Kedron United Church in Oshawa, Ont. (Screenshot: Google Maps)

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

Amid COVID-19, my church is proving it’s more than a building

Right now, we have a chance to really understand our mission to the world

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At the Oshawa, Ont. church where I work, Kedron United, we needed to completely transform our ministry literally overnight. 

On Saturday, March 14, our communications team realized that for the health of all, we needed to shut down public worship immediately and move to livestreaming the next day. We often say the church isn’t the building. Well, now we were going to find out for real!

The following week was nonstop; I hadn’t used Zoom (the online video conferencing platform) often, but now it seemed like I was literally living on it. Meetings were held with key leaders, our communications team and Sunday school leaders. I was also connecting with colleagues and the wider church and answering seemingly endless emails and phone calls. While much of the world was shut down, my workload increased almost exponentially. I wasn’t alone — my colleagues across the country were reporting the same. 

We launched a whole new way of being church. We streamed our worship on Facebook Live, created a virtual Sunday school, arranged for our new musician to stage an online piano concert and had a member of the congregation who is a fitness trainer run all-ages fitness classes for the church on Zoom. We also set up Zoom virtual coffee time and I started working on a podcast. We set up a phone tree so that those without internet would receive regular calls, and our tech person, Kyle Leckie, found a way for folks to access our Facebook Live service with a simple telephone call.

Two weeks ago, not one of these things existed. The whole church was in the midst of the most significant shift since our foundation as a denomination in 1925.

More on Broadview: COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine time. This isn’t bad.

Leckie, a key member of our communications team, is a former manager at a big tech company and now works as an independent tech consultant. I asked him what advice he had for those who are just starting on this journey. “There is a huge streaming community of gamers out there who are experts at this,” he said. “If you go to YouTube and Twitch, there is lots of helpful content and forums. Streamers are very friendly and helpful and will walk you through the steps you need to take.”  

The biggest challenge that Leckie sees is the transformation of worship. “How do we transform an inspirational in-person service with lots of interactivity into an online experience that will engage people?” It’s an excellent question and one that we are all working on answering. 

Rev. Christopher White presides at Kedron United’s March 22 Sunday service, along with a modified version of “Come In, Come In and Sit Down.” (Screenshot: Kedron Church/Facebook)

An additional challenge we all face is if we can use our buildings to livestream. It depends on the jurisdiction and the day! So our team made yet another major pivot.

We decided to still do a Facebook Live service, but with more interactivity. We have chosen two songs that we will open and close with each week. Our musician has video-recorded the piano music and we have invited some folks in the congregation to record themselves singing these pieces to the music and send us the videos. We will integrate that into our live service. Pieces of the liturgy are also being sent out and people are invited to record themselves leading those pieces, which will again will be blended into our stream. I will preach either from my church, my garden or my living room depending on the weather and if we are in our building.

I recently listened to a podcast with two Australian church leaders, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. In the podcast, Hirsch says that the best way to learn chess is to first remove your own queen from the board. You will lose a number of games, but over time, you will learn the deep nuances of the game and that a pawn can take a king.  He goes on to say that Sunday morning worship, for the church, is their queen, which is now off the board. 

Right now, we have an opportunity to really understand our mission to the world and to create new forms of church. I agree with him. This is a terrible global crisis, but that is the exact moment when the church has redefined itself throughout history.  The spirit is on the move.

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  • says:

    The spirit has always (is) been on the move. Personal, local, collective, national and global crises compel us mortals to get going. Almost seven decades ago, as a 7-year old kid stricken by rheumatic fever, I overheard my father and his cousin (a trained physician) discussing whether I would make it to my teen-years! Still at my vintage, readier than ever to "shuffle off this mortal coil", life remains an ambiguous 'marmam.'

    Replies

    • says:

      Agree - but we are also a stiff-necked people, and often God needs to give us a kick in the pants to get our attention (Hebs. 3) But God is always in control, whether we want Him to be or not. (1 Thess 5:16-18)

  • says:

    This article, by Rev. Christopher White, was well worth a read. I was especially interested in Rev. White's reference to Alan Hirsch of Australia who compared a game of chess to what is happening in churches today. (Queen =church building) This was an excellent manner in which to convey a most meaningful point.
    How inspiring that a congregation, lead by a dedicated and very hard-working minister, found innovative ways to bring continued support to many who need and crave the contact with other members of their church community! Inspirational!!!
    Congratulations, Kedron United Church staff!