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Kent Bernhardt column: COVID church

By Kent Bernhardt
For the Salisbury Post

I grew up in small town America during a time when you couldn’t imagine not being in church on Sunday morning.

Church was where families went each Sunday — together — in one car and dressed to the hilt. For young men like me, that meant a clean white shirt with no holes in it and a dark tie. My mom had final approval on any and all of my wardrobe choices.

There were Sundays we were excused from services because of heavy snow, and there was that one Sunday my family opted out of services in favor of attending a showing of “The Sound of Music” in nearby Charlotte. Since it was a movie about nuns, we figured God would understand.

Now, thanks to COVID fears, we are worshiping at home in our pajamas, cup of coffee in hand and barefoot. The message is the same but the fellowship is missing, and I’ve always felt that’s the most important part. There’s something about sharing a pew with fellow travelers on a spiritual journey that just can’t be replicated online.

Still, mindful of the safety of others, we try. Thank God for the technology that allows us at least some form of community.  And thank God for digital scholars who understand this technology on a higher level than I ever will.

My particular flock has done a wonderful job of online worship. They haven’t found a way to replicate the smell of Methodist coffee, but I’m sure they’re working on it.

I’ve heard voices around me warn that COVID will be the death nail of the existence of the church, which in their view is already on life support. Our habits will change, and we will see no need for it in the future, they say.

Then they throw in the trump card. “Besides, the church is full of nothing but hypocrites.”

To the last person who said that to me, I replied “That may be true, but why don’t you join us anyway so we’ll have one more.”

There are many reasons I choose to go, and many reasons others choose not to. I’m not in the business of judging motives or actions either way. Your journey is different than mine.

But I will tell you I do find a refreshing sense of purpose and being there, especially during a time when our faith in government and society in general seems to be in short supply. The year 2020 was hard on us all, and 2021 shows little sign of letting up. If I choose to cling to something, why not something that increases my faith in God?

The God who sees my hypocrisy and loves me anyway. The God who has never ceased to be there when others drift away.  The God who helps me make sense of it all, even during the darkest of times.

So I’m still grabbing my cup of coffee and stumbling to the TV set to meet with my church family whenever and however I can. They understand and forgive my disheveled hair and toenails that could use trimming.

Most importantly, they understand and forgive the fact that my mother no longer makes my church wardrobe choices, so my pajamas may not exactly match my orange T-shirt with the hole in the front.

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