I am tired of Zoom. And I am tired of Livestream. And I am tired of working from my couch. And I am tired of getting notifications from my calendar that remind me of important events that have now been canceled.
I know that I am not alone in these sentiments. But in order for everyone I love to be safe and healthy, I gladly deal with the Zoom and the Livestream and the couch and the notifications.
For me and my family, one of the most disappointing days of the pandemic was April 19. It came and went like any other Sunday in the past seven months. It was rather uneventful. Nothing special happened, and I remember almost nothing from that day. And that was exactly the problem.
What should have been
You see, my fiancée, Rev. Leigh Curl, was supposed to be ordained to the Gospel Ministry on April 19. It had been on our calendars for months.
I bought my plane ticket for Dallas in January. We had made plans with friends and family, talking about the celebratory Tex-Mex and barbecue since at least last Thanksgiving. The service had been written, the ordination certificate had been signed, and everything was ready to go.
But as we all know, COVID hit and derailed everything.
Leigh’s ordination was postponed, with no new date in sight. Nobody knew when it would be safe to gather again, which only added to the disappointment. April 19 came and went, bringing with it the grief of what should have been.
Months later, we still have no idea when it will finally be safe for everyone to gather. So the only option available became a Zoom ordination for Leigh.
Something always seems lacking with a Zoom event. From graduations to birthday parties to Tuesday morning staff meetings, something is always lacking.
It’s not the same when nobody walks across the stage to get a diploma. Or when you buy cupcakes to eat on your screen instead of sharing a birthday cake in person. Or when you have to email coworkers after a meeting instead of just taking 30 seconds to catch them in the hallway and ask the simplest question.
I imagined that a Zoom ordination would be no different.
The importance of hands
In most Christian traditions, the laying on of hands is the act of ordination — it’s the thing that changes a person from a candidate for ordination into a minister.
In our Presbyterian tradition, all of the ordained people in the congregation come forward and lay a hand upon the candidate and each other as they pray for the candidate.
It’s a huge holy messy cloud of witnesses gathering around the candidate all at once. You have probably seen this when we ordain elders each year. In Leigh’s Baptist tradition, each person in the congregation has the opportunity to come up to the candidate, lay hands, and offer an individual blessing.
Regardless of how a tradition does it, there is a consistent theme that the laying on of hands requires physical touch. Except physical touch is the one thing we can’t have right now. So how in the world are we supposed to lay hands when being anything less than six feet away from the next person poses serious health risks?
What wasn’t & was there
This past Sunday, October 4, was not like any other Sunday in the pandemic because Leigh was finally ordained. Instead of everyone gathering together in a beautiful church sanctuary, Leigh, her mother, and I huddled around a computer screen in Leigh’s living room.
There was no stained glass, no lofty ceiling, and no physically gathered congregation. In this way the service might be said to be lacking. It was not what anyone, especially Leigh, had originally planned.
And yet, the Holy Spirit showed up. Somehow we all ended up on holy ground together.
Feeling the love
As we heard Luke’s Annunciation read and the Word of God proclaimed, the Spirit filled in all the gaps, literally spanning continents as it drew together our gathered community.
The Spirit overshadowed us all, making the moment pregnant with joyful anticipation for the ways in which God will use Leigh throughout her life.
As friends and family stretched out their hands and offered blessings to Leigh, her mother and I kept our hands on her shoulders in their stead. It may sound crazy coming from a Presbyterian, but I could feel their love and their prayers moving through my hand to Leigh.
I have no doubt that all of the prayers and blessings reached their intended destination just fine.
Spirit in reverse
In the liturgical calendar, the color red is only used at Pentecost and for ordination services. At Pentecost all the disciples were gathered in one place when the Spirit descended, and they then spread out to all the world.
We believe that ordinations are a continuation of that very Pentecost moment long ago.
This past Sunday, the Spirit was doing its work in reverse, bringing folks spread throughout the world into one room and descending once again. It was equally beautiful and wonderful — full of beauty and full of wonder.
Still, we gather
Even though I am a pastor, I will admit that virtual worship has not been easy for me to participate in.
I struggle to make myself sing along with the hymns when I’m alone on my couch. I don’t always have a second device or the forethought to print out the bulletin so that I can read along. Sometimes I watch the service at 2 in the afternoon because I get distracted making breakfast and fail to start the livestream at the right time.
And I have spent a lot of time wondering if the Spirit is able to squeeze itself through all the cables and wires between the sanctuary and my television.
After last Sunday, I know without question that the Holy Spirit is very much still at work. It is alive and well, spanning across all time and space, and gathering all of us together into Christ’s community — just as it always has and always will.