As the TV news looks at the different ways that we have engaged with television, streaming and movie watching over this past strange year so I have been thinking again about how peoples' engagement with worship services has been affected too.
For a couple of weeks I have been doing the two sermonic practices of Covid-19 times. One has become too familiar, gazing into camera for the online service. The other is almost stranger, looking out at a small percentage of my congregation all wearing masks which makes connection impossible. As I preach I have masked faces looking blankly at me in a way that makes me feel that I am mad (maybe true, I hear you say!).
I have worked hard to get used to both and to make the most of them. That is my job and I have always been determined since my first talk in the upstairs room in the Sloan Hall at Harryville Church in 1979 to do the very very best I could, with God’s help, every single time I speak. I actually have a fear of not being good.
In spite of all the masks ( I seem to have been able to ignore the blankness) and empty pews I have come to love the live preach again. I am standing in my five square feet of vocational real estate. That gives me a familiarity and confidence.
Then there is the live worship. Without doubt there is an adrenaline that comes off our Fitzroy worship bands that fires my inspiration. Two weeks ago it was George Sproule’s guitar solos and this past week Norman McKinlay harmonising with Alison McNeill.
So, if I would be honest and vulnerable enough to share the back stage chatter these past two weeks, I have driven home wishing that the recorded sermon that I, and the majority of Fitzroy, are about to watch on-line had been as good as the live one I have just preached!
Then something weird. The on-line sermons always sound better on Sunday than on the Friday or Saturday when I record. I am convinced God does some serious editing over the weekend!
So, I guess as someone with my reason to be on the planet it is good that I have learned to do my vocation in whatever circumstances. My fear though is that when we get back to full gatherings that the impact of the sermon will not reach that of the on-line.
I have gotten so many more responses to my on-line sermons. Specific ones. Personal. It has been quite astonishing on a weekly basis. If I got one thank you or personal comment per week before lockdown I would have been happy. I now receive messages for most go the week after an on-line service.
There might be various reasons for this. The first is obviously that every single person is in the very same circumstances. When I apply the text to Coronavirus everyone gets it. I also think that there is something about lack of distractions. There is a lot that happens in a crowded Fitzroy on a Sunday morning.
We might also be a generation, after 60 years of television, more conditioned to concentrating on a screen in our front room. Finally the on-line service is shorter and hasn’t the ”dead air” of people walking up to read or pray or take part in other ways.
Whatever the reasons, though there are some who do not enjoy the on-line church experience, I am under some pressure to make sure our ‘new different’ gatherings can be as spiritually potent as what we have been doing, and will continue to do, on-line. I look forward to that challenge.