I’m glad that I am not in pastoral leadership of a congregation at present. Clergy have been learning all sorts of new skills – and people have adapted well. But it’s going to take time to rebuild congregations and, in particular to draw younger people back in
I have enjoyed being able to be part of congregations in many places The opportunity for people to see what is happening in other congregations and in the worship provided by the Scottish Episcopal Church must surely reduce our tendency to congregationalism.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve picked up two examples of thoughtful consideration of how clergy and congregations can meet the challenge of providing worship online.
The first was a half page in the Irish Times from Maria Jansson, Dean of the Church of Ireland Cathedral in Waterford in the south-east of Ireland. The headline was ‘Pandemic means religion for religion’s sake is gone. That’s not a bad thing.” ‘Leadership’ she says ‘will not come from a moribund clerical caste, but from those who must now step up to the bar.’ Ouch!.
It is clear that she has been on a journey of exploration. One initiative which she mentions is, ‘Prayer at Breakfast’ which lasts 6-8 minutes each day. As she says, if she did the traditional thing of heading into the Cathedral to ‘say the Office’ she would be lucky to have three people with her. Prayer at Breakfast has now being going for more than 100 days and 130-160 join in every morning.
She describes the challenge as being to establish authentic Christian community again rather than ‘going through the motions’
The second came from Church News Ireland www.churchnewsireland.org which reports that Badminton Benefice, a group of 10 rural parishes in the Diocese of Gloucester, has been offering online services in the first lockdown. What they do is worship according to the Book of Common Prayer and they say that the increase in their congregations has been 1500%.
it seems to me that worship on Zoom crosses two lines – probably more than that but it’s a start. The first is where worship leadership and broadcasting meet. Broadcasting has quite a bit to contribute – pace and tightness to start with – and the opportunity of hearing a number of voices. The second is about the movement in worship between formal and informal. I’ve always been interested in that – how you move easily and quickly from one to the other. It seems to me to be good to hear a congregation talking informally – before worship begins and at the Peace.
I am pretty sure that the online presence of worship is going to be here to stay. Obviously it has its place in enabling the housebound to be part of the congregation. But it also has value as yet another ‘way in’ to worshipping life. If you can peep round the church door to see what it is like and whether there are ‘people like me’ in the congregation – without actually having to open the door – that surely is helpful!