A Virtue of Virtual Church
By Barrett Seaman
It's 7:30 a.m. on an early summer Sunday. I am alone in the church, except for the distant sounds of Sexton Ron Lillo as he goes about his routine, cleaning and setting up Colwell Hall for the coffee hour that will follow the 10:00am service. I have my own routine: light the candles in the chapel, transport the elements from the sacristy to the altar, wend my way up to the second floor of the school to find the right cassock and surplice in the wardrobe for the service. Robed and ready to serve as Acolyte for the 8:00am service, I still have 15 minutes--time for a cup of coffee in the coolness of the McCormack Lounge before the Rector emerges from his office and we proceed into the chapel. It is my time to decompress, to put aside all thoughts and let peace wash over me.
For me, St. Barnabas is a place of peace, a place of trust, but it is really just a physical embodiment of the people who come here week after week. They comprise what I have come to call a community of trust. Now we, members of that community, have been exiled from the church by the coronavirus, left to wander in the suburban wilderness, which mostly means staying at home and donning masks to go to the supermarket.
Thankfully, by virtue of YouTube and Zoom, we remain connected. We are able to participate in the liturgy, listen to the sermon and pray for those in need from the comfort of our kitchens or dens. Afterwards, a dozen or two of us will log onto Zoom to join in a virtual coffee hour, to share news of ourselves and others. It's as if we were in Colwell Hall, but we're not. We're just Hollywood Squares on a screen. We may not even be at home. One of us, it turns out, is still at her sister's in Vermont. Another hasn't left Florida, yet, but will soon. Truth be told, it doesn't matter. We are together in spirit.
There is something to be said for being in a virtual place--"virtual" as in not real; "virtual" as in a place of virtue. It is a place where we can put aside the trappings of our physical surroundings, whether they are in a beautiful house or an elegant church--or within the confines of a nursing home or hospital room. In the end (and yes, I mean "that" end), we will all be without those trappings, both good and bad, so maybe a mild dose of disembodiment isn't a bad thing to experience.
We will one day return to the physical space of St. Barnabas, and we will no doubt rejoice in it. But I would hope that when we do, we will retain something of the spirit of our virtual sojourn of 2020.