Thursday afternoon the Mayor’s office held a teleconference with religious leaders to share updates and thank our communities for their work in supporting people in times of such stress. She named our role in offering comfort and hope as key to this season. She also re-iterated our role in minimizing the spread of the virus. As I write, the news is breaking of a “shelter in place” order. We all need to stop worshiping together in person as a matter of Christian love (more below on how we can keep worshiping). The mayor and commissioner both stressed that they are making decisions based on actual data, not fear or simply following the lead of others. These are not knee-jerk decisions, but ones made after tracking the confirmed cases.
The mayor also reminded us of the help available for those who are in need. They will be devoting extra resources to social services. The Chicago Community Trust is creating a fund for helping community organizations like churches (link below). And anyone who is feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts can call 311 for counseling and support.
Virtual worship. This is possible for most everyone! The easiest way seems to be Facebook live — you just open the Facebook app on a smartphone or tablet, set the device up somewhere (inexpensive holders and stands are available online or at BestBuy) and hit the “Live Video” button to get it going. Once the live-cast is stopped, it remains on your page as a video recording of the event.
As you move to live-casting your worship, it pays to plan ahead. Experiment with various placements for the camera, phone, or device. You will probably need to get it closer than you think — these videos are very “distancing,” as one person I spoke with remarked. Test the device you will use — how do things look and sound on it? Do we need more light? A less busy backdrop? How do I get it to start and stop?
You might want to consider making the service shorter than you would plan for a live service. Congregational singing isn’t really possible and music in general will be hard to pull off. But a service of prayers, a few solos, scripture, a hopeful message, and a blessing will be very powerful for all of us as we become increasingly homebound.
Likewise, prepare your congregants for how they will watch. Give them detailed instructions about where to find your Facebook page and what time to log on. Start your live-cast five or ten minutes early, maybe just focused on a burning candle or the stained glass window, to give people a chance to log in and make sure their personal equipment is working. It takes a while to get everyone logged on and joined in, so leave space at the beginning for that. If you are leading worship on Facebook live, you can have people leave their “amens” and their prayer requests in the comments section of the stream and reply in real time, if you prefer.
Also, think about what the setting will be. One church I know, pastored by a clergy couple, is leading worship from their kitchen table. It is informal, yes, but homey, and mirrors the domestic setting of the congregation. This way, their faces fill the screen in a way that is highly relational. Others are leading worship in the sanctuary as usual, with the recorder sitting close up in the pews. Also, consider the time of your live-cast. Many will want to keep the same as their normal worship hour. But I fear Sunday morning Facebook will soon be a crowded place. Maybe some other time will work better for you.
Some churches are holding worship via Zoom. The chief advantage to this is you can let multiple people speak and participate in leadership, not just those physically present at the broadcast site. Facebook, however, allows for virtual “visitors” to pop in, and is more widely familiar. Again, weigh what is best for you and experiment.
Community Church of Barrington live-streamed its worship this past Sunday, and I asked their pastor, Rev Dr Zina Jacque, to share a few thoughts about their experience. You can find her story below. We are also compiling a list of the ABCMC churches that are live-streaming. The beginning of that list is also below — please let us know about your streaming plans and we will add your church too! We can all binge-watch ABCMC worship during this month.
Church Tithes and Offerings. This will be a difficult financial period for us all, including churches. Many people are losing their jobs, furloughed or laid off. Also, when we do not worship together, people who normally contribute through the offering plates will not be doing so, which will compound the problem. Many people — especially older people — are uncomfortable with online financial transactions. Of course, they can always mail their checks to the church, although they may go unopened or un-deposited for some time. Members might be encouraged to arrange for electronic checks or ACH transfers to be made for their offerings. There are also online services, which are listed below.
There is no telling yet how long this will last. It sounds the “shelter in place” order might last a month or more. One epidemiologist I heard interviewed said, “I don’t know how long it will last, but I’ve been telling people to prepare emotionally for 8 weeks. This is because, if you can make 8 weeks, you can make longer; and if it is less than 8 weeks, that will be a welcome relief.”
I keep remembering the three months my leg was immobilized in a cast, several years ago. At first, it was a great challenge trying to learn how to do routine daily activities with a leg that couldn’t bend. Climbing the stairs, getting into a car, taking a shower, putting on my socks — everything was a challenge at first. Then, after about two weeks, I got the knack of it. And then I was just stuck, with another 10 weeks to go. “Getting the knack of things” is the first part. And then we move to the endurance stretch, when day by day, we get through it. And we will all do both, together. We will get the knack of this. And then we will get through it together, with the help of God and many powerful prayers.
I am curious to hear the stories you have to share along the way, of how you get the knack of this, and how you come to endure. Please share them with me. I look forward to sharing them with the region.
Rev. David Gregg
Message from Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque
Community Church had never dared try [to live stream worship]. In fact, I maintained worship, at its essence, was relational, face-to-face, so streaming a worship service just seemed wrong.
And then Covid-19 happened.
My first thought was, we could probably fudge the “no more than 50 people” and still gather. But, should a pastor fudge (read: lie) in the presence of the people or of our God? The answer was, no. Instead of skirting the CDC guidelines, we chose to invite our members to worship from home and to join us (gulp) online.
On Sunday, March 15th, we streamed our first service of worship. Thirty-eight people were in the sanctuary, and during the service, 140 people clicked on our live stream. Friends from Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Indiana, Ohio, and all over the Chicago joined us in prayer, in praise, and in proclamation of the power and the presence of God. The comments and clicks have continued, and now, according to Facebook, 227 more people witnessed our worship. That is a total of 367 people. Our sanctuary, if you pack us in cheek to jowl, holds about 140 people. Just think about this. On March 15th, we reached twice as many people as our sanctuary holds, and we did it on their time and in their space.
Friends, we have to trust God knows how to use technology to speak into the lives of people whom we may never meet and into the hearts of those we love and are keeping away from Covid-19 germs. My iPhone (and it is just an 8), a tripod, and a decent internet signal gave access to God’s Spirit as made visible at Community Church, not because I was not wise enough to try this new way of worship but because Covid-19 made it so. I would invite you all to give it a try, who knows what God will do.
Rev. Zina Jacque, Ph.D.
Pastor Community Church Barrington
Examples of what ABC Metro Chicago churches are doing on Facebook Live
- Community Church of Barrington
- Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church
- Morgan Park Baptist Church
- First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor (Not ABCMC but a different example of virtual worship.)
- Lake Street Church of Evanston (via Zoom)
Check out the COVID-19 Resources on our website for public health guidelines, worship and service planning, prayers and litanies, public witness and advocacy, church finances, financial support, pastoral care, children and family, and youth.