It’s my daughter Catherine’s fall break, and the rest of the family is using it as an excuse to spend a long weekend at the beach. It’s a little cool here, but the breezes blowing in off the water are the kind that make you close your eyes and inhale deeply, and then let it all out in a rush of relaxation. It was in that frame of mind, and with a fresh mug of hot coffee, that I logged onto the First Baptist website on Sunday morning for the live webcast of our 8:30 worship service.
I was impressed by the quality of the feed: full screen video and sound that came in loud and clear through my earbuds (thank you David Powers and the rest of the Communication Team!). I heard Ralph Starling welcome us to worship, Eunice Kim play the prelude, Millie Flinn read the Bible. I heard the Men’s Chorus sing, watched Bob Higgins dedicate the offering, listened to the choir sing the anthem. And then I heard Lynn Turner preach, and even though I wasn’t there in the room I felt the full impact of her sermon. At one point I laughed out loud. At another point I felt a lump rise in my throat.
All of this was happening in the sanctuary of Richmond’s First Baptist Church while I was more than a hundred miles away, participating in worship through an open laptop computer, with earbuds in my ears. And I was doing it while sitting at the kitchen table, in my jammies, with a cup of hot coffee. I can see how some people might decide to worship that way all the time. It beats getting up and getting dressed, doesn’t it? Looking for a parking place and sitting on an uncomfortable pew? Plus, no one passes an offering plate when you’re sitting at home alone. But there is something missing, and that something is the human touch.
I never read it, but I remember a book called Megatrends by John Naisbitt, published some thirty years ago. One of the chapters was “High Tech/High Touch” which I understood to mean that as our society becomes more and more high tech, we will crave the human touch more than ever. All those hours sitting in a cubicle at work, entering data on a Microsoft spreadsheet; all those hours in an empty apartment, watching what you TIVO’d the week before; all those hours playing “Farmville” on Facebook, while you wait for status updates from your Facebook Friends. I can see how that kind of life would make you so lonely you would rush into the arms of the church on Sunday morning, and how important it would be that—when you got there—someone offered you the love of Jesus, a bone-breaking hug, and a cup of hot coffee (a reminder to all of us to give in the same way we would like to receive).
So, as good as this time at the beach with my family has been, I’m looking forward to being back at church next Sunday. Worshiping by webcast is a wonderful option, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.