A new way of thinking

By Isabelle Harris

The choir sings online to an audience it cannot see and ministers preach to parishioners they cannot hear. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic means churches can no longer meet in person, many are finding their ways to gather, such as the Welsh Church. 

They went virtual ahead of time on March 18 and after a few hiccups, including an uninvited “Zoom-bombing” online invasion of a bible study class, they are sailing ahead.

Reverend Sara Bishop of the church said that there were immense opportunities during the pandemic.

“We have discovered our online services are reaching more people,” she said. As more people attend the various services and classes the church offers, the church intends to continue online options after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

St Michael’s Uniting Church is also making use of technology to reach its congregation, with videos posted on YouTube for the Easter holidays and sermons posted to Soundcloud. 

Rev Dr Margaret Mayman of St Michael’s said that it was simply another form of connection. 

But in the age of such anxiety and stress, how does a church take care of its people?

The Welsh Church has set up an online lunch for young people and Facebook Live services, while St Michael’s has all sermons online for ease of access. 

Father Ben Hoh, a community leader at St Francis’ Catholic Church, said they were doing their best to reach out to their parishioners even though it has been hard to fully engage them online. 

“All [of our congregation] can ring and have a chat if they need to,” he said, adding that “priestly duties” of blessings and prayers were going ahead with precautions. 

St Francis’ church groups such as choirs, prayer and bible study groups have also been practicing via video conferencing services. 

“On a day-to-day basis, it [spirituality] is still important,” he said. 

However, Rev Bishop said those technologies could be emotionally draining even though they were useful. 

“There’s a great deal of care, so it’s very emotionally exhausting,” she said. 

Father Hoh agreed, saying that while they would continue to extend spiritual care, they also had to ensure they were not overburdened.

“We can’t just exhaust ourselves,” he said.

Rev Mayman said that the church had been “learning as they go.”

“There’s a lot of mutual support” she said. “Both for the congregation and the ministers themselves.”

For the foreseeable future, church activities and supports will continue online for all congregation members, forcing all to adapt in the face of the pandemic •

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