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Not just another Zoom meeting


The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow will lead a conversation Aug. 25 on ‘The Scattered Church: Pastoring the Body of Christ in a Time of Pandemic’

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian New Service

As part of Theology, Formation and Evangelism’s The Scattered Church project, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow will lead a conversation Aug. 25 on how to engage people in congregational life online — and what future hybrid expressions of worship might look like.

LOUISVILLE — As churches shifted to digital worship due to the pandemic this past spring, it was clear to the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow that he wasn’t going to try to replicate what happened each Sunday during in-person worship.

Instead he would create a worship experience that felt comfortable enough while taking advantage of the technological possibilities that are readily available.

“No one should be surprised that I’m loving this,” he said. “It’s my wheelhouse.”

Reyes-Chow, who was moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008) and currently pastors First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, California, has been speaking and writing about faith and technology for more than a decade.

At 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Aug. 25, Reyes-Chow will lead a Zoom conversation on “Pastoring the Body of Christ in a Time of Pandemic.”  The two-hour conversation is presented by Theology, Formation & Evangelism ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency as part of its new The Scattered Church project.

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow

Reyes-Chow acknowledges how difficult pastoral leadership can be as the pandemic magnifies both the things leaders don’t do so well and the things they didn’t know they could do well.

“Church leaders are tired and not taking good care of themselves, or their bodies,” he said. “The challenge for all of us is to become the adaptable people we claim to be.”

Reyes-Chow said one simple way pastors can take care of themselves is to “exchange worship for self-care” by occasionally inviting their congregation to participate in another congregation’s online service.

That’s important, he said, because it helps one recognize that they don’t have to preach every Sunday — and that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.

“In this new context of ministry, we have to think longer term — as in a long game,” he said.

Recognizing that being a digital church is a new calling for pastors and other worship leaders, Reyes-Chows will ask questions about what technology is allowing the church to do and share ideas around:

  • how to engage people in congregational life so it’s not just one more Zoom meeting.
  • how to create intimacy in an online worship experience that’s compelling.
  • what future hybrid expressions of worship might look like.

During the Zoom conversation, Reyes-Chow plans to curate digital space for worship for leaders to have a sense of what it looks like. He said he hopes that while in that space, leaders will translate what they experience by making it adaptable for their own communities and skill sets — and their comfort level with technology.

“I think many of us over-function, which we need to get over,” he said. “Because it creates not just being overwhelmed, but false expectations.”

While Reyes-Chow misses seeing people at First Presbyterian Church, he recognizes the opportunities for connection that technology is providing.  The number of people attending worship at First Presbyterian during the pandemic has actually grown from about 90 to 120.  In addition, multiple generations are now worshiping together online.  People who moved away from the church and a growing number of new people are also joining for digital worship.

“For people on the fringes, this is a non-intimidating way to do church shopping,” he said.

An author and podcaster who speaks and writes on issues of faith, technology, race, parenting and culture, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow can be found on most online social networks via @breyeschow.  You can join the conversation with Reyes-Chow at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, Aug. 25,  by clicking here.

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