Canon Robert Townsend, Bangor Diocese
Worship is central to the life of the church and Christian people. When the lockdown began, it was a case of working out how we enable people to worship in their homes - people who are used to worshipping in church buildings regularly, as well as those who wanted to begin or return to worship because of the whole situation - both personal and national.
We also had to deal with the fact that 12% of our regular worshipers didn’t have an email address or internet connection.
So in Bro Seiriol we have done three new things during the lockdown: a weekly recorded service; Zoom services and coffee mornings; marketing email updates.
We have been preparing a weekly service (liturgy prepared by the diocese), with readings and a reflection, as well as additional services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. These have been printed and distributed by post to those who have no internet connection.
I have been used to preparing short video films and editing them, so I have:
- worked with a fellow Ministry Area Leader on appropriate music which he has recorded,
- recorded myself leading the service
- asked various people to record themselves doing the readings and the reflection
- recorded an introduction and conclusion to camera (phone!)
- then put it all together with some images and then uploaded it to YouTube and Facebook on a Saturday for people to use on a Sunday. (On Holy Saturday - the day before Easter Day - the Internet connection was so slow, as everyone was at home, it took hours to upload everything!)
Whilst the recorded services have been an invaluable resource for people, both regular worshippers and others in the community, they lack a strong sense of community and worshipping together which some people really value. This is where video conference services have come into their element, and we have been using Zoom.
It may be a bit strange, leading a Eucharist / Holy Communion with people over Zoom but it has been a real privilege. Receiving communion on behalf of others is humbling for me and my wife Kath, but it does enable people to hear familiar words and see familiar actions which have sustained them through their lives.
Our Zoom Eucharists have people doing the readings and leading the prayers. Our organist has recorded himself playing hymn tunes at homes, so we can sing one hymn, as we can play his video through a presentation using Zoom's share screen facility (everyone seems to know where the 'mute microphone' facility is at this point!). One person is designated as the 'sound engineer' and their job is to look after everyone's microphones, so that we don't unintentionally hear one person's comments about the vicar's decor or the person who goes to put the kettle on in the middle of the reflection!
We have had octogenarians setting themselves up with Zoom, and by the third of fourth time, they think nothing of it. We have had people in the community, who may not have been regular worshippers before the lockdown, join with us, as have people from other parts of Anglesey, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have heard about these Zoom services and asked if they can join.
We have also started a weekly Zoom coffee morning, so that people - who are used to being and talking with each other each week - can do just that. We've shared pictures of family, funny things and our story during the lockdown, and it gives newby 'Zoomers' the chance to try everything out before the Sunday worship.
All of the above has been held together and advertised with a regular email - using a popular email marketing service - so that people know where to find the various online worship resources, as well as the links to log into the Zoom meetings (I suspect that I am landing in many people's spam folder and needing to be dragged out!). And of course we are a bilingual Ministry Area so we have been doing all of this in Welsh and English. Interestingly, some of the Welsh worship resources have been used more that the equivalent English ones, which is unusual, unexpected, but shows the value of preparing resources like this in both of our country's languages.
In conclusion - video conference worship is weird, but a privilege and demonstrates that Christians need to worship together and in a community. At the moment, it is the best that we can have and do for our Lord in worship terms. It is a 'live' event, worshipping God who is very much alive in our communities at this time, despite all of the problems we face.
To join the Zoom service or coffee morning, contact Canon Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org