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Worship - Monday Musing, August 24, 2020

Dear Church,

Worship. Worship is an act of religious devotion, which in our tradition occurs on Sunday. Christian worship involves praising God with music, liturgy, readings from scripture, prayers of various sorts, a message, and sacraments (i.e. communion & baptism). While worship is generally held in person, the coronavirus has forced all churches to continue with worship practices online, which The Federated Church of Orleans has done since before I began serving this congregation as your Pastor.

Churches in the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist Association have approached online worship differently, which isn’t surprising since in-person worship is equally varied. The approach I took when I first began ministry with you was to continue with online worship that mirrors your in-person worship to provide a sense of stability and familiarity.

At the start of this ministry, I envisioned bringing a more spiritual feel to the worship experience, thus moving the announcements to before the service began, introducing the Centering Silence, and including reflective Taize pieces of music. After a couple of weeks, it became clear to me that online worship is experienced far differently than a gathered community of faith. We modified our worship and then launched a congregation-wide survey in early July to query your viewing habits, likes and dislikes with what we are doing, and more importantly soliciting your suggestions to improve our online worship.

A huge shout out to Jeff Talmadge for posting the survey online and for compiling the results! The results of this survey have been reviewed by the Deacons as well as the (newly created) worship team. It was recently suggested that I reveal the results of this survey to the congregation, thus highlighting this information in today’s musing.

Many thanks to those who took the time to complete the survey – 66 people participated. Your comments and suggestions are invaluable for worship planning. Without question, in-person worship is dearly missed by our congregation, which goes without saying – but it must be said! The decision to move worship online was solely based on the global pandemic, and we will return to in-person worship once it is safe to do so.

And now the online worship survey results…

· 64% of respondents join us most or every Sunday;

· The majority of viewers (77%) watch on Sunday morning (64% Sunday morning with 13% later in the day) and 16% watch during the week;

· We asked those who have not been watching why, and the responses were varied. The most consistent response is that virtual services are not as meaningful as live ones, some said it was difficult to concentrate on their computer screen during the entire worship service, and some had technical reasons for not watching (computer/Internet). Many people used this question to express their desire that we return to in-person worship.

· 57% of our viewers use the bulletin, and 41% do not use the bulletin;

· On music, 70% either sing along or listen, and 30% skip over it.

· On prayers, 90% are attentive (do not skip over);

· On the preferred worship style, 42% prefer pre-recorded worship posted Sunday morning, 16% want live-feed then posted, 16% prefer live Zoom on Sunday then posted, 5% did not like any of these, and 21% selected “other” citing outdoor worship, any of the three items listed, confusion over the difference between the options listed, or reiterating the desire for in-person worship in the church;

· We asked what you liked about the recorded worship, and the responses varied – the sermon was frequently mentioned with positive comments, the fact that we continue to hold worship, staying connected to the church, the varied special pieces (beach communion, bell ringers, harp), and watching at a time that is convenient, among other comments;

· We asked what you did not like about the recorded worship, and many cited seeing an empty church, the vocal music, and missing being with people, among other comments;

· And finally, we asked how the worship team can improve your online worship experience, and the responses were plentiful – far too many to list them all. Some suggestions included shortening the worship service slightly, reducing the number of hymns and verses that we include in worship, and being creative by offering different elements in worship.

You will be happy to know that several of your suggestions have been or will be implemented – such as reducing the length of the worship service slightly, reducing the number and verses of hymns that are included, and providing an option of viewing just the scripture & sermon (posted Monday morning).

To echo one comment, we are doing the best we can under the circumstances. As much as everyone wants to return to in-person worship, I am uplifted by those who take the time to e-mail, call, or write me about worship and my Monday Musings. It is clear to me that when it is safe for us to return to in-person worship, we must continue to publish our worship service online. You will be surprised to hear that our worship service is being watched across the country! There are people who do not live in the Orleans area who are watching, and we do not want to lose this online congregation.

While online worship has been challenging to both the worship leaders as well as the congregation, our format is imposed on us for no other reason than COVID-19. I hear your pain of missing in-person worship. But please do not let a global pandemic come between us and the One we follow, the God we are called to serve. May we not overlook the Spirit of God who comes to us in new ways.




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