COVID reflections 2 – Technology

At first we all thought that the quarantine was only going to last for a couple of weeks. Then it stretched out to a month. Then six weeks. Then – nobody knew, just that it was a long time. Fear, hardship and hopelessness became the order of the day.

Thousands of churches closed their doors for good. Other churches laid off staff and drastically cut the services they offered. Donations plummeted.

Some congregations defied (or denied) the COVID-19 epidemic. A couple of miles from Springfield Friends, an evangelical congregation went ahead with services – dozens of people including the pastor got sick and 3 died.

Many churches experimented with technology to share worship services, using Zoom, FaceBook, YouTube, Vimeo or other programs. At Springfield Friends, we use FaceBook to post weekly worship messages and Bible studies.

Our experience has been mixed. Our posts have been extremely simple, recorded with a smart phone and posted with minimal editing or visual effects. A few times we made videos of hymns and children’s messages. Once we started holding in-person worship again, we tried making live recordings of worship but the video and especially the sound quality was very poor, and we didn’t have either the money to invest in better equipment or a group of volunteers to run it and do the necessary editing on a regular basis every week.

We did have great success with a couple of special videos which lifted the spirits of everyone in the meeting. One of our traditions at Easter, going back for many years, is the “Flowering Cross”. It’s a large, ugly cross covered with chicken wire, with a crown of thorns perched at an angle on top. On Easter morning, people bring hundreds of flowers, and during a special part of the service they come up to the front of the worship room and decorate the cross, turning it from a symbol of death into a symbol of life and beauty.

We couldn’t do the Flowering Cross in 2020 or 2021 because of the need to maintain safe social distancing, so one of our members, Tom Terrell, came up with an alternative. Tom took hundreds of photos as another member put the flowers on one by one, then combined them into a 5-minute stop-action video with a sound track of Easter music. Hundreds of people enjoyed it! You can watch this video at: https://business.facebook.com/143503930290/videos/221143925778424/

We tried using Zoom for small groups and committee meetings for a while with mixed success – during the darkest days of the epidemic it was wonderful to see peoples’ faces again, but few people in our meeting have either the equipment, tech savvy or reliable WiFi connections to make this a workable option. And for a while, when millions of people were scrambling to work or take classes from home, new web cams were almost unavailable.

Our Young Friends group struggled to stay strong together during the pandemic. Erratic school closings, canceled sports events and the difficulty of trying to learn put a lot of extra pressure on our young people. We tried holding youth meetings using Zoom and Facetime, but it wasn’t too successful. Our youth minister spent many hours talking individually with kids by phone and Instagram, listening to their fears and frustrations and encouraging them as much as possible.

Zoom has worked out well for tech-savvy committees, board meetings and other groups. I’ve really enjoyed a weekly Zoom conference of Quaker pastors from around the country, hosted and moderated by Scott Wagoner. Being able to pray together, share ideas, ask questions and challenge each other to get out of our “stuck” spots has been an absolute godsend during this difficult time.

Even more than worship, the heart of our meeting has always been eating together – fellowship meals, social events, fund raisers and family gatherings. Nearly all of this wonderful social life had to be cut off during the epidemic, and everyone’s spirits suffered. Many families or close friends formed their own “bubbles” for sharing meals and holidays. (Full disclosure: a number of people in our meeting tried holding larger family gatherings or vacations and got sick. Fortunately, there were no deaths, but there were a lot of scares.)

Many older members of our meeting faced a much more personal challenge – how to shop safely during the epidemic. Some stores offered special shopping hours just for seniors. My wife and I rearranged our menus to shop every other week. For almost a year we would drive to the store just at opening time, shop as quickly as possible, and leave as soon as we could. Back at home, everything was wiped down, or left for 3 days before handling. Other seniors called in grocery orders to stores, which were bagged and brought out to their cars.

It’s been a long, drawn-out difficult time – almost 2 years as this is being written. In my next post, I plan to talk about some of the creative and inspiring things our meeting has done to try and make the best of this time and build for the future.

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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