Though the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the masses, it hasn’t stopped First United Church or Unity Temple from providing comfort in the form of worship.
While both congregations announced last week their decision to halt in-person Sunday meetings, they have found a short-term solution in live streaming abbreviated versions of their services.
“We decided that we wanted to do something completely different than our normal Sunday worship for our live streams,” First United Lead Pastor John Edgerton told Wednesday Journal on March 13. “The reason we are doing that is because of the challenge of online worship and its possibility of feeling distant from the worship service. We are trying to build in a sense of intimacy.”
First United broadcast a live stream of its March 15 worship on YouTube and Zoom from the home of Mark and Sallie Smilie, members of the congregation. Music played, comments filled the side of the screen as people tuned into the broadcast, and a portion of Edgerton’s sermon addressed concerns with the unfamiliarity of the service’s format.
“We are going to be sharing our joys and concerns like we do in worship every week, so that will be familiar,” said Edgerton during his sermon. “But the way we are sharing these is going to be quite different.”
First United decided on March 10 that it would cancel in-person services until at least the end of March. In response, the congregation’s leaders had a quick turnaround in trying to find and set up the technology to hold the online service. The audio was shaky since it appeared the service was filmed through an iPhone, but it worked well enough for viewers to enjoy the experience.
Emory Mead, who has been attending services at First United Church since its founding in 1975, thought the church did a good job on short notice.
“It’s hard because I am a senior, and it’s one of the places I go weekly to see my friends,” said Mead. “Not being able to see them there is going to be difficult. But the service was good despite issues with sound. It was hard to hear the music. But other than that, it was great.”
Unity Temple, which will be closed the next three weeks, also dealt with the same uphill battle with live streaming its service without the congregation in attendance. It also broadcast its service on YouTube and Rev. Emily Gage recorded the story for all ages and uploaded it to the congregation’s channel.
Gage and Val Ridenour are coming up with ways to adjust the service as the coronavirus situation changes how people worship.
“We aren’t 100 percent sure what we are going to do or how we are going to do this each week,” said Gage. “We did it this way this week, and it worked fine. Val and I are trying to find ways to support families through different activities and possibly we will host a Zoom conversation so that lots of people can join in. We are exploring different online tools for everyone of all age groups to meet.”
Gage is part of a Facebook group called “UU Religious Professional Response COVID-19,” where Unitarian Universalists can discuss the proper methods of dealing with coronavirus. They have discussed virtual worship and the complexities that come with it.
“I would say the vast majority of my colleagues around the country did [virtual worship] for the first time today,” said Gage. “We are all figuring this out together.”
Unity Temple’s youth group, which predominantly consists of teenage Unitarian Universalists, is out of session. While the group didn’t meet in-person on March 15, some of the members hosted a video chat through the app Houseparty so the group could connect.
Youth Coordinator Justine Urbikas and the other leaders of the youth group are trying to find ways to support its members despite not being physically there. On March 15, Urbikas sent a four-line reading to the group chat the youth group has that reads:
“May words I say be fair and true/May love be a guide in all I do/May kindness sing within my heart/And may peace be with us while we are apart.”
“Youth group is really important to a lot of our youth,” said Urbikas. “Not having that face-to-face connection every week makes me curious to see how everyone will deal with it. We are doing our best to maintain a connection and continue to provide a safe space for them.”