I recently had the unusual experience of being a participant in a worship service where I was the worship leader. No, I didn't finally figure out how to clone myself. My husband had tested positive for COVID on Saturday, after three days of symptoms and negative tests. Even though I tested negative, I did have very mild symptoms, so that afternoon I recorded most of the parts of the worship service that I normally lead - greeting, opening prayer, scripture context, sermon, benediction - and asked others to lead the rest.
On Sunday morning I was still testing negative, but feeling the mildest hint of symptoms.* My moral compass wouldn't let me go to church in person and possibly infect people, especially vulnerable people, so I attended via Zoom the worship service that I "led" in the church sanctuary. I noticed four things about what helps and hinders a connection to the worship service, about what makes a sacred space sacred:
First, I was multitasking in my kitchen when the service started. Bad idea. Once I went to the most sacred space I have in my home, and stayed put there, it felt more like I was in worship.
Second, I thought about what I would see if I were sitting in the sanctuary in person. I would see the people in the pews, the slides on the screen, the musician(s), the reader at the lectern and the preacher at the pulpit. I found that if I took turns looking at these various things on Zoom at different points in the service, it felt more like I was in worship. If you don't know how to do this on Zoom, ask someone to show you! Even when the meeting host is sharing the screen, you can still "Pin" different videos so that you can see different camera views of the sanctuary or the worship slideshow at different times.
Third, I turned off my video, but I think I would have felt more connected to the service had I kept it on. I also would have felt more connected if I had shared some things in the chat function of Zoom. We don't allow participants to unmute themselves until worship is over, because too often people have not realized that they are unmuted and are interrupting the service! But using the chat to share God Moments, prayer requests, questions or comments about the scripture or sermon, and a "Good Morning!" or an "Amen!" or a "Praise God!" now and then -- these are things that make the connection to the worship service more vivid when you're participating on Zoom.
Finally, I was thinking of something we've come to know in a real way since March of 2020: church is not a building. For me, I would so much rather worship in person than online. I've always preferred being with people in person over talking on the phone or interacting on social media. Even the most top-notch worship services I've attended online have left me feeling like something was missing. BUT - I'm really glad to have the option when it's needed! And this recent experience reminded me of what Jesus says in John 4:24: "God is Spirit, and those who worship must worship in Spirit and truth." Spirit is not bound by place. Really, we can worship God anywhere, anytime. Thanks be to God!
*I am now in good health and my husband is recovering.