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Today in the Mission Yearbook

‘A call-and-response opportunity for everybody’


Presbytery executive Aisha Brooks-Lytle talks up the creativity and connectivity she’s witnessed by viewing multiple online services each week of the pandemic

September 3, 2021

The Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, was a vocalist and percussionist with the Netletons, the house band at the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle enjoys nothing more than cheering on the Herculean online worship efforts being made each week during the pandemic by churches of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta where she is the executive presbyter.

“The creativity is unreal,” Brooks-Lytle said during an online town hall put on by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.  David VanderMeer, minister of music and fine arts at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a former PAM president, hosted the hourlong event.

As she watches worship services among the more than 100 churches and new worshiping communities within the presbytery, “I’m always an ‘amener’” in the chat room, she said. “I want them to know I am interacting with the preacher.”

“I love the chat feature. I love it that [worshipers] are engaged in what’s happening, and I’ll miss that” after returning to in-person worship.

“It’s interactive,” she said. “In the Black church, we have call-and-response.” The chat feature “feels like a call-and-response opportunity for everybody.”

She’s heard reports of pastors conducting porch visits, talking to parishioners in need of pastoral care or the pleasure of a visit, even through a window. She’s seen drive-through and drive-in worship and worship originating from the pastor’s study. She’s even preached at some, sometimes proclaiming God’s word to a nearly empty sanctuary.

“It’s hard. It’s scary,” she said with a laugh. “I’m anxious. I think this is the worst sermon on the planet. Then I play it back and I think the Holy Spirit showed up in the moment. We have to trust God in this, to be comfortable in being uncomfortable.”

The Holy Spirit “can come across a [two-dimensional] space in ways we will never understand,” she said. She heard about one preacher delivering a masterful sermon, only to have a buzzing insect interrupt her final point. The preacher re-recorded her sermon. “It became part of her blooper reel,” she said. “I just say, ‘I know I’m going to mess up Jesus, help me — and he does every time.”

Newly installed and transitional pastors have also hopped on board the innovation train. A new pastor had a drive-by meet-and-greet at home to see the congregation face-to-face, but from a distance. “It was really sweet,” Brooks-Lytle said. Even during online worship and other virtual church-related activities, “we are connecting, and we are engaging. It’s just as important as a face-to-face meeting.

Use the appropriate technology, depending on the person on the other end, she suggested. “Just use the phone!” she said. “We Zoom so much we forget we can just call somebody.”

How, VanderMeer asked, does Brooks-Lytle see singing resuming once in-person worship returns in more churches?

Brooks-Lytle said she’s witnessed good use of plastic glass and masks to allow for a small number of singers. “It depends on the context, and how many people” are involved, she said. “It has to be a small, incremental way of integrating vocalists. … Use the wisdom and the resources we have — and get people vaccinated!”

Moving forward, online and in-person worship at most churches will be both/and rather than either/or, Brooks-Lytle said. “I’ve seen [online] ordination services with red streamers people can hold while keeping a distance,” she said. “Why stop that when you can do ordination services in person? There are tactile, multi-sensory things we can do.”

“This is such a time to be creative, and I get excited about that,” she added. “Ask this question when you are planning worship: Is there something tactile, hybrid and engaging we can do?”

VanderMeer had this example: His church asked online worshipers to send in photos of their at-home communion station. The photos, many of them quite thoughtful and creative, were shared with the online congregation at the appropriate time during worship.

“Oh, I love it. Oh, that’s beautiful,” Brooks-Lytle said while viewing the photos. “There are stories for every plate, every picture.”

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Creative online worship services during pandemic

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Shawnda Styles, Client Services Specialists, Presbyterian Foundation 
Ralph Su,  Associate, Asian Intercultural Congregational Support, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Creator God, we thank you for your presence with us on this life’s journey. If we need support, help us, Lord, to ask the church for assistance. As we ponder what our response should be to the request for caregiving support, help us to identify our spiritual gifts and let the Spirit move us to action. Amen.