Gathering together: The joys of online and in-person connection


By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

I have a love/hate relationship with technology.

Nothing makes me tense up more than feeling that all-too-familiar vibration in my pocket alerting me that someone is either calling or texting.

That being said, digital communication tools have been essential to maintaining both personal and professional connection over the last 18 months. Computers, cameras, cellphones and the programs we use on them, such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and a variety of other streaming services, have allowed us to maintain some semblance of community and interpersonal contact when meeting in person was either ill-advised or unavailable.

I understand my strained relationship with technology stems in large part from the fact that I am what is termed a “digital immigrant.” The technology that is so ubiquitous and prolific in our world today was just in its infancy when I was in college.

While I’m proficient at using and understanding technology, it takes some effort and energy on my part. My son, J.J., however, is another story altogether. He and his group of friends are the definition of “digital natives.” Not only do they understand and utilize a wide range of technologies with great efficacy and efficiency, as middle school students, they all built their own custom computers.

J.J. did a paper during middle school in which he articulated several benefits and dangers associated with the use of technology by youth. He demonstrated incredible understanding of the issues and opportunities technology presented.

One of his insights has proven to be somewhat prophetic. He argued technology provided a way to “go out to play with friends.” It seemed more than a little comical at the time, but when the chaos of COVID hit, it was he who got the last laugh.

While most of us were trying to navigate livestreams, video conferencing and the like, he and his friends were moving on to full-out virtual reality. As we struggled to figure out how to properly utilize screens and cameras, he and his friends were moving on to devices that allowed them to involve their whole bodies to play games with one another using physical movement.

Technology allows these digital savants to “play together” from anywhere Wi-Fi is available. And they use all manners of technology early and often to do just that. What has been most interesting to me as the world has reopened is that while they are still using the technology to play together, when given the choice, they would opt to play together in person, even when online.

I believe these young men are once again running on the front edge of where we need to head as broader communities. While technology provides amazing opportunities for connection and conversation, there is no substitute for physical presence.

In Hebrews 10:25, the author writes, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Meeting together is a central part of being the church. In fact, the Greek word for church is ekklesia, and it means “the gathering.” I am a big fan of livestreams and the ability to join the church through digital means. We have offered a digital option since 2017, and that won’t stop any time soon, but the screen only takes us so far.

To fully connect and invest ourselves in community, we need to share physical space. It’s a lesson my digitally advanced son and his crew have seemed to learn and a lesson many of us need to remember as we look forward to days ahead.

I’m well aware COVID numbers are currently on the rise and there are many who are still uncomfortable gathering in large groups and others who have held out until the uncertainty settles, but whether you are part of First Baptist Church or one of the other amazing churches in our community, know that you are missed and we look forward to sharing space with you again.

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