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Sunday morning service in an empty sanctuary

Last Sunday, I wrote about watching a live church service from home. You can read it here. This Sunday, I experienced a live church service from inside the church.

The communion table— with the words “This do in remembrance of me” etched across the front— was pushed to the side to make room for the stools and music stands.

Drew Krutza and Jessie Hussung, the worship leaders for the morning, were positioning their stools ahead of Sunday’s Facebook Live service at Rich Pond Baptist Church.

Their stools couldn’t be too close— the six-feet rule— but they couldn’t be so far that it looked awkward. Facebook viewers had been commenting.

The view from inside the church
A screenshot from Facebook Live

I sat in the eighth row in the middle section, several rows behind the camera. Drew and Jessie warmed up, practicing the songs for the morning. Drew started playing a hymn from memory that ended up sounding like “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Fewer than 10 people were inside the sanctuary that typically holds hundreds on a Sunday morning. This made the journalistic task of estimating the crowd much easier for me— I’m normally terrible at it.

Director of College Ministry Becca Keen managed the camera.

“We’re just talking to Becca, we’re just singing to Becca,” Drew joked.

The camera was attached via a long yellow cord to the balcony, where two men handled the tech and audio. One of them gave a five-minute warning. “I always get nervous,” Jessie mouthed to me.

Then came a five-second countdown. Around three seconds, Drew said, “Smile!”

As service started in a mostly empty sanctuary, memories echoed in my head.

I looked at the yellow cord and felt my foot catch on a similar one, this one outside, marking the boundary of a volleyball court. It was Rich Pond’s Fall Fellowship in 2011, and I remember hearing someone laugh as I tripped over the rope. As soon as I hit the ground, I started crying— I had broken my arm.

I worried that every rustle of my Bible or click of my pen could be heard by the viewers. I heard, all of a sudden, Skittles rolling down the floor beneath my feet, sloped downward toward the front of the sanctuary. It was years ago when friends of my younger siblings dropped a whole bag of Skittles during service. The sound, plus laughs of people sitting in our section, caught the pastor’s notice enough for him to pause preaching.

As we sang, I could hear Brother Steve’s singing to my right, and I saw out of the corner of my eye his hand raise during the final verse of “It is Well with My Soul”— at “the trump shall resound.” I heard, in my head, Brother Steve start to clap, and I remembered my dad smiling at me when we whispered in church that we knew Brother Steve would clap at a particular part in a song. He always had some well-known favorite lines.

The view from inside the church
A screenshot from Facebook Live

Brother Steve preached on 1 Samuel 17, when David defeats the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone.

Having just finished season three of Stranger Things the night before, I couldn’t help but think of Lucas and his slingshot against the Mind Flayer. I texted this to my sister, who was watching live at home; she said, “That’s what I just said to the family.”

In 1 Samuel 17, the Israelite army was retreating in fear from the giant, but David, a young shepherd, ran toward the danger.

This was an appropriate passage for Palm Sunday, Brother Steve said, when Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, knowing he was going to die there. Like David, Jesus knowingly went toward danger for the good of others, not for himself.

Brother Steve offered another example of people acting in this way: the 85,000 healthcare workers volunteering in New York, many of whom came from out of state. They, too, ran toward danger.

When Brother Steve ended service and walked off camera, we all waited silently for the all clear.

“It’s still weird,” Drew called from the back of the sanctuary.

We all stood up, saying goodbye to each other from at least six feet apart. I contrasted it with how Rich Pond services ended while I was growing up— we’d reach across the aisles and hold hands with the person next to us, singing one more verse or chorus together. That’s unthinkable today.

Before I left, I stopped at the women’s bathroom outside the sanctuary. I wanted to confirm the floral wallpaper of my memory— but either my memory failed me, or the bathroom has been repainted. The walls were painted a tan color.

After staring at the walls, I walked right into a stall. There was no line.


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