With widespread availability of Covid 19 vaccines, the world is beginning to open up. This year, most UU congregations are holding Sunday services in person. Many also have some kind of online worship component. Some offer a live Zoom service, others offer live streaming on platforms like Facebook or YouTube, and others offer pre-recorded worship services on their web pages. For those who have trouble attending in-person services, worship online has been vital, and continues to be an important part of their life.
Disability advocates remind us that multiplatform worship in real time, with the chance for some interaction, creates a meaningful experience for those participating online.
Interactive online worship, meetings, small group ministry, etc. allows members and friends to continue to be a part of the community, while not having to leave their home. This is not only helpful for those with disabilities, but members who don’t want to drive in bad weather, those who need to stay home to care for a loved one, those who just don’t like crowds, or those who have moved away.
Here are a few stories about how this kind of attendance has been important to UUs across the country.
Opportunities for interaction include sharing during “joys and sorrows,” offering a reading, meditation, or a story from online and streaming it to the sanctuary. Also, consider having sermons be delivered online by a guest or online member with some regularity.
- B attends a small congregation that offered live Zoom services as the pandemic began, and continues them now. Last winter she was undergoing cancer treatment, which left her with a very weak immune system. Having services she could attend from the safety of her home was vital to her wellbeing and provided much needed support as she was managing her illness. Her congregation made an effort to help the online participants feel as much a part of the service as those in person, with things like letting them go first in Joys and Sorrows. B said she felt like she was “in the room”. She said watching a streamed service would not have been the same. She didn’t want to just “watch TV” which would have been the feeling of watching a recorded or streamed service.
- S, a leader in a midsize church says, “I am an introvert. I’m also ADD so am easily distracted”. She rarely missed an in-person service before Covid. But she sat in the back and would scurry out right after the service, exhausted. She said hybrid services are ideal for her. And she has actually gotten to know more people via Zoom than I did in person, ”without the stress”.
- Several young families shared that it is a relief to have the choice to attend an interactive service without the “herculean feat” of getting everyone dressed and out the door in time on a weekend. It might not be the way they attend every week, but it is nice to have a hybrid service as an option.
- F cares for a spouse with dementia and Sundays are days when the home health aid isn’t available to help out. They both enjoy seeing old friends and F appreciates having engaging conversations with other UUs during coffee hour.
- H, who uses a wheelchair, volunteered to serve on the church board of trustees when the meetings began being held on Zoom. H is thrilled to share their experience and skills without having to worry about getting to church and using the awkward accessible entrance in their historic building. A number of church boards have benefitted from the Zoom format as people with small children, people who don’t drive at night, and people with busy work schedules can all have the chance to participate on the board, allowing more diversity in leadership.
- The W family moved away from their church to a place that had no UU Congregation. When the Sunday Service moved to Zoom, they were able to start attending again, and became active in leadership.
Inclusivity asks that we bring a little more attention and intention to how we do church together. Creating opportunities for everyone to participate enriches both individuals and the community as a whole.
Ideas for Inclusive and Interactive Online Social Hour
- Put attendees in break out rooms of 4-5, so they can get to know each other. Then switch rooms so people get to experience a couple of different conversation groups.
- Set up self-selecting breakout rooms named for spaces in your building, e.g. library, kitchen, outdoor bench. Let people decide which space to “enter.”
- If you have members participate in the service, with announcements or Joys and Sorrows, have the online people go first. This way they feel most a part of the service.
- Have an online host/usher who welcomes people as they come in, and arranges breakout rooms during coffee hour. They can also mute or remove disruptive people.
Other Ideas for Online Connection
- Offer Social Hour other than just Sunday morning! Maybe a Wednesday evening coffee or a Friday online wine and cheese.
- Consider an online game night, book group, or knitting group for fun and fellowship