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Sunday morning worship amid COVID-19

Our dog’s head rested on Matthew 13.

Verses 24 through 33 were the topic for Sunday morning’s sermon, which we were watching in our living room through Facebook Live— a new normal in the time of COVID-19.

Since Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear recommended that churches suspend in-person services on March 10— back when Kentucky had only eight confirmed cases— many churches have relied on technology to continue worshiping together.

This morning, my family watched Rich Pond Baptist Church’s service, along with about 200 other accounts— denoted by a counter in the corner.

If each of those accounts represented a family like ours (there are six of us, and I know many other Rich Pond families have obeyed the command to be fruitful and multiply), we were gathered with a whole lot of people. But we were gathered in a new way.

We weren’t in the sanctuary to claim our normal pew— six or seven rows from the back, furthest section to the right— but we were creatures of habit just the same. My dad was in his recliner. My sisters and I often fight over the big comfy chair, but somehow I’ve managed to lay claim to it since coming home for quarantine. My mom, two sisters, brother and dog were on the couch, mostly in pajamas. My brother Brady was wrapped in the sheet from his bed; my mom and sister Cayden shared a blanket.

We’ve often been late for church, but only having to walk from our bedrooms to the living room allowed some of us to cut it even closer.

“Brady, get up!” my dad called. “Church is starting!”

Brady walked out of his room as two worship leaders sang “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” on the screen. He ate breakfast at the counter before settling on the couch.

We’re old enough now that my parents haven’t had to worry about restless children in “big church” for a while, but Bluegrass is technically still a puppy and didn’t understand that he was in church or that a Bible isn’t his personal pillow. During a Scripture reading of John 3:13-17— perhaps during the reading of the most famous Bible verse itself— Blue walked to the door, a signal that he needed to go out.

“It’s time to poop,” my mom said.

“This is craziness,” my dad said a few minutes later, between the singing of “Living Hope” and “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

“What?” my mom asked.

“Just that this is where we are,” he said.

There weren’t many references to COVID-19, but one pastor mentioned that the church would be collecting non-perishables to donate. And, of course, churches aren’t exempt from financial concerns— the head pastor said that the tithe collection was better this week than last, but he encouraged members to continue giving faithfully if they could.

I got up to use the bathroom during the sermon, and I felt like I should push open our bathroom door and be in the women’s bathroom just outside of the sanctuary. It has floral wallpaper, I think, and as a child I always put my Bible on the baby changing table, trusting it would still be there when I walked out of a stall.

The last time I was there, a month or two ago, I waited in a line of about a dozen ladies— everyone always has to go between Sunday school and big church.

“It is so good to see your face,” one lady said to me.

It was the first time I had been to Rich Pond, whose building used to be as familiar to me as my home, in several years. When I was a senior in high school, my parents made the decision to switch churches.

If you had told me then— 2016 feels like a different world— that one of the next times I “attended” Rich Pond would have been digitally, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have believed it seven weeks ago, when I waited in the bathroom line and coronavirus was barely confirmed in the U.S.

Blue got restless toward the end of the sermon. He tried biting Ashtyn’s sweatshirts, a favorite pastime of his. When he got in trouble (told to chill out by my dad, whose deep voice sometimes makes him listen when no one else’s can), he settled down at my feet, on the ottoman he once puked on.

During the prayer at the end of the sermon— yes, siblings, my eyes were closed— I felt Blue move and heard his collar jingle. He relocated to the floor.

The pastor said amen and I opened my eyes. He walked off-screen, and the video faded to a message: “Thank you for joining us for worship.”

“Wait, we don’t sing another song?” I asked. My family had watched last week’s broadcast; I wasn’t able to.

“Nope,” my dad said.

No final song after the sermon. No trip to our favorite Mexican restaurant afterward. No dresses or ties. No handshakes or hugs with those seated around you. No leaving your home.

But it was still church on a Sunday morning.


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