high regard. Drive-through or walk-up Eucharist leaves me feeling a loss of fellowship that comes with celebrating this sacrament with other Christians. Though the experience itself is one between the believer and Christ, it can be hard to truly prepare to receive these gifts, as one would otherwise feel when preparing alongside a congregation. 

In my own faith experience, I find it much easier to confess and prepare my heart to receive Communion with the guidance of a pastor and when seated in a pew. Naturally, my experience with this changed for the worse during COVID. I find a subtle sense of accountability that exists when I am joined by other imperfect believers confessing their sins using the same liturgy. One confesses their iniquities to God, but does so (albeit silently) alongside others who do the same. It’s much easier to be genuine in this confession than when attempting to do the same thing in front of a computer or phone screen. 

I find a subtle sense of accountability that exists when I am joined by other imperfect believers confessing their sins using the same liturgy. One confesses their iniquities to God, but does so (albeit silently) alongside others who do the same.

Essential to a Christian’s faith experience is the ability to worship with other believers. What Matthew 18:20 teaches us is that, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” When the pandemic closes churches, we’re left without the benefits of worshipping alongside one another. This is especially burdensome for older Christians, who center their social interactions on church activities much more heavily than young Christians do. 

But now, we are returning to in-person worship, and I couldn’t be happier. I am truly blessed to be a part of a congregation on campus that is strong and growing, and grateful to be reaping the benefits of in-person worship once again. So many Christians—myself included—are experiencing a rejuvenation of their faith as we reenter the firm foundations of our brick-and-mortar churches after far too long spent online. As unfamiliar as it may have felt at first, it undoubtedly provides the spiritual armor needed to persevere through the waning days of the pandemic. 

So many Christians—myself included—are experiencing a rejuvenation of their faith as we reenter the firm foundations of our brick-and-mortar churches after far too long spent online.

And for so many Christians battling the spiritual erosion that came from the pandemic, it’s just what we need.

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About Tyler Watt

Tyler Watt is a senior studying political science and history at the University of Michigan. A native of Saginaw, Michigan, he enjoys writing about theology, politics, and campus affairs. Tyler serves as President of LSA Student Government and works as a Resident Advisor in Alice Lloyd Hall.