On Holy Saturday, that most reflective of days, I was pondering the situation in our parish in Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast. Holy Spirit Anglican Church in Coolum has no access to the internet. We don’t even have a phone line to the property. So, we decided to hold Zoom Church from the rectory – and it is wonderful!
In our Zoom services, we have a mix of the familiar and the new. I have set up my study in the rectory with our processional cross and I robe. We use Ante-Communion (i.e. Holy Communion, second order, ending the Prayers with the Lord’s Prayer, blessing, dismissal) so the words people say are familiar. Others read and lead prayers as normal. Music includes well known hymns sung by choirs on YouTube. Prior to the Zoom gathering, I email an order of service with readings, prayers, hymn words, and other relevant text.
Much to my amazement, the result is joyous, positive and encouraging.
Here are my discoveries:
- People absolutely love this! I am getting more positive feedback about church now than in all of my 20 years of ministry put together. People love the fact that they can say the familiar words, see their friends and sing their hearts out. It’s a bit of normality in the midst of the strange new world we now inhabit.
- People are discovering their ministries. Some who have never gone on a roster are volunteering to read. Turns out they are good at it. Ministries of encouragement are emerging in unexpected people. Regular visitors can offer their gifts, which is difficult when they are only in Coolum for a week or two each year.
- Zoom Church has broken down barriers that physical church could never overcome. People who haven’t been able to get to church for years are coming to Zoom Church. A couple who were regulars moved to New Zealand in February and they are joining us online. A woman from the UK who used to visit every year until travel became too much joins us when she can stay up till midnight. Other ‘regular visitors’ are now coming to Zoom Church.
- Zoom Church is providing a way of dealing with social isolation for those who live alone. Having learnt how to use Zoom, even elderly community members are now able to connect with family and friends.
- The NBN connection we have means that only one microphone can be on at any time. The result is that people are finding community, and God, in shared silence.
- This is not a panacea for all problems. Some have chosen not to take part in Zoom Church, and some cannot. But this is true for physical church also. The two congregations largely overlap, each with its unique members.
Some of the comments I received after Palm Sunday’s service:
I was just amazed. I was sitting outside with butterflies and dragonflies all around. It was like a service in a glade with the sun shining in on me. So fortunate.
For a first timer, me, it was quite a learning experience, but I figure I have it all sorted out… it was a delight to see familiar faces once again [from a man of 86].
Nuptials via Zoom: a strange new world
It was such a joy to see everyone’s faces this morning. I wanted to talk to each & every one of you. It makes me realise, yet again, how much our church family is a reality.
I appreciated church this morning. It reinforces the fact that church is us!
What a privilege to join our church community this morning. Different and yet very heart warming. We are so fortunate to have this chance to connect. Thank you for being so positive, motivating and fun! We must all keep laughing and embracing change.
In short, Zoom Church has given us a way to love one another that we could never have imagined. It is a gift. We at Holy Spirit, Coolum Beach are learning to give thanks, even in the midst of COVID-19’s challenges. I have learnt a whole new way of being a priest which is exciting and life giving for both me and my people.
God truly draws straight with crooked lines or, in the words of St Paul, “All things co-mingle together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes (Romans 8.28).”*
Top Tips for hosting Zoom Church
- Mix the familiar (e.g. robes and hymns) with the new (i.e. digital tech).
- Email an order of service prior to Zoom Church, which includes readings and hymn words.
- Ensure community members are supported with tech help, if required, before their first Zoom Church.
- Ensure only one microphone is turned on (to avoid accidental audible interruptions, such as from late comers).
- Encourage new people to volunteer for the reading roster.
- Use breakout rooms for ‘fellowship’ time after the service so people can chat with their friends.
- Ask parishioners to provide feedback and follow up the feedback.
* The phrase ‘God draws straight with crooked lines’ comes from the novels of Andrew Greeley. The translation of Romans 8.28 is based on that by Susan Howatch in her novel Absolute Truths (HarperCollins, 1995).