May 23, 2024
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“I’m back in the saddle again!”

Sometime during the COVID-19 pandemic (first edition, 2020), once we got back to in-person worship at our church, I started singing a “special” song each morning as sort of a “call to worship.” Last Sunday, I found the “saddle song” quite tempting (but no).

As I mentioned in my last column, even though we’d taken prudent precautions, my wife and I managed to jump the line and get in right at the first of the COVID-19 (Delta variant) edition.

The first time around, in spring 2020, our church took seven weeks off from worship in person. That was strange, but this time, the recess was odd in its own way. It was precautionary, but it was more than that. My wife was sick. Not wanting her to be miserable alone, I soon jumped into the virus pool myself.

We ended up canceling in-person worship one Sunday, and I did a video. For the next two Sundays, my wife and I stayed home, but the rest of our folks were at worship in person. I had one worship video ready that I’d created “just in case” a thousand years or so ago when the pandemic began in 2020. And I recorded another one upstairs at home in my study/recording studio/all-purpose spare room. Once I tested plague positive and my voice started changing, I decided that I’d better get a video recorded early on while I still felt like it and could. (This was correct.)

By the way, in a multi-staff church, much of this would have been handled differently. But that is not our situation. If you’ve always been part of fairly large churches, forget about understanding this. It’s nice of you to try, but you won’t get it. (The difference between small churches and large churches is not the difference between big apples and little apples, it’s apples and tangerines. Or maybe apples and fried chicken.)

We had such good help in the midst of four days in the hospital for my wife and two or three weeks all a blur for both of us. The last part of July somehow vanished, but I could write paragraphs about the sweet ways folks took care of us with food, shopping, etc.

I discovered my serious limitations as audio-video tech support (via phone). But my friend and ever-faithful a/v volunteer at church, Jack, in conjunction with some other willing and valuable help as needed made it work well.

Yes, I know they worshiped decades ago just fine without technological resources. Yes, it’s still perfectly possible. But the technology is incredibly handy if your preacher needs to preach (and everyone else at church would pay big bucks not to preach) even while he’s at home in bed groaning, moaning, sweating, “chilling,” coughing, aching, and doing his very best to sleep for days at a time. Yep, in that situation, technology helps.

And so, by the way, does Christian unity—a thing not only dear to the heart of Christ but truly his fervent prayer (John 17) and one his followers have too often worked diligently to religiously ignore.

One of the things I love most about my little community—and a huge reason we’ve chosen to stay here for 36 years—is that, by and large, Christ’s people here from different Christian traditions have long loved and respected each other and worked unusually well together.

Our churches here are not so large that we think we can afford to ignore each other. We’re not mega-churches who can mostly pretend, at least in practicality, that we’re the only church in town. And we don’t have fifteen or twenty congregations, same denomination with slightly different flavors barely acknowledging each other, much less the corresponding churches in six or ten other major brands.

I am as comfortable preaching in a number of pulpits in our little town as I am in my own.  An incredible blessing never to be taken for granted.

And so, folks in our little church were not at all surprised when a dear friend and colleague from another tradition led off by preaching at our church on one of those Sundays, and then went and preached in his own pulpit while “video me” finished our service. He and I had agreed long ago to pinch hit for each other if either one of us got sick—and we’ve done that many times before at funerals, etc., when the need arose. This unity stuff not only honors our Lord, it is intensely practical.

Yes, it was good on Sunday to be “back in the saddle.” The virus is a bear. You don’t want it. Having said that, I realize more than ever that, if you catch this thing and your experience doesn’t involve blood clots, ventilators, and funeral directors, well, you have a lot to be thankful for. I hope you’ll do what you can to avoid this thing—not just for yourself but also for others. I pray that this latest edition doesn’t continue to ramp up. One time around was more than enough, and we don’t need to let this thing get ahead of us and morph into a much bigger, “badder,” incredibly resistant variant. I guess we’ll see.

“Back in the saddle”? Well, for me, almost, I think. I managed to get Facebook Live going to live-stream our service on Sunday, but I got the whole thing live-streamed sideways. That was oddly appropriate. I think I have a foot in a stirrup and my hands on the saddle horn. But that’s movement at least toward the saddle.

And I’m thankful.

Curtis K. Shelburne


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