Religious services are now just a click away on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV or other device. This week's clergy discuss the difference between logging on, tuning in, and traditional worship.
The Rev. Thomas Humphrey, elder, Grace Community Church, Amityville:
When you listen to a sermon on television or the Internet, you miss out on the fellowship of the person sitting next to you in church, you miss out on the emotion of that person, on their pain and their joy and happiness. The same emotions and passions adults feel in church also help and facilitate younger people to grow and to develop spiritually. In church fellowship, we sing together. We all feel the joy and elation of the songs. That kind of togetherness builds up your faith and trust and your outlook on life and takes away all the stress and tension. God said in James 5:16, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." At a service we also join hands in prayer. We line up around the walls, lift our hands up to God and pray for one another. That gives us strength for our whole week. When we go to work on Monday, we are refreshed. Christians in the first century "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers"(Acts 2:42). "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them" (Acts 20:7). The Christians were steadfast and faithful in their worship of God together. God wants us to worship together. Lastly, a church service is all about Jesus and the Gospels, with no commercial interruptions.
Rabbi Theodore Tsuruoka, Temple Isaiah of Great Neck:
Attendance at services has been the central form of public worship since the beginning of organized religion. One could always pray alone at home, but congregational worship has been traditionally preferred to private devotions for a number of reasons. First, there is the stimulation of being in the presence of other worshippers. Their voices, the sounds, the smells and echoes of group prayer — even the physical dimensions of the sanctuary — enhance and reinforce the worship experience for all present. Second, the service and its liturgy are designed to be participatory, requiring active response to the leader's call to worship (barechu) and moments of sanctification (kiddusha). So important is group participation that traditionally a minimum of 10 people (minyan) are needed in order that a mourner is not left bereft and alone when reciting the prayer for the dead (Kaddish). Third, attendance at a service enables connection with fellow worshippers, providing assurance that one is not alone — the warmth and comfort of being in the presence of others, and of sharing cake, coffee, conversation and human feelings after services.
Services viewed on the Web or television can be a good substitute at times when one can't get out, but it cannot replace actual attendance. The distinction is rather like that of being a spectator of a sports event compared to a player on the field. Worship is not a spectator sport. It requires wholehearted attention, devotion and participation in the presence of other co-religionists to be the most rewarding.
The Rev. Dr. Jerome Taylor, Adelphi University Protestant chaplain and pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Roosevelt:
Only as a temporary substitute, usually for someone who attends church regularly but can't come because of an illness or accident. For college students or others who are traveling or living away from their home congregation, churches may have a podcast on their website, so members can keep up until they get back home. However, that is just a band aid that keeps them connected, so they still have a sense of belonging and know what's going on. However, it's not a permanent substitute for going to church. There is a story about a man who got upset about something and didn't come to church. His pastor made a visit to his home. Once he was in the home, the member invited him to sit down by the fireplace. They sat in silence until the pastor got up, and he took an ember out of the fire and put it to the side. The member noticed that while the ember was on the pile it glowed bright red, but all by itself it started to fade and die out. This was an unspoken sermon. And the man said, "Amen, I'll be back at church this Sunday." Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). That means we are connected, but if you cut off some of the vine, those branches wither and die.