‘We have more in common than we think’
September 14, 2022
The return to in-person worship is underway, and one can almost hear David’s joy echoed in Psalm 122, when he proclaimed, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
Not everyone, though, is returning to an actual building. Cindy Stearns has chosen to remain in the comforts of her Moclips, Washington, home. She does this not solely out of safety concerns, although she is mindful of lingering pandemic risks among the most vulnerable. Stearns does this because she is a self-proclaimed PC(USA) binge-watcher.
Every Sunday, Stearns boots up her computer, pours a cup of coffee and settles in for a Sunday morning worship marathon. She says there is nothing more inspiring than tuning in and witnessing all the new things God is doing among Presbyterians across the country.
“It has been amazing to see what people are doing and what they are creating,” said Stearns, who admits to not having any favorites over the course of her two-year worship binge-watching. “Every congregation, big or small, in cities or rural areas, has been inspiring. What I have walked away with from binge-watching Presbyterian services is that there is a spirit of what we can do and not what we can’t do. Many churches are all about finding the ‘yes’ and not the ‘no.’”
Stearns, who is a member of Chapel by the Sea in Moclips, started binge-watching “on a whim.” When her church began sheltering in place at the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, she heard that the Rev. Touré C. Marshall was being called to Roseville Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Jersey. She was familiar with Marshall and his ministry. It was then that she had the realization that she could hear him preach his first service to the congregation.
“I was so excited that I could virtually visit New Jersey,” she said. Despite the three-hour time difference, she was “up and ready for this virtual experience.” Stearns soon began wondering what other churches she could visit virtually. She took to social media, inquiring where she could find churches offering online services. Stearns will always remember what happened next. As she settled in to watch the service from Newark, New Jersey, her phone “started pinging with regularity.”
“It was most unusual for my phone notification to be going off like that so early on a Sunday morning,” she recalled. All those pings were from churches extending to her “personal invitations” to worship virtually with them. The following Sunday, Stearns worshiped both at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, and Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. It was then that another idea came to her: Why not embark on a PC(USA) binge-watch adventure?
Stearns began making a list of churches, broken out by states, to ensure she would hit all 50. Stearns also created a hashtag — #PCUSAbingewatch — so that all the churches she was attending that Sunday would get a shoutout. And, according to Stearns, there’s a lot of “shoutout.”
“What’s become evident is the innovation from the churches that I’m visiting,” she said.
The PC(USA) binge-watcher also got to enjoy a wealth of music from around the country, even beyond Sunday mornings.
“I discovered special concerts,” said Stearns. In May 2021, “Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians in Kailua, Hawaii, offered vespers and had a ukulele duo playing.” That same month, Stearns heard Chopin played in Derry Presbyterian Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Among the musicians was the then-96-year-old Ruth Slenczynska, a noted American pianist and former child prodigy.
Stearns also discovered fun traditions and creative missions unique to congregations, such as one Ohio church’s stuffed squirrel mascot and another congregation’s peanut brittle fundraiser that has helped remodel the church.
“That pastor joked that his job was to keep the coffee made and poured as others make the brittle,” said Stearns. But of all the discoveries these past two years, the one that Stearns confesses to be the greatest of all is how Presbyterians have more in common with one another than they might think. “My binge-watching has shown me how we are truly one body,” she said.
Donna Frischknecht Jackson, Editor, Presbyterians Today
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Wednesday, September 14, 2022, the Festival of the Holy Cross (Year C)
Today’s Focus: Confessions of a worship binge-watcher
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Dear God of every generation, may we listen to your voice like the roar of rushing waters and answer your call upon our lives. Amen.