Behind me on the wall of my study, my laptop webcam picks up the image of The Light of the World, a print of the Holman Hunt painting whose original presided over our Chapel prayer services when I was at college. Jesus, barefoot and crowned with thorns, knocks at an ivy-covered door, beseeching the soul within to admit him. On Christ’s side of the door, it has been observed, there is no handle. It may only be opened from the other side.
Since our congregation went online for services, we’ve tried a few avenues. We haven’t had any Zoom bombers – yet. But I know people – you may be one – whose services, classes, meetings, have been disrupted by rude, offensive, even frightening messages and unwelcome visitors. Last weekend, just in time for Palm Sunday, the company made a number of updates and adjustments to try to lock down meetings. They’ve since backtracked some of them, keeping some church communicators and pastors like me bewildered and off balance.
In the meantime, we added a guest account to our WiFi, which reaches nicely across the parking lot, without a password for our passing neighbours and bus stop waiters. Is it a coincidence that it was that night that the phishers used our email address book to send out their fishy requests for eBay gift cards? It should be, but it sure makes a person think twice.
It’s almost like the old days of offline, in person gatherings. The debate about whether to impose passwords and waiting rooms is a little like the discussions over which doors to open, whether to lock them after service has begun (another option for Zoom meetings, by the way), who might screen visitors for suspicious behaviour, monitor comments, and so on. Of course, the presenting issue then was the risk of deadly intrusion, rather than a flash of pornography or hate speech; but the conflict between a missional and inclusive gospel and the temptation toward security has at least some similar qualities.
I have the same worries as the next solo pastor without an IT team to watch the virtual doors for mischief makers. I want us, as a parish, to continue our mission of reaching out in love, assuring the world that God loves you, no exceptions … and I don’t want my older, younger, or most sensitive members assaulted with words or images that might scar or scatter them, or reduce their trust in the refuge of communal prayer at a time when its pursuit seems most tentative, most difficult, and most necessary.
On the other hand, perhaps the image of the crucifixion should be enough to wrest us away from the comfortable delusion of a simple and consoling Christianity. The way of the cross was never lonely of contemptuous onlookers or tormenting troublemakers. One of them, a centurion, had his head and heart turned by the faithfulness of Christ, the pierced openness of his heart. Others were astonished by his refusal to remain locked down in the tomb, safe behind the stone, protected by death from all further harm.
On and offline, there are always plenty of companies offering security solutions for profit. I don’t claim to have right answers, for my own congregation let alone the church at large, even though I’m writing a book (allegedly, quarantine soul permitting) to help churches think through some of the questions with the gospel front and centre, the horse before the cart.
I don’t have a whole many answers, but the pastoral and political question that continues to pose itself to me, in times of bodily presence, and now in times of unequal technology, always in times of trial and error is, if (or when) we lock our doors, on which side is Jesus?
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is Rector of the Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal) in Euclid, Ohio. She blogs at over the water and is a contributing editor at the Episcopal Cafe. She is a contributor to the RevGalBlogPals book, and her own first book, A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing was published just this month by Upper Room Books.
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