Gathered apart: Churches take services online

Gathered apart: Churches take services online

With bans in place for mass gatherings, and governments restricting trade in certain areas, Uniting Churches have had their first weekend of services in other formats.  
 
As church buildings shut so as to minimise the spread of the illness, Sunday, 22 March saw several churches across the Synod opting for alternatives.  
 
Canberra Region Presbytery minister Rev. Dr John Squires said that churches were finding “creative” ways to address the gap, and were “gathering apart”. 
 
Several churches across the Synod streamed their Sunday sermons online. 
 
At Leichhardt Uniting Church, Rev. Radhika and Rev. Adrian Sukumar-White streamed worship and a sermon from the church building.  
 
They believe it’s not an ideal situation. 
 
Rev. Sukumar-White told the ABC that the church was dealing with a “sense of grief in our community and unknowingness about the future.” 

“We have no idea how long we’ll be doing this.” 
 
Leichhardt Uniting Church member Christina Mikhael told the ABC that the congregation had been deliberate about checking in with its older members. 

“There’s a few of us who are checking in, providing support and allowing people to feel like they’re still connected to the community, even though we can’t share a physical space every week,” she said. 

Other congregations have opted to share resources online, including sermon and worship notes.  
 
For small regional and rural communities, an option for gathering online has been underway since Lent began. Saltbush has been conducting online ‘Café’ meetings. 
 
The online Café has seen around 25 people gathering on Zoom. Gatherings will continue through to Easter with a plan to continue throughout the year. 

Saltbush Zoom Cafés meet every Wednesday morning at 10:30 am and every Thursday evening at 7:30 pm. Participants use the Zoom app to take part in Bible study and discussion. 

Saltbush’s Rev. Mark Faulkner told Insights that the gatherings were proving to be successful, even for those that don’t have experience with the technology. 

“The conversation and engagement have been great and even those who have never used Zoom before (or didn’t even have a cam) have come on board,” Rev. Faukner said. 
 
“So, of course at each Café we connect and discuss faith and life with people who are literally from all corners of our Synod.” 

With technological solutions come other challenges. In his blog, Never Odd or Even, Geelong-based Uniting Church minister Rev. Will Nicholas writes about the experience of coordinating online worship. He likened this to being a character who supports superheroes remotely: the person in the chair.  
 
“I sent out an email to every member of the Church I am Minister to and let each person know that they could click on a link and the Zoom meeting would be open from 10-11 am in the morning,” Rev. Nicholas writes.  
 
“One by one they did, each with a look of proud achievement on their faces.” 

“For so many, these virtual spaces are foreign countries with culture and language to confound and frighten the newcomer. My advice to you if you know how to navigate these virtual places is to be the person in the Chair [providing support].  
 
“If this is all new to you and you need help don’t be afraid to ask for someone you know to be in the chair as you face this new challenge.” 

It is unknown exactly how long church buildings will remain closed, but Uniting Church congregations will continue to gather, online, and via other means.  
 
See a list of congregations live streaming service here 
 
For Saltbush’s Zoom Cafés contact the Saltbush team at Saltbush@nswact.uca.org.au. 
 
For more information about the Uniting Church’s plans during the Coronavirus pandemic, visit the Synod’s COVID-19 hub. 

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