Virtual Gathering, Real Community
by Nathan Kirkpatrick
Recognizing the unprecedented nature of these circumstances, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are all facing an extraordinary challenge. We recognize that often our human and religious capacity for creativity comes through community. And so, even as we maintain social distance, we seek to be gracious toward ourselves and one another. We have genuine strength and purpose as communities of faith. It is our responsibility as leaders within those communities, to not only acknowledge fear and grief but also shine a light on all that is good. Our faith commitments provide great meaning during such difficult times, and they also demonstrate the remarkable ministry and civic action taking place in communities around the world. Lake Institute is grateful to the Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick for sharing with us about his experience leading in his Episcopal congregation in this time. Nathan is the Managing Director of Alban at Duke Divinity School, and a member of Lake Institute’s adjunct faculty.
On March 12, my bishops announced that, based on the CDC’s recommendations, all in-person worship, meetings, and activities in churches across the diocese would be cancelled through March 28 (subsequently, they have extended this through May 17). As a priest associate in a small-membership congregation, I remain grateful for their decision because it liberated our congregational leaders from debating and deciding whether to “have church” or cancel book group or postpone children’s activities. Instead, their decision freed our leaders to respond to this moment prayerfully, thoughtfully, creatively and experimentally. We have been able to focus on how we support and sustain community in a time when we all need it. We’ve been able to dream – and grieve – what Holy Week and Easter will look like on Zoom instead of in person.
Our first experiment in Zoom-ed worship came on Sunday March 15th. Our leadership chose Zoom rather than a streaming service so that there could be interaction among those who participated, so it would feel more like church and less like a spectator sport. We see our ministry as bringing people closer in this time – not letting technology distance us further. To my great joy, the interactions began before the service. As each new person logged on, the community cared for itself. “Where are you?” people would ask. “How are you coping?” “Do you need anything?” When it came time for the service, I tried to manage (lower) expectations – “This is an experiment, and we hope that the technology will work for us. At times, this video may sound like Babel. But, in this moment, it’s important that we hear each other.” I wish I had said Pentecost because that would have been more accurate – the cacophony of voices was the sound of church being born in a new way.
At the end of worship, we shared announcements. I had planned to say “We are finding ways of staying connected. Stay tuned.” But, again, the community’s imagination took over. Numerous invitations to “virtual coffee” and “virtual meals.” An offer of yoga on Facebook Live. Folks offered to buy groceries for our shut-ins and others worried about going to the supermarket. The musicians would send links to concerts for those who are missing music in worship and the arts in their lives. And for those who are experiencing tech troubles, several people offered to help navigate Zoom, Facebook and Google Hangouts.
As we imagine gathering this way for the next eight weeks, at a minimum, our work is now shifting to new questions – not only how do we support and sustain our parish community, but how might this time be an invitation to deeper participation in the mission of the church? How might this time form us as people of faith, hope and love in a world that desperately needs all three now more than ever?
Thinking Pastorally and Practically About Money in this Moment
by Melissa Spas
While creative online convening brings many gifts, we are also mindful of the 78% of all congregational giving that typically takes place in the context of physical gathering, as our NSCEP study found, and the adjustments that will be required for faith communities to practice stewardship as discipleship during this time.
The same pastoral sensitivity that Nathan and his parish leadership brought to their first online worship will also enable vital, invitational stewardship. In fact, he and his leadership have had an active conversation about this very question, and are moving forward with inviting continued participation in the life of the parish, through online Christian education, fellowship, and giving. We see how essential it is to think both pastorally and practically about money in this moment. Stewardship of financial resources matters for the life of the congregation, and also for the ministry of the parish beyond those who gather there. Even while we think about the financial challenges facing our own congregations and organizations, we are also considering the impact of this crisis on the people and work we care about, individually and through mission or community outreach.
We wanted to share some ideas on a few topics related to generosity, and some related resources for your consideration.
- Planning and tools. Do you have the information that you need to make informed decisions? Are you convening your board or council, so that you can discern best next steps together, while communicating with the whole community or external stakeholders? Do you have the technology, know-how, and resources that you need? This article from the United Church of Christ offers some wonderful practical suggestions.
- Fundraising is, now as always, about relationship, and faithful stewardship invites those we are in relationship with to consider how they will participate in the mission of the organization. Generosity is a natural, faithful response in times of crisis, and we can invite and nurture that impulse. This article from Horizons Stewardship offers additional thoughts on this topic.
- What and how we communicate matters, particularly when inviting people to give in this uncertain time. We hope that your invitation to give (by sending a check in the mail, giving online, or by other digital means) can still emphasize the distinctives of our faith traditions, highlighting the mindset of abundance over scarcity. This article from the Jewish Federations of North America focuses on the ways of being connected with donors in this crisis.
Responding to this crisis is contextual and rooted in the particular needs, challenges, and assets of our own organizations and communities. Lake Institute’s broad focus on faith and giving means that we are committed to helping you consider what that might mean for your religious community in this moment. What other practical considerations do you have?
Insights, a bi-weekly e-newsletter, is a resource for the religious community and fundraisers of faith-based organizations that provides:
- Reflections on important developments in the field of faith and giving
- Recommended books, studies and articles
- Upcoming Lake Institute events