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Even though I’ve always considered myself a committed church member, I must confess that right now I am having a hard time going back to in-person church.
I have faithfully attended virtual church during the pandemic. At the beginning, it was so hard not to go to in-person church and to worship at my kitchen table. Then I started to like it.
I enjoyed that I did not have to run to get to church. At that time, April 2020, my Sunday school class had changed to Tuesday evening virtual meetings. Thus, I did not have to worry about having a lesson ready on Sunday mornings. Spring was beautiful, and to survive the pandemic I started to develop new routines. I woke up early on Sunday mornings, had a good breakfast, and worked on my yard before it was unbearably hot in my town, San Antonio, Texas. At 10:50 a.m., I stopped my outside projects to go to virtual church at my kitchen table, all sweaty, no special clothes or make-up, and with a refreshing glass of water. And right after church, I continued to work a little more on my yard. I really started to like this new routine.
The spring and summer went by, and the fall and winter arrived. I liked worshiping in my pajamas and with a cup of coffee in my hands. It was nice not to have to go out on rainy or cold days.
The length of the pandemic led me to develop not only new routines, but new habits — positive and negative — and habits are hard to change.
Reasons it’s hard to go back
I suspect I am not the only one having a hard time going back to in-person church. There are many reasons that may lead us to try to stay with virtual church:
- Maybe we lost a loved one during the pandemic and going to church is a reminder that this person is no longer with us anymore.
- Maybe some of us are introverts, and virtual church saved us from worries about personal interactions, good or awkward.
- Maybe we were doing too much in church or in life in general, and when the pandemic started, we realized how burned out we were.
- Maybe we got so used to protecting ourselves from the virus, that leaving home feels like a threat to our well-being.
Scholars in leadership studies have maintained that it takes 21 days to change a habit. For me, it may take 21 Sundays, but as I recently told my pastor, I will get there. I just need a little bit of time and patience.
Taking the steps
As with many things in life, for me going back to in-person church has been a process with different steps.
The first step was accepting the truth: I did not want to go back to in-person church.
“As with many things in life, for me going back to in-person church has been a process with different steps.”
The second step was asking myself why. Of course, it took some introspection and honesty to find the real answer. As a busy woman with many obligations, pandemic Sundays felt like an additional Saturday, where I could catch up with pending obligations or just find a window of time to relax. Of course, as my church opened its doors, I was unconsciously reluctant to let go of this additional, treasured time I had found during the pandemic.
I went back to in-person church for the first time on Easter Sunday. I was nervous and excited at the same time. It was a good experience. I was happy to see the brothers and sisters whom I had not seen for more than a year. Then I started to fluctuate in my attendance, and I had to find ways to justify the fact that church was open but I was still attending virtual church.
Once I understood what was happening inside of me, I realized I needed a little bit of discipline to move forward. I remembered also that scholars in leadership studies emphasize that often discipline is the key to success. Part of my discipline included preparing on Saturday evening the clothes I was going to wear and the purse that I was going to use.
It also included making peace with the issue that I have not bought new clothes since November 2019, and that my clothes could be out of style. I decided I would not allow this to deter my efforts of going back to in-person church.
Sunday morning also required the discipline of waking up earlier and getting ready. Two or three times I have hesitated a little, and I have arrived late to church, but I did not let this lateness deter me from my purpose of rejoining my church in person.
Let’s give some grace
As I went through this process, it was helpful to avoid thinking I was living a deficient spirituality or that God loves me less if I stayed home for virtual church. God loves me the same, if I attend virtual or in-person church. God knows all our struggles and still loves us.
“As I went through this process, it was helpful to avoid thinking I was living a deficient spirituality or that God loves me less if I stayed home for virtual church.”
We need to recognize that this pandemic has been brutal, to say the least, and we all have been affected. I concur with the words of Carolyn McEntyre: “It (the pandemic) has been traumatic for some, painful for many, stressful for all.” Thus, adding more stress by pressuring myself or shaming myself regarding in-person church attendance was not the way to go.
If you are struggling to go back to in-person church, I invite you to start your own process. Start by accepting this truth, and then move to explore inside of you to find the reason why. Then, perhaps like was true for me, a little discipline may be helpful.
As you do this, be patient with yourself. It may also take you 21 Sundays, but you will get there, too.
And if you are the brother or sister who has been present every single Sunday since the church opened its doors, I invite you to be patient, too, with the rest of us who are struggling. This is especially important as we attempt to bring our young people back to in-person church. Their lives have been brutally interrupted by this pandemic, and perhaps they are struggling even more than the adults.
One of the most beautiful church images the Apostle Paul gifted us with is the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14). I have written before about this image in this digital publication, but I want to emphasize again Paul’s idea that the church needs to follow the most excellent way, the way of love. This love is characterized by patience and kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4).
As we start to emerge from the pandemic, we are emerging with our own particular traumas, sufferings and scars. Let us offer each other a love that is clothed with patience and kindness. It may take us 21 Sundays or more, but we will get there.
Nora O. Lozano is executive director and co-founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute and has been involved in Christian theological education for more than 25 years.
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