Equal together with virtual church

Elizabeth Harrison, our colleague in the Community Engagement team at Livability, and a member of St Mary’s Walworth shares her experience of virtual church, online. We hope you’ll be encouraged by her story to overcome the stumbling blocks of muted microphones and a half – headshots to find the new gifts it can offer.

On Sunday, for the first time, my church met online. While we’ve used Facebook live to stream our meetings for years, this was the first occasion where the vast majority of us were at home. The service was broadcast on Facebook, then a Zoom chat opened up during the Peace, and for coffee after the service. I loved it, and thought I’d reflect on what, for me, were the highlights.

Back to the essentials of worship

The illusions of being slick and professional disappear when the service only has two people present. While our priest led all the bits of the service he usually does, all of the other roles fell to the churchwarden attending. She was head server, reader and notice-giver. She said and sang the responses on our behalf and was one half of the choir. While it all worked, it was a big change from everyone bringing the varied and considerable gifts they’ve cultivated over decades. It drew us back to the essentials of worship – that the point is to bring our thankful hearts to God, not just to create a slick performance. That God loves to hear our prayers when they’re said alone in pyjamas or when sung in a melodious choir wearing our Sunday best.

Sharing from our hearts, and homes

Being in our homes helps us to share more intimately. Our usual church conversations start with small talk and some don’t extend far from there, but online people spoke together about their fears for family members, their go-to hobbies when stuck indoors, the foods they missed and couldn’t get hold of. Someone had started baking again, and a child piped up that he loved sourdough and could he have some! I’m hopeful that this new way of being together will help us to share from our hearts, to open up our lives, to know each other more closely and so love each other more fully.

Equal together

Everyone becomes equal in online church! When nobody could see or hear you, there was now no distinction between those who stand easily and those who struggle, between those who sing in tune and those who can’t. A newcomer was watching who hadn’t been to church for years. At the Peace, we saw all the faces on the screen next to each other, not some in places of leadership and others sitting meekly at the back. And after church, the little ones were just as able to join in the conversation as the most articulate adults.
So hand in hand with the loss of being together in person, I’m excited for what this new way of meeting can bring – authentic worship, deeper love for each other, and a new equality between us.

Elizabeth Harrison, 
Special projects coordinator,