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!

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  1. […] Synod of the Trinity to Host LIVE Webinar on ZOOM Gatherings, Wednesday, March 18 at 10 a.m. Webinar on Leading ZOOM WORSHIP NEXT Church Resources on Digital Church […]

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