As some in my congregation and family will tell you, I am not technologically-minded. In fact, I must admit that I’d not progressed much beyond e-mail and some texting.
Suffice it to say that my learning curve was steep when it became clear that in-person worship and meetings were about to cease in the middle of March. I spoke with someone in the congregation who’d telecommuted for years and asked for their assistance. They were patient and offered feedback as the coming days evolved. Fortunately, I have three children who are with the program and Christine (my wife) was also able to assist when I could not remember today what I did yesterday.
Following a meeting with the parish wardens, it was clear that we had to delegate, prioritize and organize. One warden took on pastoral care, the next administration and finances, and the third, communications; it also became clear that we had to figure out a plan week by week. To start, we had to get a Sunday service up and running, so, we signed up for a diocesan Zoom license, and with my elder daughter Hannah operating (who lives in our basement) we went live on March 22, which now seems about three years ago.
In Week 2 we launched a deliberate exercise to set up a telephone tree to connect with the entire congregation. We also worked on scheduling Parish Council meetings and began a weekly weekday celebration of Matins (a service of Morning Prayer not-specific to the Anglican Church but often used in the Anglican Church) which in the past had been monthly. Next, we worked on getting the Arabic speaking members of our congregation (a substantial percentage of 'Epiphany's' membership) connected, availing ourselves of the considerable skills of the two translators we’d appointed last year, funded through a grant from the diocesan supported Anglican Initiatives Fund (AIF).
On Sundays, for the principal worship of the week, we follow the Ministry of the Word from the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) including PowerPoint for the essential elements of the service. We focus on the gospel reading of the day, a sermon, intercessions and the use of one voice for responses, as it soon became clear that many folks online trying to speak as one voice becomes a disjointed babble. Different members of the congregation are invited to read, lead, or be the voice for the day, and we also provide the Collect in Arabic and English. We have sung two hymns each week enabling us to retain that important aspect of our liturgy. We post a Zoom ID ahead of each service and have been and still are working to connect people to services via computer, iPad (tablets) and/or the phone. On Palm Sunday we heard the passion narrative read by a father and son, alternating voices, and it was so effective that we asked them to do it again for Good Friday. Our goal is to offer a variety of voices to vary the tone and pace of our worship. As far as vesting is concerned, I do not robe for liturgies but wear clericals.
Following the Sunday service and other services, people are welcome to stay and chat or leave depending on their inclination and other commitments.
Given the scope and devastation of the global COVID-19 crisis, it seems callous to look at the upside, however, one of the blessings of this unprecedented time has been the opportunity for members of our parish who have been, or are currently unable to attend worship mostly due to illness, once again be part of our worshipping community. Another has been that our giving is slightly above budget, as we have a good record of retaining ongoing Pre-Authorized Donation (PAD) subscribers. In fact, we are only behind on our overall budget because a fundraising event had to be cancelled.
In Holy Week at Epiphany, we have always celebrated a liturgy each day of the week and this year was no exception. We had Compline (the New Zealand rite), Stations of the Cross (using photographs of our own stations from Epiphany) as well as the Triduum liturgies (again using the Ministry of the Word) taken from the BAS. For many services in Holy Week 2020, attendance was actually better than in-person worship in other years! What we do moving forward in our worship ministries after this health emergency is over, will require a good deal of thought and planning.
Sunday by Sunday numbers have risen, so that 78 (for Easter Day), though not what we would normally expect on that day, are not far short of our Average Sunday Attendance for 2020!
This has taken a good deal of effort and constant communication, inviting people to participate in online worship and offering them assistance in order that they might participate.
In addition, our weekly Bible Study which we normally hold at an Assisted Living residence continues. Shirley aged 91, has no computer (yet) joins by phone. We also plan to start a weekly Compline on Mondays starting later in the month as this was very much valued during Holy Week. We’d also held a Quiet Day recently where members of the parish shared reflections of inspiration that had helped and continues to help sustain them during the health emergency. Afterwards, each person added their contribution by e-mail to the group who attended as an intentional record of the experience.
At ‘Epiphany’ our aim is to provide easily accessible worship and ways to connect each week during this time.
I am so grateful to the Parish Executive and others for their support and encouragement to enable all of this to happen.
It seems after all you can teach an old dog new tricks, and this boomer is doing his best to stay connected and meet the needs of our congregation in this new way.