Wait. Is that even a word? Yes. Yes, it is. But a bit of context might be helpful.
For the past 12 and ½ months, the Church (as in the larger body, not just Holy Trinity) has been living in the brave new world ushered in by the Coronavirus pandemic. We’ve learned with some degree of facility and a good deal of practice how to stream and Zoom. We’ve worshiped, studied, shared meals, and complained mightily about how much we miss each other…all by digital means. It’s been really hard, and there have been a lot of true losses. Deaths in the family, to be sure. But also an inadequate sense of mourning for those losses in our “apartness” from one another. A long time with no Holy Communion. Baptisms and Confirmations postponed. No singing with our pewmates. Heck, for most of the time…no pew mates. No hugs. No candle-lit sanctuary on Christmas Eve, except as it can be approximated on your computer screen.
But change, not just the virus, is in the wind. With more and more folks getting vaccinated, and as cases and infection rates fall, it appears that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Congregation Council has set some well-thought-out, data-driven standards for that. (See the letter in the April Highlights.) So we anticipate a return to in-person activities at some point in the nearer future. At last.
But what are we returning to? What have we learned over the past year that can help us shape a stronger, more faithful future for this congregation? Surely we won’t just flip a switch and find ourselves back in February 2020, will we?
It was my pleasure to recently attend a gathering of the “Ignite the Church” conference. Digitally, of course. Our speakers for the day, St. Olaf theologian Deanna Thompson and church planter Jeff Reed, had some very helpful things to say about the reality of the virtual body of Christ that we’ve experienced this past year. And they pointed us toward a future in which the digital and the physical expressions of the church will work as one body.
Credit it where it’s due: Jeff was the one who coined the phrase. The Phygital Church is the emerging reality of the future into which we are moving. And it’s not simply because of Covid. It’s because Covid accelerated trends already well underway in our society. It’s just the truth. More and more folks participate in community by non-physical means, meaning that assembly is no longer bound to geographical location. That means worship, yes…but a lot more. Online small groups and study opportunities. Mutual support and lifestyle gatherings. Digital giving. Person to person mentoring and support. And all of these are valid, appropriate opportunities for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our neighbors.
And all of this happens alongside the continuing physical presence of the congregation…worshiping, studying, supporting, serving side by side. Our building and our digital presence both function as platforms where the body of Christ is equipped, strengthened, celebrated, and sent.
It’s time, dear friends, to get phygital…to claim our new-media-using, barrier-breaking, “have-we-got-good-news-for-you” heritage as Lutherans…to invite, welcome, and connect with a world that needs that good news more than it knows. Yes, we have that good news. And even in this new phygital world, we have been blessed with the ability to share it, to enact it, to live it. Thanks be to God.