The role and function of Online Liturgical Assistants
“After a few months of ‘digital church’, our Parish Council realised that those attending church online were a congregation in their own right and would benefit from support just like the usual face-to-face congregation, so the concept of an ‘Online LA’ was born,” says Sarah Gover from the Parish of North Pine
2020’s disruption has called us to face many new challenges and take on many new roles. A favourite new role of mine is that of ‘Online Liturgical Assistant’ in my Parish of North Pine.
Like many other parishes earlier in the year, we started online church during the time of COVID-19 restrictions via Zoom and Facebook Live so we could stay connected and spiritually nurtured. Rather than skipping church because of travel, health and other family commitments, parishioners began to appreciate the flexibility and convenience of attending church online.
Thus, we started to attract people who would not usually attend a face-to-face service, including those living interstate or internationally. After a few months of ‘digital church’, our Parish Council realised that those attending church online were a congregation in their own right and would benefit from support just like the usual face-to-face congregation, so the concept of an ‘Online LA’ was born.
The Diocesan ‘Handbook For Liturgical Assistants At The Eucharist’ (p.4), says there are four basic reasons for engaging people in the role of Liturgical Assistant (LA). These are:
- to enable a fuller expression of the corporate action of worship in the Eucharistic liturgy;
- to enable more and varied worship to be offered;
- to assist the clergy in the conduct of services;
- to model worship prayerfully and effectively to the congregation.
As an online LA, my role tends to be more focused on reasons two and three, as well as welcoming people and assisting with pastoral care. I welcome people as they arrive, check in via the ‘chat’ function, and when appropriate send “welcome to the church messages” through the ‘private message’ function. This is a new role and is constantly changing and we adjust to and adapt to the dynamic conditions, as required.
The ‘in-service LA’ (for face-to-face services that are being live-streamed as part of a ‘hybrid church’ model, blending online and face-to-face options) welcomes all members of the congregation, encourages the online participants to make their presence known by liking or commenting and introduces the online LA.
Throughout the service, I then interact with the online congregation, highlighting any questions in the sermon and asking for prayer requests, just as the ‘in-service LA’ does for the face-to-face congregation.
The highlight of my role has been meeting wonderful and interesting people, some of who are now transitioning to the face-to-face services.
Top 10 tips for Online Liturgical Assistants
- Welcome people as they arrive, encourage participation, and set a welcome and friendly environment that is conducive to worship.
- If you are streaming from a live service ask the ‘in-service LA’ to welcome the online congregation and to encourage them to participate through liking and commenting, so they feel part of the whole parish, not just a forgotten add-on.
- Be real. If you, the LA, are real it will allow people to relax and feel a part of the service.
- If people are watching via their Smart TV, they may not be able to interact. So, use your regular parish communication channels, such as social media, email and newsletters, to encourage the online congregation to check in with others, especially if they are unable to interact online.
- Have your weekly newsletter and/or service outline available for the online congregation to download so they can fully participate in the service.
- Look for ways to include the online congregation in the service, such as inviting prayer requests via the chat function and asking them any questions the priest asks the face-to-face congregation.
- Make a note of new people and where possible send a message of welcome. Facebook is good for this. If you ‘hover’ over their name with your cursor, a box appears with an option to send a message. This can be harder on Zoom and other platforms when you don’t have a way of contacting viewers.
- Personally invite online congregants to other parish events, like Mothers Union and men’s ministry, etc, events. You may need to provide online ways for people to join these events, especially if they live interstate or internationally.
- Remember to go back through the online services at least a week or more after they have been posted online to see who else has ‘liked’ or ‘commented’, and respond as required.
- Keep attendance list for the online congregation and follow up on any absentees and new congregants, so they feel included, cared for and embraced at all times.