For ever Zoom?

The Zoom question is still with us. And, from my ‘person in the pew’ perspective, I’m not surprised. However resourceful we are – and however resourceful those who lead worship in church are – the churchgoing experience is still a long way from being one which raises the spirits, builds community and sends us out to change the world.

So where does the Zoom experience stand in all this? I went back to the interesting report to the Scottish Churches, ‘Adapt and be Flexible – the Mission doesn’t Stop”. The report is based on an online survey of 369 congregational leaders of 27 denominations across Scotland. I’m not sure if the ‘person in the pew’ was invited to comment!

To be personal for a moment, it seems to me that Zoom offers us the opportunity of experiencing the breadth of the church. I’ve been visiting churches I know from past ministry and places which we have links with. I’ve experienced diversity and challenge and, particularly in Holy Week and Good Friday, been deeply moved.

I think that Zoom is certainly going to be with us for the immediately foreseeable future. Most obviously that is because it has answered the question of how those who are unable to come to church can be held within the worshipping community. But that in itself begs the question – is Zoom primarily a way of making ‘what we normally do’ accessible on line or does the medium demand a different approach? It has seemed to me from the beginning that worship on Zoom sits somewhere between worship-leading in church and broadcasting. The medium makes it possible to use videos, photographs, music of all kinds – it encourages participation from all sorts of people many of whom find it far less challenging to talk to a microphone at home than to stand up and speak in church. Some have been rising to that challenge but it must demand an enormous amount of work and preparation – it becomes a ‘thing in itself’

One question I looked for in the Report was about whether worship on Zoom reduced apparent denominational differences. So much of church identity in bound up in buildings, how they are furnished and how they are used. Does the ‘close in’ Zoom camera liberate us from that?

And does Zoom harmonise with the carbon neutral strategies which we are attempting to implement.

These are debates which will continue. I suspect that we are hardly at the beginning of thinking about the long term changes which Covid has brought. I continue to broadcast Thought for the Day for BBC Scotland – up the stairs to the spare bedroom to deliver the material on Skype. I can’t imagine that we shall ever go back to expecting contributors to come to the studio for a two minute broadcast! No – the Mission doesn’t Stop. But it may require us all to be more resourceful and imaginative in how we communicate and share what our faith.

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