One phrase I hear often in conversations about church gatherings is the phrase “showing up”: people talk of the need to show up, the importance of showing up, just how a person shows up. With the pandemic, we learned a whole new way of showing up that had not previously been central for us, maybe not even present at all, how to show up virtually. Showing up on screens became crucial as showing up physically was no longer possible.
Now, as we emerge from pandemic isolation, we have a choice in many church gatherings of how we show up, whether we show up physically or remotely. Some wonder whether the option of showing up remotely will disappear, and hope that will not be the case because showing up remotely has become a viable alternative (or, depending on circumstances of health and weather, perhaps the only alternative). Others walk into church and exult in the experience of being physically present with others who are physically present.
Is one way of showing up more viable than the other, particularly in terms of church life and how we understand a sacred community? Have we inadvertently created two congregations—and will one of those congregations be privileged over the other? Is participation remotely somehow less valid than participation in person? Does church only reach its greatest meaning when people gather physically?
Because the phrase “showing up” seems especially to enter into conversations about justice work, a physical presence in that work may be part—perhaps the most important part?—of doing the work. I hear those who showed up for some gathering or community action talk about how much it meant to them to “show up.” Putting our bodies into justice work is perhaps a key element of that work because it makes it impossible for us to be detached or indifferent. But again the question: is physical participation in justice work superior to participation at a distance?
Sorting out the possible answers to questions about showing up will not happen quickly, as the pandemic has catapulted us into a paradigm shift in how we think about our bodies and about physical presence. If we can resist the temptation to fall into binary arguments where two mutually exclusive options are considered, and instead allow for the possibility of multiple answers, we may emerge from this debate with a far richer understanding of what it means to show up and why showing up matters so much.