I like my church. I like the clergy. I like the worship service. I like the progressive theology that questions traditional teachings. I like the congregation. I like the music. There’s nothing I don’t like. Yet, I don’t always show up on Sundays, sometimes not even for major holidays like Christmas and Easter, despite my Catholic upbringing that pronounces this a sin worthy of eternal damnation.
But this Easter morning – the Easter of the 2020 pandemic – I need church. I want church.
My cell phone dings. “Are you ‘going’ to church?” my ex-husband, who was always even less interested in attending church than I, inquires.
“I forgot I could attend virtually,” I text back. “Send me the link.”
I run to turn on my computer; I have five minutes before the service starts. “Will they be able to see me?” I text Peter again. Not waiting for a response, I run into the bathroom to clean up, apply some blush, and put on a decent top before he responds, “No. They can’t see or hear you.”
I queue up in front of my computer at the appointed time to watch a pre-service slide show, making sure there’s no audio or video on my end. Familiar, smiling faces peer out at me. Then the service begins, both pastors broadcasting from their respective homes. “Good morning, Church,” Pastor Kate says with a big grin. A sad big grin. She says “Good morning, Church” every Sunday (with emphasis on the word church), but this is the first time I deeply understand that a church isn’t the physical structure, but it’s the people who strive to bring a loving God into their collective consciousness. Into their daily lives.
When the hymns begin, so do my tears. Members of the four-piece brass band stand six-plus feet apart. And play to an empty room. An empty church on Easter Sunday morning.
There have been many Sundays when my would-be seat has been vacant. But everyone else is still supposed to be there when I decide to show up. But today, they can’t. No one can. Churches all across America, all across the globe, are empty on this holiest of Christian holidays. On this day when we gather to hear the promise of personal renewal and resurrection, churches are empty.
These tears are the first I’ve shed since this pandemic forced family and friends to physically distance from each other. Easter morning feels like Easter mourning.
I’m haunted by the image of my empty church. I grieve for those suffering a traumatic disruption to their life-long worship tradition. And I’m reminded, once again, that you never know what you’re going to miss until you miss it.
Be mindful of what matters. And grateful for what you have.
Patricia A. Nugent’s creative nonfiction work has appeared in trade and literary journals and has received awards (including one bestowed by Susan Sontag). She’s the author of the book “They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad”, a compilation of vignettes portraying the stages of caring for and saying goodbye to a loved one. She’s the editor of the anthology “Before They Were Our Mothers: Voices of Women Born Before Rosie Started Riveting”, and her work is featured in three additional anthologies. Her play about a modern-day reunion of the early suffragists, “The Stone that Started the Ripple”, has sold out all performances over the last twenty years and received a stellar arts review. She periodically blogs for Vox Populi and Ms. Magazine; her own blog can be found here.