Coronavirus And Ministry: Part 2, Online Worship

Hello from Quarantine.

I have not left my house for almost a week except to take the dog for a walk or drive him to the beach. I am cutting short my sabbatical and returning to work a month early, on April 10. Meanwhile, I consult with leaders and am grateful for the time to learn, process the enormity of this, continue to quarantine (I’m not even risking much social distancing — my feeling is that people who can essentially quarantine should do that).

I have been viewing some online worship services and I have these very unofficial observations to offer, with the caveat that you are all TROOPERS for getting whatever you got together over three days:

1. Zoom with lots of people on the screen at the same time doesn’t work for worship. I really don’t think it does. It may be a nice experience for the people actually on the call at the time, but it is visually confusing and alienating for those who watch after the live broadcast. How about keeping the worship service just the worship leaders and then going to a Zoom social hour or check-in?
Or, alternately, can you reveal the faces of all the (online) gathered during community sharing? I haven’t used Zoom yet, so I’m not sure how this works. Feel free to leave your tips in the comments, much appreciated.

2. Zoom reportedly works great for coffee hour break-out rooms. I do not know how to convene such a thing (yet) but colleagues are speaking with great enthusiasm about how it has worked for their folks.

3. Sound quality has been very bad for many of you, but you know that. An empty sanctuary has terrible acoustics. Please post comments with tips and tricks. Preachers, please warm up and speak from the diaphragm. Some of you sound very strained shouting into the emptiness and I’m concerned for your vocal health.

4. Short, close-up videos of clergy reading a prayer or speaking directly to parishioners has worked very nicely in several examples I viewed. PLEASE be aware of your camera angle and lighting — don’t make people look up your nose. This also goes for Facebook Live broadcasts.

5. When solo, do not subject your viewers to a solid hour of you talking. If you can’t have musical interludes or other players (which is fine), shorten the program.

6. If you are attempting a corporate worship experience online, it needs to have some dynamic quality. Sitting at a table and reading off a manuscript is very casual and relaxed and better suited for a community check-in than online public worship.

7. Bring in the focus from the wide-angle shot from the back of the sanctuary.
Consider shortening your service a lot and bringing the camera in much closer so that you’re not basically trying to fill all that empty space with your one body and voice.

8. Muted, sepia-toned color washes are depressing.
Please bring in some flowers and light if you possibly can. Some videos I’ve seen look like they were filmed inside a sanitarium. I know that lighting was not your big priority this past week but as you get better at these productions, do consider lighting.

9. Please watch the placement of props and camera angles.
One gentleman pastor looked like he had a container of flowers growing out of his crotch. Make sure to do “last looks” before you start taping.

10. One minister produced a blooper reel and it was so adorable. She posted a video compilation of about six outtakes of her and her staff muffing up little things and cracking up, and it was so charming and endearing! It showed how new this all is, how much warm, loving spirit she and her staff were bringing to this work, and that none of them had lost their senses of humor.

Now I am going to list some skills I need/want to acquire, and some questions I have about the production of online worship:

1. Posting slides for hymn lyrics or readings during a Facebook Live broadcast.
2. Adding the Facebook Live link to our website.
3. Making sure the Facebook Page is accessible to view by those who don’t have a FB account.
4. music! how? Confer with Music Director and pianist.
5. Video editing: getting clips from folks at home to edit together for a community check-in to share.
6. Zoom gatherings: what, when, how.
7 Easter? Outdoors? Beach? This could be beautiful… do together with other congregations?
8. Don’t freak out.
9. Don’t freak out.
10. You don’t have to learn all of this TODAY.

Peace, take care, be safe. Put the oxygen mask over your own face first. I love you.

One Reply to “Coronavirus And Ministry: Part 2, Online Worship”

  1. Yesterday I was on a conference call with other Friends ministers from Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. To compare what has been working and not. Brief shared observations…

    * In rural areas where bandwidth is not great Zoom and even conference phone calls have been dumping users when the bandwidth is at capacity because of the number of people crowding our various functions onto the infrastructure.

    * We need to be more aware of difference in access to technology. Access is uneven across incomes and environments.

    * Our congregants are getting flooded with digital messaging, which has become overwhelming for some. Even some of the tech savy are finding that the time needed for this has become enormous. Keeping pastoral communications concise is a blessing and charity to your flock.

    This is a very hard time for pastors. Never before have I worked so hard, to accomplish small things.

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