Rose Window at St. John of the Divine explained on Youtube
Worshipping in the Sanctuary of Zoom
Little did I know when I wrote God Online: A Mystic’s Guide to the Internet that I would be spending ten months leading worship and teaching adult faith formation classes on Zoom. Like most in our congregation, I have missed the face-to-face contacts, passing of the peace, hugs and sharing communion, and fellowship times and potluck suppers after worship. But I have found something in the process. I have experienced greater intimacy with many members of our congregation and have reached out through worship and teaching to persons across North America. We have discovered that there is no distance in prayer and that communion is a non-local phenomenon as real in our living rooms as in the church sanctuary.
Alfred North Whitehead notes that higher organisms initiate novelty to match the novelty of the environment. We must adapt, create, and anticipate unexpected change, affirming and transforming traditional practices in response to environmental changes. Our time has been novel and has invited us to be creative and adventurous in approaching worship, faith formation, and pastoral care. Although I am not skilled in online technology, I have found that social media can be holy. Zoom can become the holy of holies, with every face a mirror to divinity. God is present in all things. God’s wisdom touches every moment of experience. Accordingly, Zoom can mediate God’s presence as fully as in-person relationships.
Most of our congregational Zoom worship and study gatherings follow the “gallery” or “Brady Bunch/Hollywood Squares” approach. While it was a bit distracting for me as a preacher and teacher at first, I have found this to be a vehicle for prayerful contemplation. The gallery approach not only invites us into other persons’ living rooms and kitchens. It also enables me to focus on persons’ faces in real time more clearly than I was previously able to do during in person worship. As I lead worship or listen to my colleague reading scripture, I focus prayerfully as I see the faces of individuals in our congregation. I am often able to see the divine light shining from them and to feel a different kind of connection.
Process theology affirms the intricate interdependence of life. The whole universe conspires to bring forth each moment of experience and each moment of experience shapes the future beyond itself. We are joined, constantly creating and being created by our relationships with one another. Social media, Zoom, Facebook Live, can awaken us to a deeper, non-local interdependence. Regardless of distance, we are united in the deeper, graceful connectedness of life.
As a new year begins, our congregation will have new opportunities for worship and study. I am already pondering how to do old things in new ways. I am seeking to initiate novelty to match novelties that will emerge in the next several months. I am reflecting how to do Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes at a distance. I am working with our staff to plan our Annual Congregational Meeting, joining the traditional business meeting with our worship service. When the weather warms up in Spring, we are looking at more creative ways to bring our congregation together – in person on our lawn, in the parking lot, and at a nearby beach. But Zoom will continue to be a living reality for us well beyond the pandemic.
To my surprise, I have found God online in the faces of congregants singing in their siloes, in children participating in the Christmas pageant, in prayer concerns shared in Zoom worship, and in conversations on Zoom after church. In our social media adventures, we have more fully experienced the “fellow sufferer who understands” and the “joyful companion who shares.” We have discovered that God moves through the novelty of our time to join us with one another in the Graceful Interdependence of Life.