The Ideology of Theology

This testimony was shared with the beloved community of First Baptist on Fifth on November 12, 2023 as part of our “Attending Church” focus on what it means to tend – or “attend” – the life of our church. 

Good morning, everyone!

Around this time last year, I started attending this church community by watching services online. I had heard about First on Fifth through my friends at Wake Divinity. I am a third year student while also working full time in the Dean’s office on the college side of things. So I stay busy and thought I didn’t have the energy to church hop around. I had been baptized in the Methodist Church and confirmed in the Presbyterian Church, but through divinity school, my ideas around theology shifted and I just didn’t know where I fit anymore. I have also been building my own digital ministry on Instagram, called Back Row Bound, for single women in the church who have been left out of traditional church spaces and structures. So I am doing “God things” all the time, and maybe I could sit out on Sundays. That lasted the first year of Divinity School but my friends kept with their invitations, so last fall, I decided to try First on Fifth out online first. And then after a few months of that experience, I came into the sanctuary for a Sunday service. A few months after that, I found myself having coffee with Emily and wondering if I could join the church even though I wasn’t Baptist. Turns out, I could work out the theology side of things later but my commitment to attending this place, with these people, was all I needed to stand up and join. So, I did. 

And sometimes I attend in person, usually in that area over there. And sometimes I attend online, especially now that I am building out my vision of digital ministry. And because I have set up my monthly tithe online, my financial commitments are steady no matter how I chose to worship. 

The more I work in this space, the more I see how the global church community often approaches worshiping online like a second-rate experience. And there is always a lot of talk about why one is choosing to worship digitally rather than in-person. Are they homebound? Are they traveling or have they moved? Those are usually the top 2 “acceptable” reasons. But what about the full time worker who doesn’t have the open schedule or the energy for Sunday morning service but does on a Tuesday morning? Or the parent who puts the service on while getting dinner ready? Or maybe it’s someone who hasn’t felt safe in a church setting because the church has harmed them or ignored them or told them they can’t show up in this space as their authentic ANd God-divined way. Maybe it’s someone …. maybe it’s someone …. but it’s not a maybe. It’s your neighbor. It’s your family member. It’s you. It’s me, someone with a full time job who is also going to graduate school full time and sometimes needs a worship experience that only requires me logging on rather than coming in. 

For those in the room right now, can you look up at the cameras and wave? The people on the other side of those cameras are your pew partners. You see, FIRST ON FIFTH is not an “us and a them” community.  It’s a “we” community. We worship together, we celebrate together, we grieve together, we financially support together, and we experience God together. And we don’t judge how you show up, when you show up, and what you sound like when you show up. If you are in your pj’s with a cup of coffee or wearing full makeup and have done your hair, we are happy you are here.

So when Pastor Emily asked me to speak this morning on attending church, it was an easy yes. You are why I attend this church and whether it’s passing the peace here in the Sanctuary or in the comments online, I say peace be with you, my beloved church community.

And as we grow together, may we embark on new ways to bring our digital and in-person beloved community even closer. Amen.