It has been six months since my family went to church. For every pre-coronavirus Sunday when I fantasized about staying in bed rather than wrangling five people into a pew, I can’t believe how much I’ve miss it.

Sitting around our dining room table with song books and Bibles can’t compare to worshiping with others. But, early in the pandemic, when I called a few friends to ask whether their churches were meeting outside or requiring masks inside, none were doing so consistently, so every Sunday since, my family has worshiped alone.

As concerned as I am about catching the virus, I’m equally concerned about spreading it to others. While I’ve since discovered that many congregations are following recommended safety guidelines, it bewilders me when I hear about churches that aren’t. It also makes me sad, as if my needs – and those of people with elevated health risks – aren’t valid and our presence isn’t missed.

I believe in miracles – believe in the virgin birth, in the resurrection of Jesus and in modern-day healing. I believe that God is in control, and that my life lies in his hands. Yet, I still wear a seatbelt – as I presume do most others on their Sunday morning drives to church. So why not also wear a mask?

Now that the school year has started, our family’s social distancing bubble isn’t quite so distant. I’m back to teaching and our children are back in school. So maybe it was also time to go back to church? Hoping that things had changed, last Sunday my family streamed a local service only to see half-a-dozen musicians crowded together on a stage. None wore masks. I tried to sing along but couldn’t. I was too frustrated.

“Let’s see what another church is doing,” I suggested to my husband.

He googled one I hadn’t previously thought of and discovered that they’d been meeting outside all summer at a local beach. Although the service was about to start, we piled into our minivan for the thirty-minute drive.

“I forgot shoes!” one of my children cried.

“That’s okay,” I said. “The children who gathered around Jesus on the shore of Galilee probably weren’t wearing shoes either.”

And I pictured those crowds, sitting on a hill to hear the words of the Master, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5, KJV).

When we reached the beach, I realized that we hadn’t brought money to get in, but the attendant waved us through. Turned out the owners were letting the church meet there for free. It also turned out that we’d missed the service, which had been abbreviated that day for a baptism. But as I walked toward old friends who I spotted among the crowd scattered in small groups along the shore, the sand felt good under my feet.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the The Lantern Hill Light Parade and other picture books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at