Remaining grateful together though apart

From 29-31 January, the Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of the United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly, attended URC Youth (dis)ASSEMBLED.

The digital event was for URC Youth to remain connected after it was forced to cancel its Assembly because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here, Clare reflects on the event:

It was an interesting weekend. Originally, I’d planned to be in Staffordshire at URC Youth Assembly. While Reuben, URC Youth Moderator had set himself up with a virtual background of Whitemoor Lakes (where Youth Assembly is usually held) we were, of course online. The positive side of this was that it made it a bit easier for me to be ‘in’ Southern Synod, for the induction of the Southern Synod’s new Moderator, Bridget Banks as well.

We have learnt a great deal about worshipping virtually. The induction went smoothly and was accessible to many people who might have baulked at travelling to a central venue. Worship at Youth Assembly was inspiring. The music was brilliantly produced, and the reflection on ‘heroes and villains’ in the stories of David and Esther was challenging.

But I, for one, still struggle to feel part of a community worshipping with others yet apart.

The event was not just about worship. On Saturday evening, URC Youth (dis) Assembled was a combination of comedy and music.

Both comedian Paul Kerensa and the band Folk On performed great sets and really engaged with the audience, but it’s a whole different experience from being at a gig. I was particularly struck by how much less we tend to laugh out loud when we are alone, than when we are alongside others. Occasionally I will read something funny and burst into giggles, but it’s not a frequent experience. While the laughter tracks on TV comedy can feel forced, they serve a purpose. Laughter, like worship, is often best as a community experience.

Of course, we are all different and some of us will have more of that sense of togetherness online than I do. I’m trying hard to concentrate on the positives – the people who are more likely to be included by our current ways of meeting, the reduced carbon footprint of living in the virtual world, the ability to connect with those who are physically distant – but I really do miss the interaction with three dimensional people.

Trying to remember that, just because the medium is different, God doesn’t stop working or speaking to and through us. God, who speaks through the experience of God’s people through the centuries, through stories and prophecy, poetry and miracles, hasn’t stopped communicating with us simply because we are stuck at home.

It was a privilege to spend time with two very different groups over the weekend. God was not silent – God was speaking to me, and I’m sure to many others, as we met. If I start to feel sorry for myself as I prepare to lead worship remotely, I will remind myself that these times are even more of a challenge for a stand-up comedian than for a worship leader. So, let’s spare a thought and a prayer for those who make a living by communication and try to ensure that we find things that bring laughter into our lives.

God bless,