Yesterday I started my day at Starbucks. I am cursed (or blessed depending on your perspective) as an early riser. So, I “started” my day (although I had already been up for over an hour) at 5:45AM. I don’t think my bride realized there were two 5:45s in a day until we were married. From Karla’s perspective, my early rising is a curse, but I digress. Starbucks opens at 5:30 and I was there fifteen minutes later.
It was my first time back in the early morning since the pandemic shut down the world. With the store closed, I became comfortable in starting my day at home with a cheaper albeit less tasty coffee and cinnamon toast. I hadn’t been in Starbucks in over 5 months.
I approached the counter fully masked, of course. The manager, Felice, saw me and in spite of my face being half covered, said, “Hi Rob!” She couldn’t remember if my usual order was a Grande or a tall pike place coffee. It’s a tall. But she remembered that I worked until my coffee was gone then got a refill before leaving. She said, “I was just telling someone the other day, the only “regular” who hadn’t returned from the quarantine was you, Rob. I’m glad you are here.”
I felt so welcome. Like I was a long-lost friend who returned. Now maybe she says something like that to every customer. And maybe I’m not all that special (there are a few folks who have no doubt on my lack of specialness), but she made me feel special. I thought to myself, “I hope that’s how our quarantined worshippers feel when they return to church. I hope they realize how I long to greet them and hear how they’ve been doing. Like Felice, I might not get everything straight (was it a tall or a Grande quarantine?), but I hope that the church family knows that we aren’t complete without them.”
Many on-line worshippers have no choice. The health risks of being around people during a pandemic are too high. Some on-line worshippers are too far away (We have a satellite on-line campus developing in South Carolina. One lady who I’ve never met somehow joined on-line. She loved it and told a friend, who told a friend, who told a friend… well, you know how it works. Boom! There’s a group of South Carolinians calling our church their home). It’s a bummer when worshipping live and in person is impossible. That’s just another rotten outcome from living through a pandemic.
But let me offer this advice: Don’t get too use to the convenience of on-line only worship. I know you can watch in your jammies. You can roll out of bed a minute before the live-stream starts and still be “early” for church. But here’s the deal: We need you. We really need you. We aren’t the same without you. And quite honestly, you need us too. You need the fellowship, accountability and the growth that only happens in the gathering together with fellow believers. So when you are ready and able, please return. Like Paul to Timothy, I must say: I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4).