By Jackson Samson
Jackson Samson is a follower of Jesus Christ and recent college graduate from the University of Missouri. Currently Jackson works as a loan specialist at Veterans United and has been with the company since May of 2021. In his free time, Jackson enjoys serving with his church, The Crossing’s, Veritas Music Team, writing songs and poems, and listening to Supertramp.
Hello reader! My name is Jackson Samson and I recently graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in both Sociology and Economics. While attending the university I worked on a research project about protestant Christian’s experiences over the COVID-19 pandemic regarding worship and services. After a yearlong process and many late nights, I have finished my thesis and am eager to share with you a little about the process from start to the end.
As a Christian and regular attendee of a church here in Columbia, the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns took away the normalcy of Sunday from me. I did not experience this alone. I, and I am sure many of those reading, experienced difficult situations resulting from this pandemic even past just missing the community of Sunday gatherings. Veritas, our campus ministry, halted in-person services after the university shut down and thus, I was cut off, physically, from a community God had blessed me with. I made a point to say, “physically” as the Church and my community shifted to online. Zoom was no longer a kids tv show I watched as a kid but was now the gate way to community and fellowship with friends.
In my experience lockdown was difficult, I was separated from key relationships in my life, my parents were early adopters of the virus and by God’s grace survived, I still had classes to attend and homework to complete and on top of that my faith needed to be developed as well in the forms of personal study, small groups and prayer. This provided an atmosphere of endless goals and not enough time to do them in even though there often was more than enough time.
Personally, my faith grew as God put in me a want to learn more about his word and as such himself. Was I always diligent, no, but I did try and even finished the Bible during 2020.Services were unique during COVID-19 as well. I was not new to the online format as my sleepy high school self took advantage of that many a time. With services online I attended two services, my home church, to take part with my parents, and the Crossing in my bedroom, alone. In both cases singing was limited and awkward. It was difficult to worship in a space that was not labeled for such an activity. I was trying to take in, consume, even, a large amount of Church to try and reach the same level of experience that was had during in-person services.
With all this in mind, the awkwardness of singing and difficulties of being diligent with my relationship with Jesus through lockdown, during my fall 2020 semester I chose to start a thesis project for my Sociology degree. I endeavored to see how other protestant Christians experienced lockdown regarding their faith. Essentially, how online services affected its participants and how that compared to in-person.
The research process has its ups and downs. I lamented writing my literature review and reading so many articles just to end up realizing they were not relevant to what I was researching. The 3rd floor of Ellis library was my office, specifically the spot next to the dumbwaiter. I had a great advisor, Dr. Brekhus, walk me through this whole process. I then submitted my proposal and was allowed to start interviewing participants. Over the course of about 3-4 months, I interviewed 17 lovely people about how they experienced Church and worship through the pandemic. After transcribing and picking out themes of the interview, I was ready to start writing up the last bits of my paper.
The paper, linked below, followed five key elements of my interviews: isolation, identity and faith, legitimate worship, community, and sacred space. My favorite was the sacred space section as I believe it confirmed what I felt about services that we do need a space that has been set aside, appointed, for worship. It’s not life or death but it sure does help. These five key areas, for the most part, confirmed what I thought and my experiences. Was everyone’s take on the situation the same: no. There were some hot takes about worship services being online and if that is even legitimate, same with respect to the taking of communion. For me, this project was a great way to take a peek at how others experienced and took on their faith in probably one of the more trying times of this era. If you are at all interested in reading the paper it will be linked (don’t know if we are doing a link or just posting it straight up?) below. The data section in particular starts on page 13.
So, after going through this whole process and many hours transcribing and researching what should we do if, God forbid, another lockdown season starts. I think it would be important for churches to discuss with their communities how online worship should be used and how to take part separated from the Church. For myself this means creating a space to worship in, a space set apart to worship Christ and sing mostly on key. As my small group leader put it, “The Bible says “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” it does not say a pretty sound.” We can have confidence that even if off key, on key, or making microtonal harmonies that Christ delights in our singing of praise. Online services were not ideal and did not help in the same way that in-person services did, but God still used them to further his kingdom here on Earth.
If you would like to read the full paper it is linked below! Thank you and have a nice day!