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Nathan SchneiderFebruary 15, 2021

The shutdowns in the United States—of businesses, restaurants, schools, churches—began one year ago this March. We asked 14 experts to reflect on the biggest lessons from the past year in the hope that they might help us find a better way forward. You can read the rest of the series here.

I am going to miss online church. It is easier to get the kids there on a Sunday morning, for one thing. And it offers a taste of what Catholics are not really supposed to have: a marketplace of churches, of music, of ideas, of personalities. We are supposed to have our local parish, love it or not.

For most of the pandemic, my family in Colorado has been tuning in to the video feed at Saint Sabina, a storied parish on the South Side of Chicago. The dance and choir and homily nearly always bring me to tears at some point in the course of making breakfast. We have kept up a bit with our local parish’s ministries, but now Sunday morning gives us a chance to get out of quarantine, to leave our overwhelmingly white town for a culturally Black parish, to expand the wideness of our prayers.

Yet whenever we pass our neighborhood church on walks, I know that this cannot last, that we must return. Ours is not a religion of infinite, charisma-following choices. It is not a religion of virality and influencers, but of locality and mutuality. The physicality of the sacraments insists on this. You have to be there. Grace can flow through video streams, but they are no substitute for presence.

For all the good we have gotten from our sojourn with Saint Sabina, this will not be our “new normal” after the vaccine. Our responsibility and our sacraments lie here at home, where we can be present, where we can co-organize, where we do not just watch but give.

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