I looked back at my calendar for March 12. Remember March 12? That was the day the shutdown began. The events on my calendar were: “emergency phone call with wardens”; “pick up son from college – dorms closing 5pm”; and “practice live-streaming from church.” That was the day we decided we couldn’t safely have church on the following Sunday and to have a live-streamed service online instead.
We also knew we couldn’t have Communion on Sunday. At that time, given all the confusion and stress, we decided having a Eucharistic service without actually being able to share the Eucharist together would just be too weird. Instead, we planned for Morning Prayer.
It’s actually been wonderful to celebrate Morning Prayer, and many long-time parish members have enjoyed it. But newer members and those who came to the Episcopal church from other denominations (basically anyone who joined after 1979) have shared that they find Morning Prayer unfamiliar and confusing. So it seemed worth thinking about whether we want to continue having Morning Prayer on Sunday or return to the Eucharistic format as we move into fall.
This past Sunday, your worship committee gathered on Zoom to discuss that. The committee decided that it would be a good idea to try out an online Eucharistic service. This would mean a return to the “normal” order of service that we are most familiar with. The worship committee also discussed that the Eucharist is also the service that is the most accessible to our children and young people, who have been feeling a bit disconnected from online worship. Although we still won’t be able to share the Bread and Wine in person, we can say together the Prayer for Spiritual Communion to remind ourselves that we are always part of the Body of Christ. The worship committee decided we’d experiment with this for a 6-week “mini season”, from September 20 to November 1. Then we will evaluate how it went and what we want to do going forward. We’ll continue with Morning Prayer through September 13.
The worship committee also talked about having more people present in the church to help with the service. For example, we really liked the idea of perhaps having the Liturgy Team be physically present in the church to read the lessons. However, the guidelines from our bishop say that if there are several people gathered for worship everyone must wear masks. This means the clergy would be wearing a mask while leading prayers and preaching. We tried this out in our meeting (I put my mask on in the Zoom meeting) and people noticed that it was harder to hear, the sound was muffled, and that without seeing someone’s lips moving it can be difficult to understand what they are saying. Because having the priest wear a mask would impact the worship experience for at-home worshippers, we decided not to have liturgy team readers in the church for this 6-week season. We hope it is something we can move towards later as restrictions are gradually eased.
The worship committee also talked about adding acolytes to the service. It would be very meaningful for our young people to be engaged in this way and they have felt left out of our current worship. We brainstormed different ways of doing this. We wondered if a single acolyte could come each Sunday, light the candles, carry the cross forward, and then leave the sanctuary. That way they would be in the sanctuary only a minimal time, which might be low-risk. We also talked about having acolytes participate from home on Zoom, as the liturgy team readers are doing now. The acolyte of the day could light a candle at home in Zoom to share with everyone, and encourage people to light their own candles at home. Also, we could drop off the children’s cross at the acolyte of the day’s home and they could process with it in their own living room (on Zoom), which would be a way to stay connected by sharing the cross travelling from home to home. Rev. Kate will discuss these ideas further with our acolyte director and families.
The worship committee also discussed upcoming events like the Blessing of the Backpacks (currently planned for Sept 13) and Acolyte Recognition (currently planned for Sept 20). We will make both of these part of our online worship. I also have hopes of being able to have small group worship in person soon, perhaps on a weeknight.
We have the opportunity now to shift out of emergency mode and to try on forms of worship that can sustain us for the long haul through this pandemic. Your worship committee is thinking carefully and prayerfully about how to best do this. As always, your feedback and ideas are welcome.