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In Good Faith column: The accidental televangelist

Rev. Tim Schenck
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Daily Comet

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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I never thought I’d say this but … I’ve become a televangelist. On Sunday mornings I preach into the lens of a video camera, encouraging my online flock, coming to them live from a makeshift church studio. Virtually overnight, I had to reinvent myself as the Joel Osteen of Hingham, Massachusetts. Minus the private jet and the sickeningly sweet message that goes down like cotton candy but quickly dissolves into nothing.

None of this is by choice, of course. We’ve been streaming our church services on Facebook Live and through our website ever since we had to shut down in-person worship. On Easter, “Let us pray” was replaced with “Quiet on the set!”

Although we are worshipping virtually right now, there is nothing “virtual” about our faith. This world needs God’s love more than ever right now. And it needs us all to share God’s love with others.

That whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing? This moment in our common life cries out for the embodiment of this command. Not with hugs or hand holding, but by praying for one another, by sharing our resources with those in need, by reaching out to those who are isolated and alone, by supporting those who are on the front lines of this pandemic, by making masks, by staying home, and even by watching your pastor morph into a televangelist.

I do mourn the loss of our communal interaction amid this time of social distancing. I miss gathering with friends, I miss seeing my beloved parishioners and worshipping with them in person, I miss sitting in the stands at baseball games, I miss writing at my favorite coffee shop. But all of these temporary measures are acts of love. They are ways of loving our neighbors as ourselves. And they serve as stark reminders that true love always involves sacrifice, which is what the story of Easter is all about

I will say that our online worship has been surprisingly interactive. One advantage is that people can share comments in real time. And so we can pray by name for someone’s uncle who has been hospitalized with COVID-19, or for a child’s grandmother who is living alone, or for the first responders and health care workers who have been risking their lives to serve others. For me, these interactive prayers serve as glimmers of glory in the midst of a rather painful time; reminders that God’s love may stand in stark relief to global anguish and isolation, but it doesn’t stand apart from it

I’ll probably never fully embrace the full-on televangelist vibe. Sure, like everyone else, my hair’s getting longer, but I can’t imagine it’ll turn into a Jimmy Swaggart-worthy bouffant. I haven’t started referring to St. John’s as my own personal Crystal Cathedral. My suits aren’t shiny, I don’t have a 900 number, and I exercised great restraint in not inviting people to touch the screen and be healed during the Easter service.

But until we gather together again as a congregation, I will continue to embrace technologies that keep us connected. And I’m reminded again and again that the church is not a building, but its people.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is an Episcopal priest at St. John’s Church in Hingham, MA. This article is excerpted from his newly released book “Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith - From Dancing Goats to Satan’s Drink.” “Holy Grounds” is available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2IdFp91. Follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.