The Dilemma of Distancing

Thirty or so years ago, a preaching professor from Boston University – where I was a Master of Divinity student – came north to observe me live and in person leading a worship service in the church where I was an associate. He did not “zoom,” except maybe by driving up Rt 93. And while he was up north here, he gave me a tutorial in using my voice as an instrument — how to fill the cavernous space of an old sanctuary with clarity, emotion, and without sound equipment.

That lesson has stood me in great stead, and in the decades that followed I have spoken and preached in many a space without benefit of technology and to great effect.
And frankly, in seminary there was no training on how to use a microphone. We didn’t use much technology at all, except for an unending stream of cassette recordings that enabled us to capture the sounds of a service for shut-ins. Videos were occasionally requested by families for Christmas pageants and weddings…but on the whole, relegated to photographers. Who were not allowed to use a flash (at least in my neighborhood), lest the worship experience be upstaged by technology.

That has, of course, all changed (although more brides are making notice that guests should keep their phones in their pockets). When there were weddings. Sanctuaries with wifi meant worshipers could follow readings on their phones or iPad. When there were services in person.

The pandemic prompted a rush to ‘capture’ — and, suddenly, we clergy all needed to adapt. Video stream or pre-recorded and edited services. Marital and other counseling on Zoom. And, oh the online meetings; too often with people whose computer skills had previously only been to retrieve emails and shop. Sigh.

The churches I serve – here at the Shared Ministry and also at Bath Congregational – did parking lot drivebys and outdoor services. Where, inevitably, a computer would misfire. And in the north country where bandwidth is sketchy and streaming impossible.
We returned to indoor worship – and safely, with new protocols, as soon as we were able. Prompted mostly by the insistence of those who fall into the at-risk category of age because, well, PLACE.

This Advent season, I decided to at least try to capture the service on video and post later on Sundays. Just turn on the camera and let it run. Week One? the camera capacity shut down and we got the first half of the service at least. Week Two? a new camera and memory card managed to capture the whole of it. Complete with any gaffes, because, well, the experience was delivered as it happened.

And now Week Three. Where operator (me) error either misread the battery charged indicator, or the starter battery that came with the camera was faulty…or, it shut itself off when it didn’t detect enough ‘motion’ and went into power save. So, nothing captured.
We’ve ordered backup batteries. More memory cards. Re-read the manual. Reconfigured settings. In short, we’re leaning into the technology without the tools or training and doing the best we can – all the while, missing the touch. The time. The fellowship we can’t find online or outdoors or at a distance. But we will continue to explore and examine ways we can serve and continue to proclaim good news in the midst of what has been so much bad.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in what we prayed, and praised, read and rejoiced on Advent 3, there’s a transcript attached. It even includes the drafted message notes.
The rest of the experience will depend on your faith and imagination: grace to you all.