Worshiping remotely – It’s not something new
Christians all over the world these days are connecting with their church via electronic media to worship remotely with fellow believers. For many of us this is a new experience, but it has been done before.
A New York Times article, dated May 21, 2006, describes a pastor who was ministering to a congregation of dispersed immigrants this way over fourteen years ago. Pastor Paul Chen of the Church of Grace in Manhattan’s Chinatown was concerned for the hundreds of thousands of Fujianese restaurant workers scattered throughout the country. Most of them were undocumented. Few of them spoke much English. Many of them were isolated in small rural towns where they worked 12-hour days in Chinese restaurants. Attending church on Sunday mornings was not an option for them.
To reach these immigrants with the gospel, Pastor Chen began a congregation that met solely by teleconference. After long shifts working as cooks, counter help, or deliverymen, newcomers from the Fuzhou region of the Fujian province in China would call in to sing and pray together and to learn the Bible from their pastor. The tele-church met every night around midnight from Monday to Thursday. On Monday nights, they would pray together. On Tuesdays, they would study a psalm. Wednesdays were devoted to the study of the New Testament, and on Thursdays they were taught from a passage in the Old Testament. On many nights over 100 believers would gather by phone.
The members of Pastor Chen’s tele-church found these electronic meetings to be a spiritual lifeline. Through long days of hard work, they looked forward to the chance to hear God’s Word taught in their native language. Twenty-five year old Chen Yingjie, who would call from his tiny room above the China Garden restaurant in a small town in Michigan, said, "Every time I call in, I know that the Lord is alive and that there are brothers and sisters by my side. I don't feel as empty."
I don’t know if Pastor Chen’s tele-church is still meeting. Technology has improved in the last 14 years, so if this congregation still exists, I’m sure they’ve found a better platform for their meetings. But I am amazed to see how these brothers and sisters kept each other encouraged in their faith and grounded in the Word despite the many difficulties in their lives.
I look forward to the day when our church will be able to gather physically to worship again. But, in the meantime, let’s be inspired by the example of these Fujianese restaurant workers and “not [give] up meeting together… but [encourage] one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25) … even if we are forced to meet remotely.