As we begin to plan a return to church buildings it seems right to give some thought to worship in lockdown-what was good-what was not so good-what lessons might we draw for the future.
My own weekly routine before lockdown included Morning Prayer every day at my local parish church. The normal attendance numbered three. With lockdown we switched to Zoom without any interruption utilising screen sharing for the text. The numbers involved doubled to six and have remained at that level ever since. I miss my early morning walk to the church but one advantage of the new arrangement is that we are now joined by those who live some distance away and would find the daily journey difficult. The worship is very engaging with everyone playing a different part each day. Two Bible readings are included daily, one from the Old Testament so over the course of a year we get to know the Old Testament narratives very well. Two Psalms are included most days and as Psalmody is a feature of Christian worship which Methodists often neglect this is much appreciated (not least by me). Freely led intercessions are also part of the daily programme. Will we continue with Zoom worship after lockdown or will we go back to meeting in the building or will it be possible to have both at once?
In the evening there is Compline at 8.30pm in a similar style by Zoom from Monday to Friday. This is shorter than Morning Prayer with only one short reading. In the circumstances of lockdown it provides a quiet and reflective end to the day. Normal attendance is nine.
Then on Sundays there are live streamed services provided by the District or by Churches within the District. To my way of thinking this seems similar to broadcasting so the sense of engagement and community is rather weak. Being with others matters to me so as a worship occasion this seems to be rather an impaired experienced. Some Catholics I know are using these strange times to virtually travel the world eavesdropping on the Pope one day or visiting Westminster Cathedral on other days. I think Catholics are happier to do this than Protestants because for Catholics the Mass is not only something shared it is also something seen. As for the concept of spiritual communion facilitated by Zoom I acknowledge that this is controversial and a full celebration of the Lord’s Supper requires a real presence in some sense. Without wishing in any way to contradict Connexional guidance I would favour a prayerful conversation about the character of presence around the Lord’s Table with or without Zoom.
Mindful of the Connexional guidance I did preside at an Agape/Love feast for my house group with an order I devised myself.To be honest I was disappointed because the essence of such worship is sharing and fellowship in a kind of buffet style context. It can be a great experience for Christians who are barred from each other’s Communion services but can come together to be refreshed and invigorated by breaking bread and sharing food and drink together in a prayerful but relatively informal context. Agape/Love feast by Zoom seemed to me to be neither one thing nor the other.
One thing that has worked well on Zoom is Bible study provided that the input from the leader is not too long, screen sharing is used and the opportunity is taken to go into break out groups. Break out groups are surprisingly easy on Zoom. Another useful facility on Zoom is the provision for “chat” whereby references or notes can be effortlessly passed to some or all of the group without interrupting the meeting. You can’t easily do that in a normal Bible study. Well worth trying!
I’d be fascinated to hear of other people’s worship experiences. In these matters we are all learners!