Hurry Up and Wait: Worship is Worth It
Perhaps I was premature to suggest that we start to consider the why’s of “hybrid” worship. Instead I suggest we consider staying virtual for prayer for as long as possible. Until we’re clear about what the worship is we’ll be offering in person, in-person worship should be the last thing we push to return.
Speaking with colleagues and friends over the last week in response to my hybrid piece led me to pause and wonder, are we are getting ahead of ourselves? For now, maybe we set aside the conversations about “hybrid” and take small steps to open safely. Things people desire – masked face-to-masked face connection, school engagement, lifecycles, or just being seen and seeing others--can happen safely in due time, in many contexts within a synagogue.
For now, why don’t we keep our worship on-line? Despite expectations and with so much credit to dedicated clergy and staff, it appears to be working. Many more people than pre-COVID are attending virtually, even if it’s just to connect – they’re not getting Zoom fatigue, and they’re not watching Netflix during those hours.
Instead of planning “hybrid” worship, or how we could pray safely, let’s take this opportunity to figure out what worked about our in-person worship and what didn’t – and envision something altogether new.
Yes, people say they miss singing together maybe most of all. I feel this longing acutely, as well. But, singing remains one of the riskiest behaviors in the spread of COVID. Taking that into account, and considering the worship challenges we had pre-COVID, let’s take a step back and courageously and boldly ask real questions about what the “in-person worship” could be.
For sure, worship is an enduring and important symbol of Jewish life. It will make us all feel like we’re “back to normal” if there are worshipers with us in a sanctuary on a Friday evening. But for our new Zoom participants, why would they come to our building now if they didn’t come before? And, for all our regulars who have come to appreciate the unique experience of virtual worship, shouldn’t we be giving them something that is inspired and reinvigorated by what we learned online? Why are we so anxious to restart the thing that too few in our communities were interested in previously?
In order to answer these questions, we have to really look at our worship pre-COVID; why people came in the first place, why people didn’t – and consider this in the context of why people are praying virtually. We have to take a good hard look at how we prayed in our sanctuaries, about where the barriers were, about where the connections and relationship building did or did not happen, and what it is we want to accomplish with our liturgy, our communal theology, and our time to reflect and pray as a community. What do we want it to mean? How do we make it matter in 2021 and beyond?
I’m not suggesting we never pray in person again! I am only suggesting a thoughtful pause.
I am well aware that the fatigue and complications of this time make the idea of a worship overhaul seem so daunting. But I know many of our congregational leaders are already re-visioning education, reflecting upon how we govern, and talking about how we connect to one another more meaningfully. How could we not do the same for the way we pray?
And, here’s the good news: we have time.
Our faith has some of the most inspired, dedicated, and compassionate clergy and lay leadership anywhere. Let’s take a deep breath, take a step back, and dream.