The Rev. Stacy Williams Duncan, Founder, Learning & Change Strategist
Only a couple of days after Kyle and I had submitted our article- Reassessing Embodiment in a Post-Pandemic Age– while looking into how we were receiving all of the pieces of the Digital Literacies for Ministry…
…when I received a call from a member of my congregation.
It was one of those calls: a call in which I had to hold my breath and remind myself they called out of the goodness of their heart, wanting to make sure I had the support I need in this crazy time of what-does-it-mean-to-be-church.
But I really needed to stop and take that deep breath, because, as humans, when we feel our competency questioned- we want to respond defensively.
A little background: We were only a couple of weeks into the shutdown and not gathering for in-person worship when I clearly stated I didn’t think our congregation would choose to livestream worship.
Up until receiving this call, not choosing to livestream worship had been more intuition on my part. Until this day, I likely could not have clearly articulated why that was the case, but I knew in my gut that was not the best choice for this small rural congregation with a part-time rector.
I received this call – a call where my parishioner who, in all graciousness, offered the help of his teenage grandson. He was sure he could help me figure out livestreaming if that was holding me…if technology concerned me.
Now, if you’re reading this blog, you can guess that technology is not what concerns me. In fact, only two day before, I was a special guest for a webinar concerning best practices of digital worship and teaching others how to do it.
What I had not done well…what I would go back and do differently next time… is articulate to others why I made the decision I did. Luckily for me, this phone call came and this person was open to a conversation, helping me understand and express my own decisions.
See, our Bishop in Virginia clearly articulated that the reason we were not gathering for worship during this pandemic was because our theology would not allow us to put the vulnerable at risk. We would not ask them to make the choice to come or not come to church, but instead we, as an entire community, would collectively make the decision that was best for all. Based on this example, I began to consider how to continue to have worship present in the life of our congregation in ways that extend, build upon, and align with this idea of love that includes all in worship.
If I lived in a large city or even a place with consistent internet service, I am confident I would have been one of the first live streaming worship…but that is not where we live in our rural community. If you drive one direction for 15 minutes, you will have exceptional Internet service at high speed anywhere you want. But if you drive the other direction for 15 minutes, going further into the foothills of the Shenandoah, internet access is spotty at best.
I felt that choosing to livestream worship, essentially choosing to provide synchronous digital worship only to those who had high speed Internet, would further break down the gathered body. If we all could not gather for health reasons, it did not seem appropriate, holistic, or authentic to worship in a way that only some could access.
So, during this pandemic, I have not provided livestream worship. Instead, I pre-record sermons every week and have what I’ve come to call the “digital worship bulletin”: providing the readings and part of the Liturgy of the Word people are used, combined with pieces from Morning Prayer. The “digital worship bulletin” walks them through what they can do in their own homes on Sunday morning.
As the pandemic continued into the Summer and we were unable to gather back, we added a few more videos as we got a new church musician. He’s begun recording a weekly sermon; so, there are multiple videos each week. My parishioners living with unreliable internet service let me know that, while live streaming a zoom meeting or a live feed is difficult, they can download the video and watch it easily.
We’re still trying to figure out how we move forward at our small rural congregation. You see, it’s not just our parishioners that have trouble getting internet service; the church actually has trouble getting Internet service too. We’d like to move to livestreaming as we begin to regather and worship outside, but we’re not 100% sure we have the bandwidth to do so. So, when we can gather outside (when it is not raining and wet), we gather and social distance for worship. We will continue to provide a digital option because we’ve moved into a hybrid world. As soon as we can, we’ll experiment with live streaming; we’ll make decisions moving forward living into the digital literacies of experimentation and authentically presenting ourselves.
I don’t know what will happen or what we’ll be doing a few weeks from now… but I do know in the future when I make decisions about what we’re going to do and not do digitally, part of living into that authentic presentation of myself is being honest and sharing why I’m making the decision.