When the pandemic began, I was skeptical of the possibility of living and operating in a faith community by virtual means. How could I possibly partake in the life of the church through Zoom? Is it true that the church can worship, I mean really worship, God while I am sitting on my couch watching a livestreamed service? How will I find the beauty of physical presence with other believers when I am constrained to the four walls of my house in Durham, North Carolina?
Though I am technically a millennial, I will always hold a certain nostalgia for “what was.” This strand of thought reaches as far back to remembering my childhood spent playing every imaginable sport on my cul-de-sac. Scooter, soccer, baseball — you name it, we played it. I would jump back to those days in a heartbeat.
My overwhelming nostalgia also leads me to push back against digital platforms, social media, and even the smartphone craze. If only I could move all of my friends and family onto one giant plot of land, who would need telephones, Facebook, and texting? Change unsettles me. Digital platforms do not always seem “real.”
Yet in Scripture, we see Jesus “showing up” where there are people. Where the tax collectors and lowly in society gathered, Jesus dined. Where folks paraded through towns with excitement of Jesus of Nazareth coming through town, Jesus stopped. Where the masses were hungry, Jesus and his rag-tag group of disciples provided food. If Jesus shows up where there are people, then God still appears today in our Zoom-heavy, virtual world.
And think of how many people can be reached when we lean into these digital spaces? Internet access is a necessity for flourishing in our society. While the fight for broadband is a different question, it is unquestionable that people need digital platforms for education, telehealth, business, socializing with friends and family, and so much more.
Will community that is upheld by digital means ever fully satisfy my desires? Probably not. But the opposite of virtual is not “real”, but “physical.”
I intend to lean into the strange land of digital platforms in full expectation that the God who reconciles all things to himself will “show up.”
-Mike Sciascia, Faith in Rural Communities Intern