The Surprising Gift in Going Back to Church (after years of covid + chaos)

Something surprised me about going back to church after years of covid and chaos, something I really missed, yet never knew I had.

If you’re a faith person, are you participating in a faith community again?

Let’s just say when a kid got a runny nose during the thick of covid, my world fell in on me. Almost. Every. Time. More stringent distancing measures meant more stress, struggle and loneliness in a season of motherhood I needed more support, rest and relationships. Anyone else?

If you’re like me, covid pushed your mental health to its limits, maybe beyond. My body kept the score, and as soon as someone sneezed in my house… adrenaline shot to my toes. No joke. Not for fear of illness, but for fear of isolation.

As a person of faith, I clung to my confidence in Jesus. But clinging to a liferaft in a storm isn’t always easy or pretty and sometimes I slipped off.

It took me a loooooong time go to back to church.

I missed it. I grieved it. I ached for it.

Yes, the church has a lot of cracks and bruises made of cracked and bruised people, but the church is more than it’s headlines. Media covers more church blunders (of which it has many), and less church beauty (of which I’ve seen much).

Short Greek lesson, the word for “church” in scripture is ekklesia. Ekklesia refers to a gathering or congregation of people. We lost something significant when we lost the ability to gather; to be together; to be a church.*

*this article is not my commentary on the choices collectively made or not made as we navigated complex circumstances. This is my experience of returning to church after losing it.

For many reasons, I didn’t go back when the doors reopened. Perhaps personal hurt or feeling forgotten, perhaps fear of runny-nose-isolation, perhaps longing for something new, or the overwhelming thought of taking all my kids to church by myself while my husband worked and people couldn’t hug me. Maybe all of the above, but the reasons were many.

I don’t regret my decisions, I listened online, gave online, watched Waumbaland (our kid’s program) online, and occasionally connected with our small group online: people we hadn’t seen in weeks that became months that became more.

I never left church, faith, or my love for Jesus. In fact, it grew. But it grew different when I didn’t show up to gather; ekklesia.

I was surprised by something I didn’t realize I was missing when I finally returned to church.

I wasn’t in church, God was still in my home and heart. But, as Jesus says, I still felt like a branch cut off from the vine (John 15):

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit…

– Jesus, John 15:5

Even though I worked hard to remain in Jesus, I wasn’t flourishing. I felt fragile, stuck, starving. I felt cut off. Why?

This little green-leafed plant is propagating next to my kitchen window.

Cut from the larger plant and tucked into a pretty little clear crystal vase, the green sprig keeps trying to put down roots. It is still alive and trying, but it’s not growing.

The branch remains in its life source; water, without which, it will surely whither and die. But it’s stuck. It’s not reaching its full potential.

Something is missing…

Soil.

I’m taking metaphorical liberty with scripture here. This next bit is my idea, not Jesus’s, so take it lightly.

If I’m the green branches remaining in Jesus, the rooting vine, and in the Creator, the living water (Jer 2:13), the missing piece is the soil. The missing piece is a place to put roots down; a place to grow.

When I went back to church, I went back in the soil.

Returning to church was rejuvenating.

Sure, there was a little relational ick and a smidge of uneasiness about more runny noses but when I was ready, figuring out what it looked like to participate with three little ones in tow was more life-giving than I expected. I’ve been trying to figure out why.

The soil is why. Going back to church felt like how I imagine that little green propagated plant in my kitchen window will feel when it finally gets to soil. It will have space to grow.

The soil is the place and space to grow, with the nutrients and nurturing we need. Church gathering is like the spiritual soil I was missing. Don’t get me wrong, lest this becomes a painting of a picture-perfect church, soil can also have fungus and rocks and pests. The church is a work in progress as much as I am. (and if you’re in a pest-infested, rock-riddled spot, it’s ok to find healthier soil. It exists.)

When I returned to church, I returned to the soil.

Of course, the church is even more than soil. But just like the little plant in my kitchen… I don’t want to stay in a pretty vase. I want to grow more, give more, live more.

I need soil to put roots down.

As much as I pray church does grow and change, the purpose stays the same.

Let us gather and grow and give and love.

If you’re a faith person, are you back at church?

Will you tell me what you missed about it?

2 thoughts on “The Surprising Gift in Going Back to Church (after years of covid + chaos)”

  1. This is a lovely and thought provoking post. My experience during the pandemic was from the opposite side of the fence, but still geeatly impacted by the isolation. When everything shut down, I dove into recording and posting our pastors’ sermons on YouTube and I recorded a tutorial video to help our small group leaders get their Zoom accounts set up.

    The pastors had to try to preach to an empty room with absolutely zero feedback from anyone. No body language to read. No faces to nod or smile or encourage them. It was so hard.

    I spent every moment learning to edit video and audio and lighting and use broadcasting software. The church had zero equipment and I didn’t even know what we needed. At least I had a focus.

    It was an incredibly lonely time. I kept my roots in the soil, but the gaps that opened up around me allowed some weeds to grow.

    More people are coming back to church again, now, and you’re right. I didn’t realize how much we as a body were missing until we came back together again. We definitely grow better together.

    1. Wow, thank you for sharing this! First, GOOD job. That was not an easy time. Justin (@daddygotcoffee) dove into online ministry world headfirst in that time as well. His head is still there, actually!

      Second, that’s a great analogy, too. We definitely grow better together. 🙂

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