By Nancy Ross
We’re still just a few days into this pandemic, and I’m seeing many signs that life will not be normal for a while. Many churches are scrambling to provide an online worship or community experience, whether it’s livestreaming services or connecting via Facebook.
Not all of us are starting from scratch, though. I’m on the leadership team of an online congregation and the pastor of a congregation that is moving online. I’ve been doing online church services for a couple of years and I have a few tips and thoughts that I’d like to share.
More than just livestreaming a traditional service, this is a time where people need connection and interaction–a chance to share their feelings and what is going on in their lives.
Experiment with formats and different kinds of activities in an online environment. Remember, the goal of a service should be for people to feel connected to God and community. That can happen in a lot of different ways.
The congregations I lead use Zoom, a video conferencing app. You can download this free app onto your phone or computer, though there are upgrades you can pay for. People typically join a Zoom meeting by clicking on a link to the meeting, but others can also join by phone, making it more accessible than other platforms. Other video services include Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, and others that will let you see people as you talk with them.
An online service or gathering could easily look like a prayer and sharing a music video of a favorite hymn (group singing through Zoom does not work well). The service can include an opportunity for people to share their joys and concerns, a spiritual thought or message, a spiritual practice (like Dwelling in the Word, reading poetry, or a short guided meditation). The service can end with a closing prayer.
Consider using these kinds of gatherings to focus on empathy for each other and others. It is easy to narrow our focus to our own and our immediate family’s or household’s health and safety. It is this fear that moves people to stockpile food and resources, reducing availability for others. Let’s figuratively embrace our neighbors and community members within the circle of those whom we hope to support and protect. Online gatherings that include discussions, spiritual thoughts, and scriptures that focus on empathy and care of community might be good topics in the coming weeks. For instance, I’m already harboring unkind feelings for the woman at the supermarket yesterday who touched several bags of bread but only took one. Most of us are going to need to change our routines to support the health of others, but we’re also going to need to do a lot of forgiving.
In your conversations, consider finding ways that you can serve others while practicing social distancing. Consider finding ways to assist those who cannot practice social distancing, due to a job or other situation. These might be things like donating to a local food pantry, writing to detainees at the southern border, joining or forming a local group to drop off food and supplies to those who are in a high risk group, or those who are struggling financially.
A Prayer For You
I’m leaving you with a prayer that I see folks sharing on social media; may now be a time of creativity, adaptability, and faithful innovation.
Prayer for a Pandemic
by Cameron Bellm (Krug the Thinker)
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
About the Author
Nancy Ross is a faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Department at Dixie State University, where she has been teaching for 13 years. Her degrees are in art history but she moonlights as a sociologist of religion. She recently co-edited a book with Sara K.S. Hanks titled “Where We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives” (2018) and has just co-edited “Shades of Becoming: Poems of Transition” with Kristen R. Shill. She is an ordained elder and pastor of the Southern Utah Community of Christ congregation and has just started an MA in Justice and Reconciliation at Luther Seminary.
Photo by Kaboompics.