May 19, 2020The Joy of Worshiping … Online

The Joy of Worshiping … Online

Part of a series on deepening your relationship with God by worshiping with other faiths.

Carolyn B Thompson Seven-minute read.   Resources

Worship changed with an abruptness we’ve not seen before. On March 15, we were in our church buildings, on March 22, we were worshiping online. Not that I had never watched a video or livestream of a church service (I did it for the first time in February when I couldn’t get to church one Sunday). By “online,” we now mean FaceBook Live, YouTube Live, Zoom, or any other of the myriad systems that have recently popped into the collective consciousness. 

Full disclosure, most of my online worship experiences during quarantine have been Episcopal churches. It was interesting for me, having been visiting a different place of worship each week, to almost exclusively attend Episcopal services. There’s a list of all the Episcopal online services in West Missouri here.

I realized that with all these online services, going to a different place of worship each week could be taken to a whole new level!

After Holy Week (Week 3 of online services – not that I’ve been counting!), I became aware of my Episcopal online ‘preference.’ If you have read my previous articles, you will have seen that I want to know the ‘why’ of things. After some analysis, it was clear to me that I had unconsciously chosen Episcopal services because I needed the safety of the familiar and the comfort and beauty of the Episcopal liturgy.

Easter Vigil – Facebook Livestream

Almost from the start of our enforced isolation, I realized that with all these online services, going to a different place of worship each week could be taken to a whole new level! I was able to visit all the churches from my 30 years in Chicago. I visited my childhood church in Cleveland, my aunt’s church in Hudson New York, and Trinity Wall Street. I attended Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City. Some I visited for nostalgic reasons. Revisiting them online, I felt the stone beneath my feet, the wood of the pews, and the organ’s vibration. I could smell the candles being extinguished. Others I visited for cultural value, and still others, like Trinity Wall Street, for solidarity with the people of New York City.

What is happening to us during this time spent worshiping online?

St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City. Image: Facebook

Many people have answered this question prefaced with some version of, “The numbers of blessings that are springing up are amazing!” Here are some of the things I’ve noticed or heard about.

  • The lack of receiving the Eucharist creates a hunger for it. When we can all gather at the altar again, it’ll mean so much more to us (fasting is designed to help us learn things about ourselves).
  • Being Jesus to others while in quarantine, for example, by walking the neighborhood.
  • Using the whole Book of Common Prayer is a huge learning opportunity.
  • People from all over the world are visiting our services.
  • Extended family members and past parishioners can join us in worship.
  • People (even our own parishioners) who rarely go to church are attending worship more often. They say that it’s easier than getting dressed up and driving to the building.
  • You can go around the world to worship if you like. 
  • You can go to more than one service a Sunday. My cousins live in Florida for the winter, so they are now going online to their Florida church at 9:00 a.m. and their South Carolina church at 10:00 a.m.
  • People who only participate in worship, and not the social, Bible study, or work projects at church, can now be more involved.
  • Many churches are sharing pastor’s messages and Daily Offices too.
  • Many churches have added ways to give on their websites or social media, providing increased opportunities for giving. This makes it easy for people to give whatever they can. Places with online donations are having less financial difficulty than those without.
  • In many cases, online worship has changed the minds of those who were previously against livestreaming or recorded worship. They have also seen that they can create worship experiences that people feel good about.
  •  Attendance counting methods are adapting to allow for both in-person and online parishioners’ attendance.

Unique worship methods

In fact, I’m hoping for and advocating a future of blended worship; in-person and online.

There are more methods of worshiping and creating community online than I’d ever have imagined. Ideas came from watching other places of worship, from technical advice, brainstorming, and from trying to fix things that were not working.

Here are some things that I’ve seen. The first few came about because of what you can do in an online service. I think they are enhancements to our worship, and I hope we’ll keep doing them when we go back to in-person services. Some were born out of the need to create an experience for people in their homes. Again, I hope this will continue in the future.

Morning prayers with Fr. John Spicer. St. Andrew’s, Kansas City.

In fact, I’m hoping for and advocating a future of blended worship; in-person and online. Going forward, we need to maintain worship being livestreamed or recorded so in-person and online congregants have a sense of worshiping together.

Sermons & Readings

One priest records his Sunday sermon each week while walking in the woods. This was very cool the week he discussed the walk to Emmaus, and some people stopped and talked to him during the recording.

  • Another priest has used multiple venues for the recording of the sermon based on the topic. For example, recording outside at a gate when talking about Jesus’ “I am the gate…”). Others have used short video clips to emphasize a point.
  • Readers reading from their homes (pre-recorded or live).

Music

In the beginning, there was very little music. There was a spoken service, or the priest sang, and we at home hummed along or joined in if we had a hymnal. 

In later weeks we had everything from home-recorded piano recitals to organists broadcasting live from the sanctuary. There have been some fabulous recordings on the internet. These have included a few members of a choir, keeping their physical distance in a choir loft, online collaborations of church choristers, and even huge ensembles of musicians and choristers (see the video below).

The Strife is O’er – The Episcopal Church Virtual Choir and Orchestra (3 minutes)

The worship experience

  • To create the experience of foot washing one priest asked us to place a bowl of water where we could see it all night long (Maundy Thursday).
  • Several pastors in non-transubstantiation faith traditions ask congregants to provide their own grape juice and bread
  • One priest asked congregants to bring a palm plant (Palm Sunday).
  • Some churches have been showing video or picture collages of the sanctuary and nave for people missing their church buildings.

To Eucharist or not to Eucharist 

Most laypeople in transubstantiation worship traditions (that would be us Episcopalians) have probably never thought much about Eucharistic theology until now. There have been all sorts of options suggested, and tried, and lots of variations even within single traditions:

  • Daily Offices only.
  • Full Eucharist, in some places with an acolyte, organist, a few appropriately spaced choir members.
  • Spiritual Eucharist.
  • Drive-by Eucharist.
  • Drop off Eucharist. 

The Daily Office only supporters argue that we should all live in this wilderness together, priests as well as congregants. When some of us can’t have something we want, none of us should. When we can partake again, it will be spectacular for all of us!

The full Eucharist people argue that people want to at least see the elements blessed and the priest partaking even if they can’t. 

The Spiritual Eucharist group argue that it gives us insight into the nature of Christ and comforts us while we can’t receive the actual body and blood of Jesus. 

The drive by and drop off Eucharist camp draw a parallel with Eucharistic visitors taking communion to people in the hospital or in their homes. 

 Bloopers

Yes, we’ve all experienced technical difficulties, and most of these have been accepted with grace. But here I’m not talking tech, I’m talking hysterical:

  •  There was the live service broadcast from a priest’s office, where she used a second laptop to show a video. There was another person in the room, and we could see her throughout the — very serious — video, reflected in the laptop’s screen, eating soup. Soup is possibly the worst possible food to watch being eaten!
  • A class on the Daily Offices was videoed in a priest’s office, and his cat walked across the desk, blocking the camera. This was actually quite endearing.

Speaking of endearing, and not really bloopers, just unexpected:

  • In a live Zoom service, a couple appeared in their bathrobes.
  • On Easter Day, another couple were dressed to the nines. When it was commented on, he stood up, showing off the shorts he was wearing below his suit jacket and tie.

We would love to hear about your experiences in the Comments (scroll to the bottom of the article to comment)!

Re-commencing in-person worship will bring its own issues

Some authorities are loosening their rules, allowing limited occupancy in church buildings. Many people are excited at the thought of going back to their buildings, even in small numbers. Other people aren’t ready to go into a group situation again. 

The issue here is what will happen when only a few people can be at the in-person service? Do we turn people away at the door once we hit our occupancy for that service? Or, do we have a ticketing system or provide multiple, smaller services? What about all the new people joining us online? They are not on our rosters, and can’t sign up easily. Or at least may not feel comfortable doing so. 

Keep it up!

Please keep working on your social media, the learning, and the work projects online. Bible study, classes, banner sewing, choir rehearsals — yes, this can work with the right equipment, coffee hours, luncheons, making palm crosses. Keep doing it all – the online service and the in-person. Whether you want to record your in-person service in the future or livestream it, we now know it can be done, no matter what platform you’ve been using. We’ve climbed the hard learning curve. People are accepting the technical (and financial) limitations, and don’t expect a full studio-quality production with fancy video equipment and microphones, though those are nice. We have managed with laptop and phone cameras, and we can continue to do so. When we can have in-person worship again, just set up a cell phone in the front pew and record away!

[The Diocesan Communicators across The Episcopal Church are meeting online this week (5-20-2020) to produce a document listing recommended equipment and software for churches at various price points – Editor.]

There are too many people counting on us for continued worship. People new to worship, those who can’t physically get to church, those who don’t want to visit a church, and people who travel, who, in the past, missed church. We are all able to worship now!

Carolyn B Thompson is a cradle Episcopalian with an unquenchable thirst for more relationship with her beloved Father.

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