Journey out of lockdown – return to the Church building with communion

Yesterday was our first opportunity to meet again physically after the second English lockdown.  After the first lockdown, we kept things simple at the building. We decided not  to recommence communion and we continued to stream a Facebook service from someone’s home which people could then opt to watch at the building.

Yesterday we did three things differently

  • The service was streamed live from the building
  • Everyone was joining in at the same time whether on Zoom, Facebook or physically in the building
  • We shared communion together.

Here are some observations and lessons learnt. First of all, prior to the second lockdown we set out rows of seats and then instructed people where to sit on arrival to ensure social distancing. Yesterday, we had the building configured ready for a funeral coming up where people will be pre-booked in. The result was that we ended up with a lot of wasted chairs as people on their own sat In double seat spaces.  I suspect we will return to the row format after the funeral.

We also realised that we must look carefully at where we film from. I operated the laptop/OBS so that it was my webcam that was used and this meant that we were under the projection screen to be near to cabling and plug points Whenever we changed between power point and desktop, this affected the lighting. We will be looking to get some extension options this week so we can move the lectern back central. Also, just as you do sound checks for normal church, sound checks and what is coming through on Facebook is very useful as it is harder to respond to issues in the building than sat at home.

One risk is that because people cannot sing that we may end up sitting sedentary and becoming an audience. We have sought to minimise this risk in various ways over the past few months to encourage a sense of congregation worship. This has included opportunities to read scripture or liturgy together, teaching sign language for songs and getting people to stand for corporate prayer.  Yesterday people seemed to feel free to stand during the songs, lift their hands and clap along.

During the service, one member had their tablet on the Facebook page which enabled them to encourage chat interaction as the Facebook host.  We share the service to Zoom by having an additional laptop with someone sharing their desktop so people on zoom can see the Facebook version.  We may have been a bit WIFI heavy yesterday though.

When we moved to communion, we ended the Facebook stream and invited those watching to join the Zoom call. We also joined Zoom from the main hall.  This meant that I joined the Zoom call from the front whilst my wife who was doing projection also joined zoom so that those in the hall could see those joining on Zoom. 

For communion we opted to use pre-packaged and sealed communion.  This comes in a container similar to the sort of thing you get UHT milk at hotels in.  There is a foil covering and then a further seal with a wafer underneath.  These were passed round on a tray.  I’ve seen various suggestions for how to share communion. My favourite for innovation remains Steve Kneale’s method at Oldham Bethel where they have used pre-cut bread with cocktail sticks. However, I think our decision was wise for our context as it minimised any work that we needed to do at the Chapel building.  I think that the less stress there is involved in organisation and logistics for those physically present the better.

The sense of togetherness was encouraging. It has been a long journey through COVID and I suspect the journey out of lockdown will still be long and challenging but these are glimmers of hope for a return to more normal life soon. There is a now and not yet sense to what we are doing now. It is better than being isolated at home but also reminds us that we have a long way yet to go.

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