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Zoom Practices I Hope We Keep in the Return to In-Person Worship

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As pandemic restrictions ease, I hear choruses of “We can’t wait to get back to normal!” While reverting to our pre-pandemic way of being as church may seem desirable, the fact is that we are not the same people we were 16 months ago. The challenge after this global pandemic experience is to do some solid reflection on which of our old habits or practices were healthy and which new practices might be even healthier for people who are impacted by the effects of personal and collective trauma. 

I have had the privilege of supporting Willowdale CRC in Toronto as a regular part of their preaching team while they search for a new pastor. Their pastorate has been vacant for the entire pandemic, and the congregation hasn’t met together in person since March 2020. As a team begins to look at what fully reopening will look like, I have been reminiscing about what I will miss about our Zoom worship that I hope we will not lose entirely. Here are a few of my favourite things:

  • The care with which the leadership ensured that everyone could access worship services. They created a robust support network that made it possible for all to connect with a community that they love.

  • People joining us from places that normally would make it impossible to attend worship in person. It was such an amazingly full picture of the body of Christ to have folks join us from their hospital beds and to have the whole community pray over them around their bedside. One gentleman died the next day, but he and his loved ones knew they were not alone. Regularly we see a dear sister who is able to worship with us while she is at work in a restaurant kitchen. 

  • The joyous greetings before worship begins. These greetings are a bit of a ruckus because they are in several languages and folks are talking over each other, but I love it. Children are recognized by name. People check in with each other. The happiness in seeing each other is palpable.

  • Children worshiping with us for the entire service. They contribute to the service in a variety of ways, by showing us drawings or sharing memorized verses of Scripture. Research has shown that intergenerational worship is a strong predictor of whether children will grow into young adults who remain engaged in the life of faith, so I hope this won’t go away.

  • Families or households leading in Scripture reading and in singing. I love the opportunity this gives parents and caregivers to mentor children to contribute to the life of the body. 

  • Seeing the faces of everyone. As a preacher I have loved reading the faces of folks while I open God’s Word. I will miss the intimacy of everyone being front and center—no one lost in the back pew. 

  • Hearing deep feedback on the sermon text from the congregation. After we end with the Lord’s Supper and the blessing, folks are given about 10 minutes to once again greet each other and share news in that ruckus-y way we have, and then those who are interested are invited to reflect together on the sermon. No one feels the need to race out the door to get home. We reflect on what we heard, ask questions about what we need clarified, and give testimony about how we are going to apply God’s Word going forward. These have been rich conversations.

  • The “homely” feel of Zoom worship. A certain level of authenticity in Zoom worship, compared to a “professional” live stream service, took hold during the pandemic. It radiated a level of warmth that reached into and extended out from our family rooms, kitchen tables, and back porches. In many ways we were seen in our day-to-day contexts, and this made us more real to each other. 

What Zoom practices do you hope your congregation retains once you’re back in person?

For more on deciding which practices should stick around, check out Three Questions to Ask on Returning to In-person Worship.

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Absolutely and AMEN, Pastor Lesli. Zoom with WCRC has been such a blessing for us during the Pandemic, allowing us to be 'in church' with others at the same time, creating that sense of community that was so missing when the churches got shut down. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to WCRC for what you did and how you have been so invitational to all. And yes, the part I liked so so very much was the after service sermon discussion time which I hope WCRC figures out how to continue with this even when they are back in-person.