In a world before the pandemic, many of us may have felt that our glass was half full or that our cup runneth over. But for many of us engaged in the ministry of faith formation, it now feels like we are trying to drink from an empty cup while trying to fill up the cups of others. And once we are aware of our cup's emptiness, we can take steps to fill it.
This is the conclusion of a two-part article. The first part described a survey created and sent to faith formation professionals and volunteers asking them to rate their level of functioning. You can read more about how the survey was conducted and the results here.
We’re all longing for meaningful connection in this strange, new land of Coronavirus, and especially as we try to be church online.
But, in fact, we’ve seen virtual connection that is beautiful and holy – in the face of Mister Rogers, that Presbyterian pastor-turned-TV personality. Mister Rogers knew how to connect with his viewers. So much so that many of us who watched would answer his deeply personal questions, right there, out loud, in our living rooms.
How can we ensure Mister Rogers moments – and more – in our worship, meetings, formation, and fellowship? In serving an Episcopal parish in my hometown of Memphis, TN this summer, I am wondering what might guide our vision going forward. What questions should we ask ourselves about being church in 2020? How can the online experiences, birthed so quickly in the past 15 weeks, be retained, enriched, and expanded?
Sunday worship on Facebook. Coffee hour on Zoom. Staff meetings on Teams. At first, it was great to know that we could connect without being physically present. It felt like a bridge from our current situation until that time when we could be together again.
Then I started feeling exhausted. I couldn’t figure out why. I talked with friends, and they shared the following comments:
“I love being able to participate in the Holy Eucharist via Facebook, but there aren’t a lot of us that watch live, and I feel like I need to be commenting throughout the service, or I’ll look like I’m not really engaged.”
Last month, in a conversation about the theological nuances of whether or not the Eucharist could be celebrated online, a member of my congregation asked, “Is Jesus a Zoom bomber?”
Now Zoom bombers generally have a negative connotation. They join in on a public Zoom with malicious intent displaying racially charged images or words, for example. Bad stuff. Because of them, most churches using Zoom for their worship in this “stay-at-home” season, have stopped advertising their login links online, thus making Zoom worship less accessible to newcomers. So businesses and churches and Zoom technologists have been working hard to inhibit these imposers. Under these connotations, Jesus is certainly not a Zoom bomber!
But what if we go back to the earlier medium of photographs and photo bombers. Photo bombers are people who show up unexpectedly in a photo of a newlywed couple, for example, or behind a family posing at the beach. They were often simply inadvertent. But even when intentional, they were funny or sweet. Not malicious.
“What’s your brand?” A collective silence fell over the room of vestry members, clergy, and staff.
Finally, someone asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Brand of what?”
“Ahh...” The silence continued.
We don’t often, if ever, think of the Church as a brand, whether globally, nationally, or on the congregational level, but it’s a question well worth exploring. From my perspective, brand is nothing more and nothing less than your promise to the consumer – in this case to your parishioners and those considering becoming parishioners.
As Episcopalians one of our primary roles are to be evangelists spreading the Good News of Christ near and far. By the example of our lives and in conversations with family, friends and strangers we share the message sometimes awkwardly and are all on a journey to improve our witnessing. We have sometimes encountered interpretations of the scripture that are in opposition to what we have learned and have had to reconcile and address the misinformation. Examples are the biblical justification for slavery and the role of women in the church. Corporately and individually as church leaders we tackled these issues within our conventions and congregations and have successfully changed the narrative to align with our biblical teachings.
Did you ever think there would be a day when nearly everyone would acknowledge that “we’ve always done it this way” is no longer a valid excuse? I think it’s today.
Those who resisted live online communication are now regular attendees of Zoom worship and meetings. Those who never tried morning prayer are now regularly experiencing it in their home, often with their priest as their guide and prayer leader. Churches that were slow to offer online giving are now scrambling to make it available.
All over the church, creativity and courage are overcoming pandemic fear and isolation. Some examples:
“Zoombombing” is when an uninvited person joins a Zoom meeting, usually for the purpose of gaining a few cheap laughs at the expense of the participants.
Because Zoombombers sometimes use racial slurs, profanity, pornography, and other offensive imagery, faith communities have begun to password protect their online worship services in order to prevent univited Zoombomers from entering.
I would like to suggest that password-protected online worship services are a huge missed opportunity for evangelism.
I am in awe of the work I see happening across our diocese and around the country to reshape the central gathering of our church. I’ve had the privilege of engaging with some of these leaders and congregations as they map out what this looks like and how this happens. Some thoughts around evangelism and connection as we continue to redefine this work in the coming weeks and months:
Make sure people can find you online.
First things first, make sure people can find your congregation online. Maybe it’s a website, or a Facebook page, but now more than ever, our online presence is essential. We also must make sure folks can find our online worship gatherings easily. For many, this will mean redesigning some pages on our websites so that the landing page and gatherings pages point to both the times and the ways in which people can engage.
During this time of quarantine from the COVID-19 virus many are reflecting on its meaning for the church. Concerns abound: the doors of our churches were barely open, now they are shut; our attendance was dwindling, now it’s zero; our income was falling, now it’s further decreased; our pastoral care was spotty, now it’s non-existent; our community outreach was fragile, now it’s shuttered. This is a pessimistic view and thankfully creative church solutions are already being deployed to address these unusual times. We can further explore.
For many homebound on Sunday mornings the televangelist on the religious television stations have been a source for worship. Many televangelists have been vilified for questionable activities, however for some their popularity and longevity demonstrate success in ministry. Below are some observations.
The emerging and ever-changing challenges of the coronavirus are really quite daunting. The entire landscape of human gatherings has been changed in rapid succession. And yet COVID-19 has encouraged amazing creativity on the part of Episcopal worshipping communities, clergy, and lay leaders. We’re not normally early adapters, we Episcopalians, nor are we the quickest when it comes to innovative technology, but we’ve leaned hard into some new territory – connecting people who cannot be together in person. No one wanted to learn adaptive leadership and remote technology in this way, but many have learned – and learned it on the fly and really quite well.
YouTube channels have been created or, in some cases, more populated. Zoom is the tool I’ve been using, and we experienced this past Sunday the struggle of getting so many Zoom accounts to go live on Facebook at the same time! Facebook live is another popular option. The good news is that we’re learning together how to do church in a virtual space. Many can see what’s going on in other faith communities as well as share pro-tips and horror stories.
Below you will find resources we’ve gathered from across the Church, designed to inform and support us through the current COVID-19 pandemic. Included are the most recent messages, resources and recommendations from the Episcopal Church, recommendations from the CDC and WHO (in English and Spanish), and various worship, prayer, and community resources to use during this time. We hope you find them helpful. We join in prayer with our siblings around the world, as we navigate this difficult time together.
Note: We will update this list as new resources are made available. If you have a relevant resource to share, please send it to email@example.com
“Where can I buy that study guide?” a parishioner asked me ten years ago when I launched St. George’s Sunday morning bible study. There was not then, nor is there now, a bookstore in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. There was a used book store in our County seat, but I wasn’t sure they had multiple copies of the study guide for Romans; in fact, I was certain they didn’t have a single copy.
“Amazon,” was the answer I had in my head, but instead I offered to pick up a bunch of copies the next time I was up the road at the Virginia Seminary. Now, even that Seminary doesn’t have a bookstore!
Well-functioning vestries are critical for healthy, vibrant congregations. Whether the issues are financial, building maintenance or clergy related, unfortunately many vestries are unprepared for their role. There are vestries that are not informed, others overwhelmed and those who are in many ways dysfunctional.
At a recent all day “Vestry Best Practices” retreat, we tackled a few of these issues and shared some practical solutions for moving forward.
We have often discussed how important it is to tell our story, whether personal, congregational or denominational.
We have made telling our story a priority at General Convention in years past and many dioceses have adopted this message including the Diocese of New Jersey that has used it as a convention theme for many years. Today we are also using the process of storytelling in our Evangelism initiatives across the church.
However, while well intentioned, we all have anecdotes about the Episcopal Church being the best kept secret, including our own congregations. Thank God for Presiding Bishop Curry, who enabled us to now say, that we belong to the church of the preacher at Megan and Harry’s wedding.
It’s not often a resource can be used by both children and adults, as a formation tool and a gift for visitors, and as a celebration of the arts and the gifts of parishioners. But one congregation struck the trifecta.
Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, created its own coloring book with art solicited from members of the congregation featuring different facets of the building and liturgical accoutrements as well as local traditions. Published by the Christian education department, the coloring book is offered for the simple enjoyment by children and adults as well as for formation. A glossary in the back explains each picture. So, for example, an image of the aumbry might be familiar to folks who attend the church but who may not know its function. The handy glossary explains (along with a key for pronunciation): “AHM.bri: The aumbry of Grace Church is recessed into the east wall of the sanctuary near the altar. It is used to store the reserved sacrament. A sanctuary lamp hangs over the aumbry to indicate that reserved sacrament is stored within. The aumbry was dedicated in 1961.” Other images include the chalice and paten, the baptismal font, the pitcher used to hold the water of baptism.
Sometimes a good idea comes in a pint of ice cream.
I live near Cincinnati where we put chili on our spaghetti and the hand-churned ice cream from Graeter’s reigns supreme. The regional company releases seasonal flavors and earlier this month began selling Elena’s Blueberry Pie. Except Blueberry only had one “e” on the front of the pint. Copy editors facepalm in unison.
I don’t know how many people reviewed the graphics for the pint container, but I suspect a bunch of people signed off. I can only imagine the stomach-dropping moment when the first person realized the company had printed—and already distributed—several thousand containers with a third-grade spelling error.
But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars reprinting and replacing all the containers, the company announced that it would donate that same amount to a cancer research nonprofit The Cure Starts Now.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with communication challenges. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practicesto receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
In my work with congregations, I frequently find faith communities challenged by “communications.” Roles such as weekly e-news writer, monthly newsletter editor, or managing platforms of e-mail distribution, website and Facebook, etc. go unfilled. Or, if the priest is young and tech savvy, s/he just does it all – in addition to everything else.
When I come across an active communications ministry, I ask lots of questions, hoping to pass on ideas to others. That’s just what I did when I met the talented and dedicated Communications Commission Chair for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Christina Connelly.
What got my attention about St. Alban’s was a video on its website and Facebook home. The video features several church members sharing their journeys and their discoveries of a loving congregation and denomination. Their statements reveal both the diversity and similarity of where they’ve been, what they have found and what they love about St. Alban’s.