The fender bender probably didn’t help.
I reached a low point in my COVID-coping consciousness that weekend. On Friday, I didn’t see a woman approaching from my right at an intersection near my home as I turned left into her path. I was startled by the impact of hitting her driver’s side door, because I had not seen her at all. Having looked both ways before turning, I neglected to crane my neck to see around the column separating windshield from side window, and as I turned, the Jeep was still partly obscured.
The woman whose beautiful, shiny vehicle I smashed was very calm and kind under the circumstances. (She friended me on Facebook!) Nevertheless, I felt ashamed and upset for several hours afterward.
Not only was my car damaged (and hers), my ego also suffered a blow.
So when I struggled yet again on Saturday evening with getting the worship service recording to work before uploading it to the church’s YouTube channel, I was running low on confidence. No problem. I could record the early service on Sunday as a backup.
My tension mounted as I set up the equipment. By the time everything was connected, I was disconnecting internally, ready to pitch the laptop and camera out the window.
I sat in the front pew to pray and get some calm. Instead, I began to weep.
I was done.
Done with the stupid pandemic, done with becoming a video producer and preacher rolled into one. Done with expecting to get good at it after weeks of trying to fit the pieces of technology and common sense know-how together.
The congregational president and his wife were the first to arrive. He discovered me in the front pew. I suppose he was alarmed, because he offered to help with the readings for the morning. It was a kindness, but I told him that leading worship was the easy part.
I pulled myself together, as we pastors often have to do at a moment’s notice. I put on my pastor face, and made it through two services.
But I felt fragile for several days.
The feeling was familiar. It had been like this when I was burned out in ministry four years ago. I reached out for help. I lowered my expectations for the near future. I was gentle with myself and got the rest I needed.
Eventually I was able to focus and acknowledge what it feels like to “deliver” worship to parishioners over the internet. For the first time, I felt angry that I have to keep pouring myself into creating quality worship services, with faithful preaching of the gospel and accompanying liturgy and prayers, record them, and post them up there along with all the YouTube influencers and silly videos. One among many. If mine doesn’t upload successfully, or if church members see the length and don’t want to spend the time, they can search and find another, shorter, worship service in under 30 seconds.
It makes me feel cheap. Like a hack. Like the vocation into which God has called and equipped me, in which there have been countless holy moments in worship, with grieving families and preschool Bible school classes, in hospital rooms and wedding receptions, the vocation that has taught me to deeply trust God’s faithfulness, is no more than a video delivery service.
Thankfully, I got to lead parking lot worship for several weeks this summer. To be honest, even after having returned to in-person worship with precautions in place, that time out on the driveway with people honking their “amens” has been the most rewarding time of this entire pandemic. Standing out in God’s creation where we paused to listen to the birds and the wind in the trees. Singing hymns as the organist’s music came through the radio transmitter. Grinning with people about the silliness and joy of worship like this on a summer day.
I was still recording worship for the people who weren’t in the parking lot. But that makeshift situation was fun, and holy, and good.
Reaching my breaking point was healthy in retrospect. I have let go of my expectations to meet the challenge with confidence and skill. Despite good advice—online and otherwise—this still intimidates me. Nobody else in the congregation has the expertise either, and they are probably reluctant to try. I don’t blame them. Somebody should try anyway. Maybe that’s another weakness I have to admit: not persisting to find help.
It’s not fair, I know. Fairness doesn’t seem to be relevant right now. Nobody knows how to navigate this strange reality, and the people I serve have their hands full already. They are kind, and faithful. They are ready to help when they know how to do it. I am grateful that they seem to understand and empathize when I tell them how hard this is. Their lives are hard right now, too.
Like everyone else this year, I will keep slogging forward with the tools and skills at hand. I like to think we are all doing our best to be faithful and productive. The worship videos will appear like clockwork on the church YouTube channel, with thumbnail graphics I enjoy creating to signify each week’s theme.
For their part, the listeners keep showing up too. I give them credit for that. It would be easy for either of us to turn inward and abandon the enterprise.
So we are partners in it. Even though it is hard, we have to keep hope alive by meeting together, held by the love of God who will not abandon us. The God who sometimes uses silly videos to make me laugh, so I can endure.
Thank you, God, for the makers of silly videos, for those who fashion worship videos, and those who watch them.