Zoom is not Church, and it Never Will Be

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Episcopalians are not known for being people that quickly adopt change, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world with all of it’s death and devastation, we, just like everyone else, had to change the way we did things. Many things will never be the same again. As the world grieves and attempts to move on, we understand that some things shouldn’t go back to the way they were before, but that some things should. There are disagreements among people over what those things are.

I’ve seen it theorized many times in the last few years that the Christian Church is going into a period of intense change, where what it means to be a Christian will be completely overhauled, to the same level of influence and change as the Protestant Reformation. Many are excited and saying that the church is moving from the physical realm to the digital realm and that this is what will cause this major shift in Christianity. I argue that if Christianity ceases to exist in physical form, it ceases to exist in any form.

I first met and encountered Jesus in a life-changing way when I walked into the doors of on Episcopal Church on All Saint’s Day in 2014. I had not set foot in an Episcopal Church before this time, and I was invited to the altar to receive communion. As I consumed that physical bread and physical wine that had also become the body and blood of Christ, I realized something huge: I had just consumed Jesus. Jesus had been with me at that altar, in flesh and blood, in bread and wine.

When lockdowns for COVID-19 started, many churches, including mine, suddenly decided that programs like Zoom and livestreaming services on Facebook consisted of Church. They weren’t offering the sacrament, and only the very elite were allowed to show up and help. I was supposed to think that watching a priest consecrate the elements alone and consume them alone was communion. I refused to watch any such services, because if I can’t receive communion, I wasn’t going to watch someone else receive it.

Pastoral care for most people and most situations ceased to exist. I felt betrayed over the fact that while I wasn’t getting the spiritual care that I absolutely did need, the church (on a national, diocesan, and local level), were all still asking for money. We all understand that the church needs money, but they also weren’t serving the people of God.

I understand why they took the measures they did, but as people began to lose jobs, livelihoods, and resources, as well as the incredible death toll, expecting people to still give money they no longer had when not providing the care was a tacky betrayal that still hurts.

As things such as Zoom and Facebook Live began to infiltrate sacred space and take over the point where even though most places are again meeting together, the church has changed the way they do things to accommodate this intrusion into the future as well. I was constantly gaslit over my refusal to watch someone else receive communion on a screen because it wasn’t church, and I got fed up with it.

It became intense as people kept trying to convince me that using shitty software used for video meetings was legitimately church. I still find that offensive and obnoxious and I’m still stunned that they tried to pull that trick on me. Apparently it was offensive to refuse “church” just because it was different. I still say I never missed church during COVID, because church wasn’t available.

Believe it or not, though, things got much worse. So much was invested in the idea that Zoom was church that the idea was floated that it would be a good idea to just throw Jesus into some ziplock baggies and allow people to come and pick the bags. I am still horrified, even after where I’ve been in life, that those entrusted to care spiritually for God’s people would dare throw Jesus Christ himself in a bag like it was nothing, to continue an illusion. I’m so thankful this was overruled, and I still am unable to fathom why this was an acceptable idea for some.

Zoom and Facebook Live can be great tools for people who appreciate them to do so many things like prayer groups, or book studies, and although I won’t do those either for other (trauma-related) reasons, Zoom and Facebook Live will never be church. I’m glad people can use it to connect. It’s still not church. It has it’s benefits that don’t work for me but do for many, but it also has its pitfalls.

We now have people believing that if they are in a Zoom meeting during the church service, that they are “attending church,” which is of course not so. Churches also have used this technology long enough now that there is a resistance and sometimes outright refusal to do things in person anymore, and that’s a problem for many reasons I won’t go into here. Just because people like the technology doesn’t mean they are “going to church.”

The worship of ancient mythological dieties, the worship that Israel gave to God, the New Testament church, the early church, all have have had major physical components in their spirituality. When I was engaging in the worship of Baal, there was physical worship involved with everything else, when I was worshipping Hecate, there was physical worship at physical locations in physical time and space.

It’s not all physical, but there is no worship without a physical component. I’ve worshipped many gods and goddesses, although it’s not something I’m proud of or recommend, and every single one, from Canaanite, to Norse, to Greek, to Celtic, every single one of them has required some form of physical worship.

The worship of Jesus also had physical components, and while some things can perhaps be done via new technology that’s available these days, Zoom is not and never will be church. A person cannot be baptized or receive the Eucharist through a computer or smartphone. The day we try to bring a digital revolution to church that cancels out the physical components, Christianity will cease to exist, for it cannot survive outside of the physical.

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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

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She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.