When Online Meets In-Person: Building Bridges Within Our UMCG Family

We are past the COVID protections that forced the church into the digital age, but we are experiencing the beautiful convergence of online and in-person ways of being a church. I think this blend of virtual and physical gatherings enriches our congregation and strengthens the bonds that unite us in faith and fellowship and could benefit from greater intentionality.

In the past week, we celebrated several wonderful instances where those who worship primarily online made meaningful in-person connections. These moments not only highlight the seamless integration of our online and in-person communities but also serve as a testament to the power of God’s grace working through our congregation.

Last Saturday, Meghan and I gathered in a picturesque forest preserve an hour west of Geneva to celebrate the union of Alex and Sarah. Their journey with UMCG began primarily through online worship, with just one visit in-person prior to their wedding. Their story is a perfect example of how digital spaces can cultivate deep connections that eventually blossom into in-person celebrations. As we stood under the canopy of trees, celebrating their love and covenant, it was a joy to see faces familiar from online worship become vibrant, in-person participants in this special act of worship.

Then last Sunday, we welcomed infants Cameron and Layla Cicero into our faith family through the sacrament of baptism. Kim and Sam Cicero had previously connected with UMCG solely through online worship until Sunday. The challenge of getting infant twins ready for a morning service is no small feat, and we applaud their dedication and effort. This baptism was more than a ritual; it was a powerful symbol of their deepening connection with our community. As we gathered around them, both physically and spiritually, we celebrated not just the act of baptism but the welcoming of a family who had found their spiritual home through our online presence.

Kathleen Shafer, who resides in Eastern Pennsylvania, worships with us every Sunday from her home. Despite the miles that separate us, Kathleen remains an integral part of our congregation. Recently, she shared a prayer concern about her upcoming shoulder replacement surgery on June 20th. Through her regular correspondence and prayer requests, Kathleen exemplifies how our online community members stay connected and engaged. Her faith and trust in our collective prayers illustrate that no matter the distance, we can share and support each other’s burdens.

These stories reinforce the idea that both online and in-person participation are equally valid and faithful expressions of our communal life as a church. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” Whether we connect through a screen or a handshake, we are all integral parts of the body of Christ, working together to illuminate our communities with God’s grace.

As we continue to learn what it means to be a church that consists of those who primarily connect online and those who primarily connect in-person (and those who go between), I invite each of us to imagine new ways to bridge the gap between our online and in-person communities. Whether it’s reaching out to someone you’ve seen in a Zoom meeting or extending an invitation to an online friend to join a physical gathering, there are countless opportunities to foster deeper connections. Let’s take the initiative to build these bridges, celebrating the diversity of our congregation and the myriad ways we come together in God’s love.

In every interaction, be it online or in-person, we embody our mission to spread the light of God’s grace to our communties. Let us continue to embrace these opportunities, nurturing a community that is both vibrant and inclusive, where every member feels valued and connected.

Blessings to you all, both near and far, as we journey together in faith.