“Mom, can I eat these?!” He asked, his hand still inside the cupboard grasping a bag of goldfish crackers.
“No way man, those are for Sunday.” I said, shaking my head. In our experience, goldfish crackers have been a snack staple in Sunday school classrooms since the dawn of time.
But, remember when life came to a screeching halt, including going inside of a church building?
We were all thrown into a bit of an upheaval, weren’t we? Reliable and predictable became much less familiar words.
I remember thinking in the very early days of it all, wouldn’t it be nice to have a few certain things in the midst of a very uncertain year? So one day I added a few bags of goldfish crackers to my online shopping order to go along with our new routine of online church. Predictable church snacks could hide out in our cupboards to be pulled out on Sundays.
There we were trying our best to grab hold of constants, tightly.
Church has always been a constant in my life; Sunday schedules have always been predictable. As a kid, I only remember staying home on Sunday mornings if AND ONLY IF the thermometer showed a solid feverish reading.
‘Real life’ church to an online version was an easy transition for me. I welcomed the chance to stay home this past year. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride in my old health department.
But what about my kids? They were pretty thrilled for the first month… not having to be anywhere at a set time was unusual and exciting… but that novelty quickly wore off. By month two, they were over it. They missed their friends, their teachers, the church building, and knowing that we were going somewhere every single Sunday.
In our house we knew that we wanted to GO to church and since the online version was the only option before us, we were going to make it work. Sounds easy right? Right. But… if you’ve ever spent 5 minutes with small children, you’ll know that it can often take a good long while and a heap of determination to unfold a new routine.
We kept on working at it. Week after week.
Our living room and our tv, none of their friends, no church building, no end of service soccer in the little field. It was hard for them to learn to sit quietly, to not talk loudly during prayer, to sing along to the sound of their own voices, to transform our living room into a sacred space on a Sunday morning.
And we still kept on working at it.
We baked big loaves of bread on communion weekends. They joined kid and youth watch parties over Zoom. And without fail we filled little bowls with goldfish crackers to munch on during the service.
If a worship leader wore the same jacket as a few weeks back my four year old would declare, “What? We saw this one already…”
I’d acknowledge his observations, loving the fact that he was beside me in the first place. Occasionally he’d make his baby Yoda stuffie enthusiastically strum along on a ukulele…
After months and months, it finally started to feel like we’d found our groove… and with bright eyes my boys started saying things like this:
“Here’s what we’re learning Mom… when I run all angry towards something or someone, I can actually STOP and THINK! The Holy Spirit will help me if I ask him!”
Or, “The story was.. Oh man.. I forgot.. His name started with a G, but NOT Goliath, for sure, I know that story… um.. The wet and the dry story?”
To which I would answer, “Gideon!? In the book of Judges?!”
“Yes!” He’d exclaim.
And then, probably my favourite, because I want my kids to know THIS the most…
“Mom, guess what we learned today? God is always with us.”
Yes. Whether we’re online, in a building, sick or well, near or far, God is always with us.
When I think back to the time of all the stopping and closing of things, you know what’s remarkable? Church never stopped. Our church never missed a single week. Sure it looked different, but God bless them and all of their dedicated efforts. I think we could hear all the pastors repeatedly yelling “PIVOT!!!!” from down the street.
My jaw dropped when the news recently and rather suddenly came in, “Churches are open, no restrictions.”
“I don’t know mom… It feels kind of weird to go back…”
“I like watching it from my bed.”
“What if I don’t know anybody in my class?”
I hear you. We’d finally gotten used to the thing we worked so hard to get used to. That’s delightfully ironic.
I felt what they felt too. Apprehension can be a bit of a looming cloud. Meeting together again sounded like madness after so many months of hearing to NOT even think about it.
But a settled feeling quickly came over me. What a gift it is to go to church, to gather with other believers and worship God together.
It’s been a few Sundays now since we started another new routine, and it’s taking work all over again. The new routine is one where we put on shoes, masks, and our nicest shorts with the least amount of wrinkles… and we walk down our street to ‘real’ CHURCH. I should shout ‘PIVOT’ while throwing goldfish crackers in the air like confetti.
In some ways it feels like we never left. It feels so special to see dear friends in person, to walk through familiar hallways and rooms once again. Standing in my first service back I cried inside my mask just the tiniest bit, grateful and overwhelmed by the goodness of God, and how he so clearly carried me and my family through this past year. They were the happy kind of tears, I promise.
I know that God’s presence isn’t limited to a church building. God’s presence can absolutely be found in my living room through my tv screen, but you know when you enter somewhere and you can’t help but KNOW that ‘surely God is in this place?’ It felt like that. And it truly felt so good to be back.