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Asking the Clergy: How can congregants get the most out of virtual services?

From left, Rabbi Susan Elkodsi of the Malverne

From left, Rabbi Susan Elkodsi of the Malverne Jewish Center, the Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr. of Church-in-the-Garden and Daniel B. Kerr of All Souls Episcopal Church. Credit: Helene Santo; Church-in-the-Garden; Susan Kerr

Zoom and other popular apps are allowing houses of worship make a virtue of a necessity during the COVID-19 shutdown, bringing a rich variety of services to home computers and cellphones across Long Island. This week’s clergy offer suggestions about how to make the most of online worship services.

Daniel B. Kerr

Lay minister and senior churchwarden, All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

I have been leading live, 30-minute, interactive Sunday morning prayer services on Zoom that have attracted participants from our monthly concerts, poetry readings and shamanic drumming programs, and parishioners’ relatives from the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and New Hampshire. Each week, parishioners read assigned Bible passages. One of our high school or college student parishioners sings a solo hymn, our priest delivers a brief homily on the Gospel, and prayer requests are encouraged through the chat function, which we integrate into the service.

At the conclusion of each service, I invite each participant to share a reflection or insight. Many have said that the online service helped them feel part of a faith community and less isolated during this period of social distancing. In fact, a scientist who is a parishioner recently offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the technology that brings us together. To get the most out of the service, I suggest worshippers log in a few minutes early, avoid multitasking during the proceedings, listen carefully to the readings and homily, recite aloud the prayers, enter their prayer requests on chat, and invite family and friends to join them.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi

Malverne Jewish Center

To get the most out of an online worship service, it's important to be flexible, to keep an open mind and to keep your expectations reasonable.

Online services range from a clergy person leading a "regular" service in front of a camera to services that are more informal and might be more participatory. It's important to decide what you, personally, want from online services. Do you want to maintain a sense of community, do you want to fulfill an obligation to attend and or pray, or do you enjoy the prayers? Online services certainly won’t be the same as in-person services; it’s hard to talk to the people around you (although depending on your service, you might be able to use the chat feature in Zoom). Communal singing and reading don’t work well with the current technology. If you enjoy singing along, make sure you have a copy of the prayer book that’s being used.

There are so many options available, so consider taking advantage of services being streamed from other parts of the country — or even the world. Try something different! May we look forward to a day soon when we can begin worshipping together in person!

The Rev. Earl Thorpe Jr.

Pastor, Church-in-the-Garden

While many congregations have used livestream in the past to grant access to worship services, the COVID-19 outbreak has made some form of live media application a necessity. The Church-in-the-Garden uses Zoom to connect with our church family, friends and visitors.

To make the most of Zoom services, in particular, I would suggest congregants take the opportunity to make their home space suitable for worship. Create a comfortable area, a space with ample lighting. Eliminate distractions. (Take the dog out ahead of time.) This can be an ideal occasion to have others join with you in fellowship. Invite others beforehand to join.

Make sure those who reside with you understand this is a time reserved for holy introspection and shared spiritual experience. It is church! Our actions should reflect this new reality of virtual worship. By all means, get dressed for the occasion. Put on an outfit. Make sure to mute your microphone when entering your Zoom call and try to limit your background noise. Listen to the songs and the sermon. Sing along and follow the reading of the Scriptures. Take notes of the message.

Most of all, allow yourself the opportunity to be present in worship.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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