We have been living in unprecedented times. The Coronavirus, mandatory stay-at-home orders, social-distancing, and quarantine are all words many of us had not thought of much until recently. These are challenging times as pastors, as worship leaders. I have been blessed to be working among some of the most creative and hard-working pastors of my entire career, as General Presbyter of Maumee Valley Presbytery. It has been an honor, and very humbling. And yet, now we face an even greater challenge — building a bridge to sustainable worship and healthy congregations in a time when health experts are saying social-distancing is going to be important through Labor Day, and if no medication becomes readily available, possibly through 2021 until a vaccine is ready. And so I offer a few thoughts, to get us thinking more long-term:
My Top Ten Worship Ideas in a Post-Quarantine (yet fragile public health) Time:
1) The early church met early in the morning every Sunday, down by the river, in secret (because Christianity was illegal and Sunday was a work day). I’m JUST SAYING. Easter sunrise service EVERY WEEK? Yes, maybe!
2) The early church in many areas built worship around house worship/agape love feasts. These were arguably all groups of 10 or fewer. JUST SAYING. And FOOD! I’m convinced this is how the early church grew.
3) Summer is usually pretty good weather in much of the USA. Outdoor worship. Front steps of the church? Parking lot? Perhaps a “Drive-In Movie” concept with a stage and people still in their cars, or bring a lawn chair and come sit up and be a part of our socially-distant choir. Church courtyard? Oh yeah, and stop canceling when it’s not perfect conditions out…welcome to 2020.
4) Many of the Native American Presbyterians I have worshiped with had us outside in a round, socially distanced anyway, because we needed room to move, and sing, and invite God to be a part of our gathering.
5) Many of the churches I served as pastor had fellowship dinners for small groups (Tables of Eight, etc.). This combined with a pre-recorded YouTube sermon could be pretty effective worship, and cultivate worship leaders! Maybe the pastor would even rotate which small group she was a part of, and have Holy Communion with that group of 8-10. The church musician(s) might rotate too.
6) Zoom is lovely, but have you thought about equipping each family unit to worship on their own? Sometimes I wonder if we pastors like the control, and simply aren’t comfortable with a particularly Jewish/synagogue approach to learning and prayer that is more family-based.
7) Parks. I see visions of lawn chairs, natural amphitheaters, or maybe even a picnic, or picnic-to-go bags. (Sermon on the Mount? Feeding of the Multitude? If it was good enough for Jesus…).
8) Is your sanctuary open for individual prayer throughout the week?
9) Splitting the congregation up, and having multiple worship services a week. (As a former church musician I am rolling my eyes at this one, but I am also thankful to be back to work and not furloughed!)
10) And finally…..Opening the church for in-person worship, all in masks, socially-distanced, and finally finding the benefit of having an overly large sanctuary for the smaller congregation that now worships there.
(Maybe a mix of these! It’s a lot of work for us worship leaders, but it can break open that “We’ve always done it this way” mentality we have been railing against for years. Now’s our chance!
Whatever you transition to, I hope someone is still broadcasting to FB Live, and a Watch Party starts for those who are unable to be at the in-person worship)