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Fitting hybrid worship into the context of the local congregation

The Scattered Church webinar hits all the high notes by telling it like it is

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Kieran Somerville via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Highlighting worship efforts during the pandemic ranging from high-tech and labor-intensive to one church’s “Call ‘Em All” telephonic approach, Thursday’s webinar on Hybrid Ministry: The Scattered Church was a balm for clergy and worship leaders who’ve struggled mightily with pandemic-induced issues including pastoral care, trauma and self-care.

Theology, Formation & Evangelism sponsored the webinar, attended by more than 70 people. The Rev. Nikki Collins, coordinator of 1001 New Worshiping Communities, hosted the hour-long discussion, which included these participants:

the Rev. Veronica Cannon

Veronica Cannon said her church, which she began serving as transitional pastor last June, mails newsletters and uses the “Call ‘Em All” method to reach church members who have little access to technology. “It’s been a challenge to find a way to meet them where they were so we could worship together,” she said. She called last week’s “Sunday Fun Day” the day when “they set eyes on one another for the first time in a long time.”

“There’s so much we have learned and are still learning,” Cleghorn said. He said he’s grateful for a staff that’s “embraced a mindset of abundance” and “a comfort in risk-taking” as well as a congregation that is “extra gracious when we do fail.”

the Rev. Dr. John Cleghorn

“We have learned a lot about the centrality of community, and the importance of pastoral care and contact, about how it takes a village and a lot about flexibility and adaptability week to week,” Cleghorn said. “When we first got into this, and hopefully again soon, we had such a deep appreciation for our time together on Sunday mornings. If we took anything for granted, we won’t take that for granted ever again.”

Mark Kemp

Kemp marveled at how far Westminster Presbyterian Church has come from 10 years ago, when it offered its first livestream worship. “It was the equivalent of a dad at a soccer game with a big VHS camera on his shoulder,” Kemp said. “Now we have a greater ability to engage.”

Jerry Cannon hosts a 7 a.m. prayer call over the telephone six days a week for C.N. Jenkins members and friends. “This is the only live voice many of our seniors will hear all day long,” he said. “You get to hear your pastor instead of CNN.”

Davis said thriving online cohorts have been created for students at UPS’ Charlotte campus. This year’s students have never met in person. “We open the Zoom space early and leave it on late. People share their lunches together,” Davis said. “I have become the educational technology person [on campus]. People who know me will laugh to hear that. Technology doesn’t create community, but it enables the community to be built.”

Bryan Bardin

“For me,” said Bardin of, “the power of technology has been identifying the ministry and who we are trying to reach, and then matching the technology with the ministry.”

Asked about grief and trauma to both congregational life and to ministry itself, Cleghorn said Caldwell Presbyterian Church has lost members over the past year to COVID-19, murder and sudden illness.

“These were pillars, giants in the church. Our staff and session have been thinking about returning to our worship space and not having these giants in their places in the pews,” he said. “We know there will be trauma upon our return … We aren’t experts, but we are thinking as widely and broadly as we can. We’ve been through a lot apart. How do we come back together in a healthy way that doesn’t pretend that we didn’t just go through [a pandemic]? On the other side of exhaustion is hope and the spirit to fight for justice.”

the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Davis

“We don’t talk a lot about trauma in the church,” Davis said. “But what we have come to understand is that wisdom comes from other places in addition to theology books … People’s response [to returning to in-person worship] will be, ‘I thought we could hug or sing.’ We are probably not coming back like that.”

Davis has written on trauma informed ministry. Read it here.

Worship leaders have been through trauma as well, Kemp said.

“We have to let the community feed us as well, through song and support, in my experience,” Kemp said. “The grief and trauma have exposed who and what we really are. It has removed our expectations to focus on what Christ calls us to be” instead of merely flipping a light switch “of expectations of who we used to be.”

the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell

“I worry a lot,” Gambrell said. “I see lots of beloved colleagues and friends in ministry. I know you are doing amazing things, and yet we have been through the wilderness. We can’t deceive ourselves into thinking we can just bounce back. If that means doing everything we were doing before and during the pandemic, there is a risk of burnout.” Gambrell said he relies on a phrase a friend uses: Rather than bouncing back, this friend talks about bouncing forward.

Gambrell wondered: “How is God calling us to do new things?”

Bronkema talked about virtual coffee hours and book and Bible studies.

the Rev. Debbie Bronkema

“We tell people all the time to invite their friends to church. This time it actually worked,” Bronkema said. “They’ve invited their friends and relatives [to online worship and other activities] and we are now connected in meaningful ways.”

In his book published just last month by Fortress Press, “Resurrecting Church: Where Justice and Diversity Meet Radical Welcome and Healing Hope,” Cleghorn said he researched churches that came close to closing. “That brush with death liberates churches to try new things,” he said. “They learned years ago that membership is more than what’s on the books.”

“We can’t be all things to all people,” Cleghorn said. “But it will be interesting to see how we select what things we carry forward in hybrid life that redefine what it means to do ministry.”

the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon

As churches begin to feature both in-person and online worship and other activities of the faith community, some pastors “will worry if their service doesn’t have 1,000 views,” Jerry Cannon said. They need not worry.

“You are going to make a presence,” he said. “Your members may watch a preacher in California, but they aren’t going to make a home visit in Wilmington [North Carolina]. Be that woman or man of God who God is calling you to be. Love the hell out of people and have a great time. God is going to use you right where you are.”

Resources for engaging in hybrid ministry are here. A recording of Thursday’s workshop will be available next week at website of The Scattered Church, found here.

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