Technical Tips for Conducting Online Memorials

A bouquet of yellow, white, and pale pink flowers.

How can we adapt something we usually do in person—memorial services and celebrations of life—to happen online over videoconference? It’s a question that many of our congregations are facing as we contend with COVID-19 and restrictions on gathering. Some of the challenges are identical to those we face in bringing worship online. But others are unique. Here are some tips for memorial services that take place online:

  • Choose a widely-accessible platform for the videoconference, like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

  • Provide orientation to the technology in advance with an online tutorial or some open “office hours” for calling in. People who are unfamiliar with the technology and are bereaved will need some special love and care—consider offering a tutorial/tech rehearsal just for the family and closest friends who will be speaking.

  • Be mindful of privacy and security. A strange thing about going online is that perfect strangers, even hostile strangers, can enter and disrupt online gatherings if their meeting numbers are posted online and precautions are not taken. Review our guidance on Zoom safety and unwanted guests.

  • Recruit one or more technical hosts. The technical hosts run the technical side of the gathering, making sure that the slides and music, speakers and guests all can be seen or heard (or not heard) at the appropriate times. The technical host can also record the service and address technical issues as they arise.

  • Set up the “meeting” with a high level of control for the technical host: disable screen sharing from everyone except pre-authorized people. Do not allow people to unmute themselves or turn their video camera on: ask the host to do it when and if people are taking their turn. Consider disabling the chat feature, as well, as it can be highly distracting. If the meeting is run as a webinar, you can select an option where participants can only chat with the “panelists.” This could be used for participants to send short recollections to the officiant, who can then read them allowed. You do not want someone’s fumbling with their device to accidentally disrupt the whole service.

  • Post an Order of Service online and share the link in advance, and in the chat box.

  • Create an online receiving line? Consider inviting participants to sign up for times to greet the bereaved via video, much like they would greet them in a receiving line after an in-person service.

  • Simulate an online reception with online breakout room conversations, or a slide show of photos, or a time to share informal stories in the videoconference chat.

  • What else? As more and more of us venture into the relatively new territory of online memorials, we’re gaining skills and knowledge. What have you learned? What would you add to this list? Contact Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh with your thoughts.