A clarification on streaming worship

Earlier today I wrote a post reflecting on the phenomenon of churches streaming worship to their members quarantined at home and the difference that catholic and evangelical traditions of worship make for what that means. My brother, who is a pastor, called me up and shared that he thought either that the post was in poor taste or that it was hastily and unclearly written, and might communicate the opposite of what I was intending. So I took it down, and I'll be thinking here in the next few days about whether there's a way to revise or rewrite what I had in mind. But let me say a few things about what I was attempting to articulate, especially for those who read the original post while it was up.

1. I wanted to think theologically about what is happening when Christians live-stream worship, whether that means a sermon, a praise band, mass, or the divine liturgy.

2. I wanted to observe how catholic traditions represent one rationale for streaming worship: the need for a priest and the consecration of the elements—which creates an irony, since those streaming at home cannot partake of the holy sacrament.

3. Whereas evangelical or non-sacramental traditions represent another rationale, lacking the need for an ordained person to preside at worship or consecrate the bread and wine. This suggests a different irony, namely, that such traditions permit households to conduct worship "all on their own," indeed they have long-standing histories of doing so. Which raises the question of why such churches might decide to live-stream worship, and why their members might tune in.

4. Constructively, then, I wanted to encourage these latter traditions to consider looking to their histories of "domestic devotion" and thinking about how to renew them in the minds and habits of their church members. Let a hundred thousand household churches bloom!

5. Critically, though, I wanted to express the concern that when "worship" means "a praise band leading believers in singing," and when live-streaming is mostly centered on that, then low-church traditions and their members have appeared to lose the muscle memory necessary to "do church" together in local, even household, contexts. Which can create, or might reflect, a kind of codependency that is worth recognizing for what it is, which then becomes the condition of the possibility for unlearning such codependency in the coming weeks or months of quarantine.

I hope that helps. Christians, churches, and ministers of every kind are doing all that they can in the face of an unprecedented crisis. Nothing but grace and gratitude to every one of them, including my own.

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