In the merry month of May…

by Holly Haile Thompson

“Wunneshauwanitoomoh – to all that is beautiful – Spirit of God” – Shinnecock Prayer

Mrs. Vicky Tarrant, Hidatsa from Fort Berthold; mother, grandmother, beloved; our hearts are broken. She and more than 200,000 people around the world have recently died from the Covid-19 virus. As our minds try to accept all that is going on in our world, in our families and in our lives – it is not the ‘merry month of May’ we might have anticipated 6
months ago.

The Revised Common Lectionary shows us the Gospel of John – with readings from chapters 10, 14, 17 and 20 – calling for an exclusive and excluding Divine Care? No, that would not only paint a narrow-sighted manifestation of the
Holy, and it too easily lends itself to misappropriation by the likes of Crusaders, anti-Semites, religious zealots – and those who see nothing wrong with cultivating what Dr. John Dominic Crossan identifies as the “genocidal germ” inherent in fundamentalism – and in other modes of ferocious self-righteousness.

A pandemic seems to be an ideal time to broaden our reflection; an ideal time to seek and to share in promoting various ways to care for one another. Sadly, it is also crucially necessary in this time to share ways in which to mourn all whom we must surrender to a most unexpected death – there has been and shall yet be lives and dear ones lost to this disease. Although John’s gospel expresses ‘farewell’ discourses this month, we do well to remember that we are not alone – in this world, even in this time of sickness or weakness. Making phone calls, writing letters and e-mails to ‘visit’
with those from whom we are separated; enabling young people to be OK even in the midst of the unknown, and to be OK with envisioning more than one alternative plan for their immediate future while showing them appreciation for
helping the elders in their families and in their neighborhoods. Continuing our justice work – by serving those whose suffering is due to – and is increased manifold by – this virus.

The John passages will show us cowering disciples, and we might well see ourselves trembling at what-all goes on round about us just now – but ‘fear not’ the divinity and holiness of Spirit is with those who tremble, not fearful but
empowering us to be creative beings, in the self-same image of our loving Creator.

Memorial Day – I’m aged enough to have grown up with old-folk who called the national holiday at the close of May “Decoration Day” – it is always a remembrance, the reading of the Honor Roll, decorating graves with flags and flowers, and generally honoring those who have, mostly, died too soon amid the conflicts and war zones that patriotism demanded. But this year, might we broaden our focus, and create a Memorial Day – dedicated to those now gone due to this illness, and strongly representing our commitment to caring for the living who are hurting, by caring for and remembering all those who have in these months lost their dearest loved ones, and who are grieving so deeply. Might we memorialize – not for embattlements, national or political enlistment, but to allow for all of us together to reclaim this ‘In Memoriam 2020’ and create a way to truly honor also those whom we could not memorialize with wakes and funerals – for it was not within our reach to do so. Strength, hope and honoring those now gone – and those now surviving – that is within our reach.

Inasmuch as we are not ‘waiting’ for the world to return to what it was several months ago, let us find ourselves ‘creating’ for newness; not waiting but creating mutuality in the struggles of societal division, of poverty, of racism, of classism, of ‘war-ism’, of the violence that has now visited millions of our neighbors in new and fierce circumstances. May we humbly recognize ourselves in each other, and take steps to walk new roads of love, and peace, and
health.


The Rev Holly Haile Thompson, DD is a blood member of the Shinnecock Nation, Long Island, NY, studied at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, IA, was graduated in 1985, ordained by the Presbytery of Western Colorado in 1986 becoming the first Native American Woman to become Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Holly served congregations in Colorado and in New York state, is a member of several churchwide committees including the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC), the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC), and serves on the Doctrine of Discovery Speakers Bureau, all of the PCUSA denomination. Currently, Holly volunteers with the United Methodist Church’s northeast Native American Ministries Committee – supporting the UMC ongoing ‘Act of Repentance’. Holly most recently concluded her service with 1st Presbyterian Church Potsdam, NY as Transitional/Supply Pastor to explore what an “Anti-Racist Church” might look like. She works with the Poor Peoples’ Campaigns of Northern New York and of Long Island. Holly is married to Kahetakeron Harry Thompson of Akwesasne, and together they share 7 children, 16 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. “May our paths lead us to a time when we shall live together in Peace on Good Mother Earth.”

Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on indigenous theology and the lectionary.

I’m an Asian-American pastor in a Black immigrant church in Queens, NY, sick with COVID-19 and family working in healthcare. Here’s what that’s like.

by Christopher De La Cruz

The ritual starts in the garage.

Sometimes it begins with my mother, an ICU nurse, spending a few minutes doing breathing exercises and collecting herself from a near panic attack. Other times, she just wipes the sweat off her palms. Either way, it then leads to my father, an ER nurse, watching at the door, wearing a mask and waving his gloved hand, as my mother walks to her car for the nightshift.

Both my parents came to America in their early 20s, when the country in the 1980s turned to Filipino immigrants during a mass nurse shortage. Now, naturalized citizens like my parents are once again serving America in a time of need. I wonder if, dealing with racism their entire lives and now witnessing Asian-American racism spread across the country, they feel bitter about a country they’ve given their lives to turning on them again and again. I feel bitter, but that feels self-indulgent.

My dad was able to retire at the beginning of this month, because of a heart condition that made him too vulnerable to work. That doesn’t make the garage ritual any easier. 

My mom knows she’s heading into a hellish crisis zone of overcrowded hospital rooms echoing with the sound of ventilators and the crushing rhythm of beeps and alarms – a place where my mom told me she “has gotten used to wrapping bodies.” 

My dad knows this is probably the closest they physically allow themselves to be. They have to sleep in different beds and spend most of the days they have together in different rooms so my dad doesn’t get infected.

The ritual ends with the car driving off, my dad lingering at the door just a little too long.

. . .

I have my own ritual, but it’s much shorter. Whenever my cell phone vibrates, I stop and take a breath.

I’m mostly worried about a phone call informing me one of my immediate family members has it.  In addition to my parents, my brother and sister-in-law both work in hospitals.

There have been a few times I’m actually yearning for the buzz, mainly waiting for more help from my doctor. At the end of March I was diagnosed with presumed-COVID-19 – presumed because in NYC if you don’t have serious symptoms you’re told it’s less risky to just stay inside than to get a test, and presumed because my chest tightness, body aches, and breathing discomfort made it obvious I have it. As of this writing, April 30, I am still experiencing symptoms. I suppose taking ritualized breaths is required for me to get better.

Other times, I have to take some breaths before picking up my phone not because of the call, but because I was just trying to help one young child do her math schoolwork remotely as my other child does somersaults off our couch again. Wait, did he finish his preschool Science video on the iPad yet? When do we get to play Netflix kids shows for hours? My wife and I exchange sighs throughout the day.

I experience pretty much every human feeling as I pick up the phone for congregants. I am the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, a diverse black congregation with over 30 nations represented and residing in one of the epicenters of the epicenters of this pandemic.

As with many other black and brown communities in the country, our neighborhoods are feeling the crushing weight of systems that had already been stacked against them prior to the crisis. Here we have a disproportionate amount of essential workers – healthcare workers, government workers, home health aides, grocers. (A quick shoutout, by the way, to the mom and pop stores off Jamaica Avenue waiting anxiously for PPP funds as Shake Shack received its now-returned bailout.)

And so there are the deluge of calls about someone being sick. Everybody in our community knows somebody. Over the phone, I’ve heard about a daughter who has not been able to hear from her elderly mother in a nursing home for months. I’ve listened to multiple people with family members that were starting to get better, but then died a few days later. I talked to a husband who had COVID-19 but stayed home while his wife, critically sick, was shuffled between hospitals and a makeshift center, cherishing the few Facetime calls he was able to have with her. 

I’ve learned about people dying though many different platforms: across Zoom, over text, in emails.

I would feel irresponsible if the only impression you got of our community was death and despair. We have a care team, officially and unofficially, that spend hours a week calling other church members to make sure they are alright. We have dedicated volunteers, decked out with face masks and gloves, who still come out for weekly food pantry and soup kitchen. I can’t tell you how many texts, calls and messages I alone have received from community members supporting me in my illness.

I am so proud of our church, and of our head pastor, Rev. Patrick O’Connor, for working with New York State and Community Healthcare Network to host a walkable COVID-19 testing site, the first in the city. Many folks in our neighborhoods rely much more on public transit and walkable communities than others.

Our church and the community we live in have always come together, have always risen above and not allowed ourselves to be defined by our circumstances; I wouldn’t expect now to be any different.

. . . 

I suppose as a pastor this is the point where I should make some grand statement about God and providence and salvation, or something. To be honest, though, I have had almost no time to reflect. I’m too in-the-moment and too wired in crisis-brain to have any profound, theologically-robust insight.

Mostly, I just have one more ritual to share with you. On days when I can, I wake up early, close my eyes, and then just sit with God. In silence. 

Just a little too long.


Photo credit: Cliff Mason

Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a diverse, immigrant Queens, NYC congregation with over 30+ nations represented. His role includes building a co-working space for young adult entrepreneurs, coordinating kids and family ministries, and helping in community organizing efforts. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Chris is a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and writes about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life.

The Grace of Achieving Nothing

by Adam Ogg

In the past month, I’ve been a part of multiple discussions that have asked the question “what do you want to get out of this? What’s your plan? How are you going to capitalize on this time?” I confess when I hear that question, I feel a sudden exhaustion, accompanied with guilt and embarrassment for not having those questions figured out. Maybe you have as well.

Pandemic or not, the work of the Church is to proclaim the Grace of God most fully known and seen in Jesus. As we’re all collectively operating more online in the time of quarantine, the Church is called to proclaim a word of Grace to fit the times. And a word of Grace the Church can proclaim for this time comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount:

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

I’m especially grateful for this word because right now the world wants to proclaim an extremely subtle word contrary to this Grace. This word is so enticing because it can appeal to us on a deep existential level, it can stave off boredom and make promises to help us be some place other than where we find ourselves in this time. And that word is “opportunity”.

Thought leaders, motivational speakers, leadership gurus, and yes, even church leaders and pastors talk a big game about this time during a Pandemic, when the world is flipped upside-down, as an “opportunity”.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

This so-called “opportunity” may be the chance to learn a new skill, or start a side-hustle, or do whatever it is you haven’t had the time to do, because if you’re of a particular privileged class, you’ve got tons of time on your hands. Never mind that this is a collective trauma we’ve gone through together and it’s harder to focus and function. Never mind that this only applies to people who work at home or don’t have young children to constantly take care of, feed, and educate. Never mind that people are trapped with whatever domestic abuse, or mental health struggles, or crippling isolation by themselves. This is an opportunity to maximize and increase and grow in ways corporate and individual, economically and spiritually.

There are churches in this time- on the Holy Saturday when I write this- who are responding to this pastorally by connecting and worshipping and caring for one another. Others rightfully see this as the time to speak out prophetically against the injustices in our healthcare, economy, and privilege to self-quarantine and social distance. And these are injustices that were always there, but being highlighted and revealed even more.

And yet, church leaders may very well be tempted to see this as a chance to start something new, and do something big, or use that strange word “opportunity”. It’s an opportunity to reach new people, it’s an opportunity to launch new ministries, it’s an opportunity to really grow the church. Those are all great things, but if we’re honest with ourselves, how many of us actually have the capacity to do something new right now?

In the best case scenario, many are pivoting: moving to Zoom, getting familiar with technology, trying to get our kids educated, learning how to teach and conduct business online. Yet for the millions who have filed for unemployment in the last month, or are struggling to live day to day, we’re not pivoting, the goal is survival.

I don’t think the word of Grace here is “opportunity”. I think the troubles of today aren’t “opportunities”, they’re apocalypses. “Apocalypse” as in: an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation. The faults in our society and our systems, our need to consume, how we do or don’t spend our money and what we all rely on as so fragile- all of that is being revealed.

But the apocalypse isn’t just about revealing what’s wrong, but a revelation of God to us as well. On Good Friday, Jesus proclaimed from the Cross in John “it is finished”. I can’t help but hear the flipside of that in Genesis 2, when God finishes creating and “finished the work”. Proclaiming Grace is about pointing to God’s revelation to us about what God has done, and what God is doing.

In light of God’s Grace, perhaps the question isn’t “what do you want to get out of this” or “how do you want to maximize on this opportunity”, as if a pandemic is something that we extract value and meaning out of. The Grace of God asks us instead “what is being revealed?” What do you see? What do you hear? What have you experienced? What are you going through?

There’s a very important distinction there, because there’s no wrong answer. The focus moves away from planning one’s way through a pandemic, and more on what God is doing right now, and bearing witness to it in the past tense- today has enough troubles, so how did you see God today?

Even if you’re like Job and the place of God in a tragedy is absolutely confounding, the Grace of God takes the emphasis off of what you have to do to “succeed” through a pandemic. Again, it’s an apocalypse, not a writer’s retreat, a hackathon, or Shark Tank.

A week and a half ago we experienced a…strange Easter about the other thing God has done, by resurrecting the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples couldn’t plan their way from Friday to Sunday, they simply did the best they could, and God revealed Jesus in completely unexpected ways. And the next Sunday, many churches heard the story of the disciples hiding with their fear and trauma, and that is exactly where God reveals Jesus as alive.

I’ve seen friends vulnerably and beautifully documenting their lives in real time, reflecting on what they’ve learned and the struggles they’ve overcome in this time, and I think that’s a good option. But the Grace of God says that even if that seems too much, if you don’t have the time and emotional resources to do that in public, that’s okay. We can reflect and grow, we can do interesting and cool stuff, but if just getting a load of dishes done after feeding the kids, or making human contact was enough for the day, God will still meet us.

The apocalypse of God shows us that God is at work, and the Church can point to the present instead, and echo with Jesus “Today has enough troubles of its own”.


 Adam Ogg currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke, VA.

Fighting Racism and Xenophobia in a Time of COVID19: We Overcome Together, Not Apart

by Shani McIlwain

My friend Candy is 20 something year old nail technician from Korea.  When we first met about a year ago, she thought I was a hair stylist because I would come in the middle of the day and she would ask “Are you off today?” I would reply, “No, I work for myself?”  She would respond, “Do you do hair?” To which I would reply, “No, ma’am, I did not get that gift. I write books and pray for people.” This exact conversation would repeat itself at least 3 or 4 times over the next few visits. And, then one day, unexpectedly Candy asked me what were my books about, and I shared my story, my faith journey, I won’t bore you with the details here, because this blog really isn’t about me, but it’s about relationships and community. But what happened that day as I shared the Good News was scripture coming alive.  First chapter of John in The Message translation says, “and the word moved throughout the neighborhood”. That is exactly what happened at Sky Nails and Spa that brisk fall afternoon. And that is the day Candy became part of my community.  

If we take a quick stroll down history, the Spanish Flu is said to have originated in Kansas not Spain, Ebola doesn’t even come from the Ebola River. Yet, in 2020 we are still having debates of how to classify and name global diseases.  Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese flu” is hateful and wrong for so many reasons. Many health organizations have openly admitted that naming a disease or virus after a country or region in the past was not good. Diseases are now supposed to be named after their symptoms, characteristics, and the cause of the disease if known. COVID-19 (coronavirus discovered in 2019).  I refuse to argue with people who want to debate in ignorance with, “Well, it did come from China!”

Edward Cho, newly named president of Bread for the World, condemned the President’s remarks, Mr. President: This is not acceptable,” he wrote in his tweet. “Calling it the “Chinese virus” only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians — here and abroad. We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides.”

To date, there have been over 1,000 xenophobia related hate crimes against our Asian sisters and brothers.  I watched a video of a woman on the bus being told violently to go back to China. I thought, that is someone’s mother, grandmother, friend, spouse. We must do better. We must hold our friends facing these acts of inhumanity in light. We must be better allies. There are times when we have shown up mightily and united in the face of adversity. We can do that again.  We are in uncertain times and the aftermath will last for years to come.   

I texted Candy the day I watched the video. I wanted to know how she was doing. She said they closed her job indefinitely in light of the slow business. This was before it was mandated to close.  I offered her prayer and told her I will be to see her as soon as the stay at home order was lifted. We will get through this pandemic – together, not apart. We will overcome together, not apart.  As we head into Holy Week navigating through a new normal for our churches, I think about how Jesus entered into a city that would crucify him days later. I think about His ultimate sacrifice, and how He came to set captives free, and to love unconditionally. He came to teach us how to live.  And, how through the saving grace of Jesus we can extend that same grace to each other. Together, we will be better.


Shani McIlwain serves as a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Taem. She is also a 5x bestselling author, radio show host, speaker, executive coach, She is a ruling elder at Faith Presbyterian Church where she has served for over 10 years leading various ministries and committees. She serves NCP as well as a Young Adult Volunteer board member, Spiritual Formation team, and CPM.

The Christian response to Coronavirus isn’t “Keep Calm and Jesus On.” It should be “Let’s Love Our Neighbors, Together (Even If From a Distance!)”

by Rev. Christopher De La Cruz

There’s an impulse among Christian circles to respond to the Coronavirus with platitudes like, “We’ll get through it, God is in control.” “Don’t fear or panic, trust in God.” “Have faith and hope that God will provide.” “We just have to pray.”

I do not necessarily disagree. In fact, I resonated with a timely and poingaint tweet from @Becky_Zartman, who writes:

“I keep thinking about how Julian of Norwich was a child of the Black Death, being 8 when it swept through Norwich. She also survived the Peasants Revolt and the Lollard persecutions. 

And yet. 

‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’”

But this tweet is grounded in real experience from a Christian saint that takes into account the gravity of the situation and a deep Blessed Assurance rooted in real suffering.

In contrast, in the face of a global pandemic that could infect thousands of vulnerable populations and overwhelm our nation’s hospitals to deadly proportions and has already caused mass uncertainty and upheaval to our lives, “Keep Calm and Jesus On” Christianity bears no witness to Christ. It rings as hollow as someone in a burning building screaming for help being met with a passersby retorting, “Well, don’t you believe in God? Shouldn’t you be more at peace?”

“It is Well with My Soul” – a hymn written amid unspeakable tragedy, turns into “Everything Will Turn Out Fine, Since It’s Been Fine So Far – For Me Anyway.”

In some senses, I don’t think this “Christian attitude” has much to do with Christian theology at all. A week before the mass sports and entertainment cancellations that have rattled Americans, a grocery store clerk looking at the massive lines of overstocked carts (and, admittedly, my own heap of canned beans and frozen goods) sneered at people he claimed were being driven “hysterical” and said he wasn’t going to “overreact” because even if it got to mass infection and massive lockdowns, things would work out fine and “they would never let it get that bad.” “They” being a vague conglomerate of government institutions or relief workers or somebody that was going to take care of things so it turned out ok.

He gave no indication of Christian belief or even any vague spirituality guiding him. But his sentiment was rooted in the same faith that things will just be okay because they just will, so help me God, or so help me “They.”

“Keep Calm and Jesus On” isn’t a “peace that passes all understanding.” It is a false faith born out of our idolatry of American exceptionalism that posits that nothing that bad, especially not massive death and hospitals running out of life-saving supplies, can happen in America. It is a false faith rooted in reckless positive thinking that, while at its best has some psychological coping merit, at its worst prevents people from actually being in touch with their emotions – including, yes, fear! – and accepting and therefore responding to the actual situation at hand.

And most tragically, it is a false faith that places the emphasis on self-survival and self-comfort and away from the mandate every Christian says they believe in, which is to “love your neighbor.”

What if “trusting in God” truly meant: let’s assess realistically what is happening around us and call it for what it is – probably really, really, really bad – and then say, okay, but what can we do to still love others? This seems much more in line with the Biblical prophetic naysayers like Jeremiah and Isaiah, anyway, doesn’t it?

What if Christians saw actions like social distancing and canceled large gatherings not as inconveniences for our individual personal survival but as collective loving of our neighbors together – even while apart? Part of the problem of modern American Christianity is that we have so bought into the myth of hyperindividualism that we don’t understand working as a collective or serving in solidarity as part of faith, ironic considering the literal collective-solidarity images like the body of Christ with many members or many branches rooted in the one vine of Christ.  Rev. Esau McCaulley’s plea for Christians to “Stay home” (www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html) makes sense when faith isn’t just about our individual relationships with God but our believing that God truly is working through all things, including you, Christians, acting out of love for all other human beings made in the image of God.

What if it was okay to acknowledge our own fear – and then work off that acceptance to call and comfort those I know who must be feeling fear and lonely themselves?

In other words, Christians need to really, well, believe, but understand what faith really looks like. Yes I do have faith! That’s why I believe that if this virus could affect people quickly, and I have any power to make sure that our doctors and nurses don’t get overloaded and then have to make awful life or death decisions about which patients get to have the limited ventilator (like has already occurred in places like Italy), then my faith is that God can use me and can use others for this, if we work together.

Forget the false hope of our hallow certainty. There is true peace life a river – all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well! – when we decide that despite the despair around us, Jesus followers choose to live out our call to love, even in ways that look differently than we’ve ever done them, and let God’s call to love be our guide in responding to the time we find ourselves in.


Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in New York City. He also serves on the NEXT Church Strategy Team.

Ten Facilitation Tips for Meeting Online

NEXT Church has been operating virtually for the past 7+ years, so we are super familiar with meeting online! Mostly, we have used Zoom, so we refer to that platform here, but we hope these tips will translate across different platforms. 

  1. Create a clear agenda. As you are creating the agenda, be very clear about what type of activity or response you need from the group (e.g., vote, discussion, FYI). People need more clarity when online than they do in the room. 
  2. Intentionally assign roles. It is harder to multi-task on a screen than in person. For instance, have someone host. Have someone run tech. Have someone take notes. Have someone record attendance or vote-counts. If you do introductions at the top of a meeting, it works best if the host invites people to share. That way everyone doesn’t jump on top of each other. 
  3. Welcome people! Greet people as they come on, just like you would in a room. If you are getting together with people you’ve not met, introduce yourself. Chat until the meeting gets started or let people know if you need to run and refill your coffee while things get moving. If people come in late, welcome them, but don’t rehash everything you’ve already done. And don’t forget to do a bit of extra narration for those on the phone only, who can’t see what’s happening on video.
  4. Some silence is ok. As the facilitator, you’ll be tempted to fill all the space. Don’t. Give a longer beat of silence when you ask a question or start a discussion than you would in the room. It’s also ok to check in about silence. “Does the lack of response mean you all agree? Or you are unsure? Or you didn’t hear me?”
  5. Discussions feel different over video than they do in a room. If the group is small and comfortable with each other, it will probably go fine. If it is a larger group or folks don’t know each other, often, only a few voices will get heard. So, see #5.
  6. Use breakout rooms! It’s like a turn to your neighbor feature. It’s great for relational things, prayer partners, small group discussion, or even committee meetings during a larger meeting. 
  7. It’s harder to read body language online than in the room. If the first few voices agree with an idea, it’s a good idea to ask something like, “does anyone have a different opinion?” It’s also helpful to remind participants that they will need to be responsive. If someone asks a question like, “Are we ready to move on?,” it’s helpful to give a thumbs up or actually say “yes.”
  8. Practice all the good facilitation skills you use in person. Ask the most frequent voices to give some space. Invite less frequent voices to share their thoughts. Intentionally check with the people on the phone who don’t have the advantage of the video to know when and how to break into the conversation.  
  9. Time management is key. 60-90 minutes is MAX over video and shorter is better. Consider adding time frames to your agenda.
  10. People logging in from their own space is a gift. Enjoy it when children pop onto the screen to say hello. Chuckle at the dog who jumps up on a lap. Ask about an interesting book on a shelf or poster on the wall or the orchid growing in the background. It’s a chance to get to know people in a different way. 

 

Ten Tips for Folks New to Online Meetings

NEXT Church has been operating virtually for the past 7+ years, so we are super familiar with meeting online! Mostly, we have used Zoom, so we refer to that platform here, but we hope these tips will translate across different platforms. 

  1. You can do this! If you are unsure, do a test run and check out the Zoom FAQs. 
  2. Set yourself up well. 
    1. Find a place with good wifi/internet connection. If you get a message at any point that your internet is unstable, give it a minute and it will likely resolve. If not, you can try logging back in or calling on the phone.
    2. If you are able, attend on video. It helps everyone feel more connected. 
    3. Have headphones available in case there is some background noise or echoing. (If you are typing during the call, that can usually be heard if you aren’t using headphones.)
    4. Pull up the login information five minutes before so that you aren’t five minutes late.
    5. Grab some water or coffee ahead of time.
  3. Say hello! Treat the start like any other meeting. Say hello and introduce yourself if you are meeting with folks you don’t know. 
  4. Check your name when you join. Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of your picture once online. Click “Rename.”
  5. Choose your view – gallery view (think Brady Bunch grid) or speaker view (current speaker is large). The selection button is found in the upper right corner and will only change your personal viewing screen.

    Gallery View

    Speaker View

  6. Don’t forget, we can see you and hear you! Mute yourself when you aren’t talking, especially in large groups, to cut down on background noise. You can turn the video/sound off if something awkward happens or you need to move away to take care of something. (Pro tip: Don’t vacuum while you are on a video call. It happened.)
  7. Be responsive. Silences are more awkward online. If a question is asked, jump in or give a thumbs up or put something in the chat box. Also notice if you are talking too much and pull back a little bit. If your (unofficial) role in the group is to keep things moving, you might pull back by saying aloud, “I have a few thoughts but I have spoken a lot; I’m curious what others think.”
  8. If you are calling in on the phone, say, “This is [insert your name here]” before you start talking. That helps orient people to who is saying what.
  9. Use the chat feature to converse with other participants in the meeting. You will find this at the bottom toolbar, among other useful tools, including how to leave the meeting. The chat function is great for:
    1. sharing a document or web address
    2. asking a question or making a comment if you can’t jump into the conversation
    3. cracking a joke
    4. saying hello or goodbye, if you don’t want to interrupt
  10. Receive the gift of seeing people in their own spaces! Ask about an interesting plant or knick knack. Wave to children or housemates who wander in. Enjoy the antics of pets. Marvel at the gift that is technology that allows us to connect this way.

You really can do this! It will get easier as it becomes more familiar.

Resources for Doing Church Digitally: A NEXT Church Response to COVID19

We at NEXT Church are committed to equipping faith leaders and congregations and much of our work is done through a virtual medium. Given this, we’ve prepared several resources that we hope pastors and churches find helpful as they seek to live out community and faith in this time of uncertainty. Find below a sermon and related resources for reflection and worship that you are welcome to share with your own congregation if you are refraining from holding in-person services this Sunday and in the weeks to come. Below that, we’ve also included some general tips for digital community development and worship. In whatever ways your communities gather in the weeks to come, we encourage you to do whatever you can to honor our call to justice and offer support and care for those who are facing anti-Asian racism, as well as immigrant churches and communities who are particularly vulnerable.


Sermon – Kathryn Johnston:

In the closing worship service of the 2018 National Gathering in Baltimore, Rev. Kathryn Johnston invited us to consider the “holy way” of community. This sermon seems appropriate for this moment as we think about community in a time of “social distancing.” Rev. Johnston’s reflections on stereotypes remind us even in a time of pandemic and political divide, not to let stereotypes compromise our engaging another’s humanity. She also reminds us of the ways we can show up to support one another in times of need.


Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever been side-swiped on the holy way?
  • Have you ever almost missed someone on the holy way because you were on the holier-than-thou way?
  • How have our churches missed people on the holy way because they are on the holier-than-thou way?
  • Kathryn says, “Any time a line is drawn, Jesus is on the other side. Friends, we can’t stay where we are. God calls us to the holy way. It’s a risk. We prefer our comfort zones. We like what we know. The more we dig in the more comfortable our rut becomes. Soon its almost impossible to move us as we have dug ourselves so far in that we are surrounded by protective barriers. A foxhole of the familiar. And we are moving nowhere.”
    What is your foxhole of the familiar? Where are you most comfortable?
  • Kathryn invites us to get out of our ruts and move to unfamiliar places – to go willingly into the wilderness so God can do a new thing because that is the holy way.
    Where might God be calling you? Where might God be calling your gathered community?

Worship Liturgy:

Call to Worship

One: Spirit that lives among us:
All: We see life here in our testimonies, in our tensions, and in this community.
One: Spirit that walks us through death:
All: We are aware of the deaths we experience, the grief we carry, and the pain we bear.
One: Spirit that burns as we rise:
All: We desire to resurrect, to restore, to reconcile; to rise into your call.
One: Spirit that teaches us as we live again:
All: As we worship together, let us live into the new creation that God calls us to be.

Song: Our Life is in You


Confession

Left: We stand in the desert and are consumed with the death that surrounds us
All: Creator let the new life begin
Right: We trust our own abilities and language to breathe newness into desolation
All: Creator let the new life begin
Center: We are parched and thirsty when speaking your truth
All: Creator let the new life begin

Left: We notice people linking arms in the streets
All: Creator let the new life break forth
Right: We feel communal laments of injustice
All: Creator let the new life break forth
Center: We experience the tension of a kindom that is not yours
All: Creator let the new life break forth

Left: We long for unity over oppressive systems
All: Creator let the new life blossom
Right: We yearn for connections that come with vulnerability
All: Creator let the new life blossom
Center: We crave courage to break through our deserts of fear
All: Creator let the new life blossom

Song: Draw Me Closer


Assurance/Peace

The desert is not dead:
Even the sand and dust of our lives
Give testimony to God’s abounding grace and healing,
Revealed in our living, dying, rising, and new life.

God takes all we have
In the desert times of our lives
And leads us into new vistas,
With vision, songs of joy, wellsprings of water.

And now, we invite you desert-wanderers
To live into this proclamation of grace,
By sharing the peace that Christ shares with us,
Stepping out of your contexts and comfort zones.

As you are able, please move to a new place in this room,
Staying there for the rest of the service,
And sharing the peace of Christ along the way.

Sharing the Peace

The Peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.

Scripture

Voice 1:The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
Voice 2:The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
V1:Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
V2: “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. God will come and save you.”
V1:Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
V2:For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
V1: A highway shall be there,
V2:and it shall be called the Holy Way;
V1:the unclean shall not travel on it,
V2:but it shall be for God’s people;
V1:no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
V2:No lion shall be there,
V1:nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
V2: they shall not be found there,
V1:but the redeemed shall walk there.
ALL: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
V1:and come to Zion with singing;
All: everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
V2: they shall obtain joy and gladness,
All:and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Sermon


Song: Everlasting Life


Communion

Invitation to the Table

Come to this table,
You who have walked through the wilderness and dwelt in the deserted places-
Have you been fed?

Come to this table,
You who have seen the first signs of spring and have been longing for the blossom to break forth-
Have you been fed?

Come to Christ’s table.
Rise and bloom in the wilderness.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

May the Creator of the Holy Way be with you.
And also with you.
Do not be afraid, people of God, but lift your hearts to the holy One.
Our hearts will be filled with God’s hope and grace.
Children of God, offer songs of goodness to the One who keeps faith forever.
We offer glad praises to the One who comes with justice.

You carved a holy way
through chaos, Creating God,
rejoicing with Word and Spirit as
The waters of creation
Burst forth to form rivers where there had been only dry land.
Those same waters continue to give us life in all its beauty and biodiversity.
Despite these gracious gifts we continually turned away from you.
Patiently, you sent prophets to us,
who urged us over and again to return.

Holiness is the path you walk, Gracious God,
and, in your mercy, you sent your Child, Jesus,
To bring justice for all people,
To lead us along the path of redemption.
He gives us vision where we cannot see,
Ears to hear what we do not want to hear.
When we are worry, world, and work weary,
he comes to strengthen our feeble knees,
And put to work our weak hands.

Truth be told, there are lots of deserts in our lives,
Places that are dying or already dead.
We know the pain—and so do those around us—
of keeping up the facade;
Spring up in us like blossoms in the desert,
Put us to leaping, give to our voice songs we have not sung in a long time.
Put us back on the holy way that leads to everlasting joy.

Come to us in our silent contemplation
As we prepare our hearts to receive this spiritual food

Silence

Gather your people now,
and lead us along the holy way to the Table
where the Spirit anoints the bread and the cup
and blesses all who have come for this feast.

Words of Institution


Sharing of the Bread and Cup


Prayer


Closing Song: Summons


Some Things to Think about if You are Sharing Stuff Virtually:

  • Share what you can and curate from others! We don’t all need to reinvent the wheel. If your church is livestreaming worship, share it with others. If you already do a bible study online, invite others beyond your congregation to join. If your church is doing something creative with children’s ministry as kids are home from school, share it! 
  • Be thoughtful about sharing to a wider group than you normally do. If you are livestreaming or recording a sermon, recognize that people outside your normal congregation might see it. Welcome them! Encourage them to continue engaging in their local congregation, particularly around offering monies because the economic impact of this is likely going to be severe and most challenging for those already living with less.
  • Trust the leaders in particular communities. People are going to make different choices right now based on individual circumstances. Let’s support each other in those decisions and not shame each other. (Except about washing hands. Everybody wash hands!)
  • Work together in your community. Perhaps the community will be well served by congregations working in tandem so that similar patterns are happening with building closures, worship services, etc across a given community. 
  • Be thoughtful about caring for the most vulnerable in our communities. Taking worship online is a possibility. Serving a meal virtually is not. How can we safely offer resources to the most vulnerable?
  • Consider: What opportunities for creative collaboration might be possible? 
  • Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation uses social media. If you’re livestreaming services, consider whether/how people who don’t have Facebook can see the video.
  • Teach your congregation how to use the technology necessary to participate in virtual community
  • Lead with grace and honesty. Don’t stress over leading a perfect worship service over Zoom. Write a prayer and email it if that’s the capacity you have. Grace abounds!
  • Be mindful of the prevalence of anti-Asian racism as well as the impact of this crisis on immigrant churches and communities who are especially vulnerable. Consider ways you and your congregation can work for justice and support and care for the folks being impacted in these particular ways.

Please also check out the guidelines for livestreaming services included in this piece from the PC(USA).


We’d love feedback about whether the above information is helpful to you and your context and what other ways we can support you in this time. Please let us know!