16th December 2020

My years of preaching and leading services in chapels large and small – and, very occasionally, in cathedrals Anglican and Catholic – have taught me that every act of worship is unique. Pick the same hymns, use the same prayers, preach the same sermon as good as word for word, and the result is always different. It’s a different place on another day, and a different group of people bringing their worship, their concerns and their dreams to God in that moment. The spiritual dynamic of an encounter with God in worship is therefore unique.

But how does this work in these pandemic days when we’ve sometimes had to resort to online services? Part of why I go to church is to sing God’s praises along with others, so singing at home to recorded music, however excellently performed, does feel for me a little ‘thin’. I miss the sense of immediacy through having others around me, the untidy nature of congregational singing, not least the comforting chimes of the Tyndale clock. I find it takes more concentration to focus on a screen and listen closely to what’s being said – certainly more effort than when simply being carried along by doing customary things in a familiar space. The dynamic of online worship is different, different from if we experienced it ‘live’, but it’s still worship, still an encounter with the God who is ever present to us by his Spirit. Who’d have thought that a tiny package of protein containing a few strands of RNA could open the door to new depths of spiritual encounter!

Ken Stewart