From grandparents mastering new technology to home-delivered faith resources for families, Uniting Churches are finding ways to hold people together as communities of faith.
Many ministers and lay worship leaders have made extraordinary efforts to create opportunities for virtual worship through either pre-recorded or livestreamed services each week.
For many this has been unchartered territory but with some unexpected joyful results, as people have shared in conversations in the Assembly’s Transforming Worship Circle.
Some celebrated turning up to Church in their pyjamas, while others have enjoyed being ”face-to-face” during worship. Others remarked on the transformation of our homes into sacred spaces, bringing the Church into the world in a new way.
While there’s been concern that older members would not feel confident or comfortable with the technology required, many have reported congregants in their 80s dialling in over the phone or connecting online to worship, including some who would normally be too unwell to attend a service.
Canberra Region Presbytery Minister Rev. Dr John Squires shared how an Admin Staff member at Tuggeranong Uniting Church has been helping the older single members of the congregation to download the Zoom teleconferencing platform and join in each Sunday.
Some churches have found their congregation at worship on Sunday as much as double in size with new people joining online services, especially younger people.
In some places, people are inviting friends and neighbours more often.
Some communities have celebrated the fact that families who have moved to different locations around the world have had the opportunity to reconnect and be a part of their weekly worship.
Online services are offering greater opportunities for engagement too. When it comes to the time for the Prayers of the People, congregants are typing in their prayer requests in the comments section of the livestream.
Post-service morning teas have also become an online affair, with many making the most of the break-out groups function Zoom to create to connect with people for a cuppa and chat from their own lounge rooms or kitchens.
Rev. Lindsay Cullen commented, “It’s been really good to speak to a variety of people I wouldn’t normally speak to at our ‘live’ morning tea!”
People have celebrated the creative sacred spaces in people’s own homes which have become places of worship, bible readings shared from lounge rooms and prayers said from the backyard.
Worship leaders have made a significant effort to ensure services are participatory for everyone, including the youngest members of the family.
Jennifer Campbell shared how Glen Iris Rd Uniting Church took Messy Church online using Zoom. “It was very messy and totally awesome!” she reported.
“Families were emailed in advance so they could gather the suggested materials for activities - or have time to think of a substitute. Families were muted during readings and explanations - and there was “open chat” during the activities. This part is chaotic!”
Tanya Walker from Benalla Uniting Church has involved families in preparing an element of worship together and then sharing with the group.
Not all worship is happening live or online. Other congregations are spending time carefully creating resources for people to use in their own homes to nurture their prayer life.
Rev. Darren Wright from Gungahlin Uniting Church has been creating resources for families to worship together at home.
“Over Easter we hand delivered the Illustrated Ministry Stations of the Cross devotional with some of our own reflections and gave out some resources for families to use.”
As well as creative resources – see his “Home Brewed Worship” page – Darren is planning to invite families to also create resources to share with the community, whether that be in the form of drama, Lego creations, prayer or song.
Rev. Sally Douglas at Richmond Uniting Church in Melbourne is also sharing resources on different practices to nurture individual prayer life. Her first is on the Awareness Examen.
Others have enjoyed sharing in worship with ecumenical friends from different denominations and ministry leaders across Churches are exploring how they can collaborate together.
With many people looking to their community of faith for a sense of hope and spiritual support right now, the creative, thoughtful and exhaustive ways people are serving in the Uniting Church is a precious gift to our world right now.