We made it. I just clicked ‘ submit’ on my final work for the semester. It was a huge push at the end so it feels really good to finally check off that last assignment and get everything turned in. All total I had over 100 pages of written work (102 to be exact) to turn in this semester, which is quite easily the most writing I’ve done in any semester of my academic career. One prof actually required our final to be hand-written in the 3-hour exam. My hand is still sore. I should have kept up my rock climbing to train for that.
Eventually, of course, I did manage to get those 100+ pages written and turned in after only moderate amounts of sleep-loss and existential dread. Huzzah! I finished the 4 major papers (that I mentioned in last month’s post), and did my Greek Exam. I also happened to get a flat tire right between my Greek final and my Church History final, so right now I’m borrowing a friend’s car until I can get it fixed on Wednesday. What timing, right? Thankful for the friend who let me borrow his car while he’s home for Christmas!
Perhaps you’re not surprised by this: I really enjoy being a full time student again. It is such a gift (to which I’m so thankful for all of my partnership supporters) to be able to focus a majority of my time on being filled both intellectually and spiritually. When in full time ministry, it’s hard to find the time and motivation to just sit, read, and think, but that’s literally my job here in seminary. Yes, reading and writing papers is hard, but it’s ultimately for me – for my edification and growth. Reading is hard (it always has been for me…just ask my high school english teachers), but reading is filling not emptying. It’s taking in new ideas, or integrating new thoughts with old ideas. It’s not about producing (which makes it hard for this Ennegram Type 3), but about savoring and enjoying, which is a gift.
Another gift and blessing of this season is seeing how TCC is continuing to not just function but thrive despite my reduced hours there. We have a new tech intern who is really stepping up our live-stream production quality for both video and audio, and our community life coordinator and new executive assistant have organized TCC’s own advent devotional, written by people from within the church. These are two projects that I, if I were not in seminary, might have had a hand in planing and executing. It’s such a gift to see these things flourish without me. I’m grateful for our staff!
Next semester will be here before I know it (already looking forward to it and signed up for classes!), and in the meantime I’m about to get married! Shauna and I are ‘eloping’ (read: small Covid wedding) in January and will honeymoon for 9 days in Costa Rica, all pending Covid case numbers and travel restrictions of course. Please pray our very small wedding will be a safe and joyful celebration at the end of a very hard year for all of us.
May you all find joy and special moments of connection despite the chaos and dis-connection this year has thrown at us. Don’t hesitate to write back or comment below!
Bonus: My new friend Victor made this facebook live post, which I shared. If you haven’t seen it, check it out! Victor is from Zimbabwe and is in my Greek section, so we get to struggle through that together.
Though this is a thanksgiving like none before, there is a great deal to be thankful for this year. I’m grateful for all of you who support me in this seminary journey both financially and through prayer. If nothing else, this thanksgiving is teaching me to truly be thankful for the little things we took for granted last year – sharing meals around a common table and being together! I’m staying local for the holidays this year, which was a hard decision to make, but I think is the right one. I’ll be spending the day on my own, which at first I was quite sad about, but am trying to re-frame and look on the bright side, seeing it as an excuse to have a day of rest and retreat (I’m supposed to take a day long retreat for a class anyway!) before the end of semester push.
Speaking of which, the semester is nearly wrapping up, which means full paper writing and finals studying mode. It’s a bit stressful, but when I decide on paper topics and begin researching and writing, I find that I really enjoy putting words on the page and integrating ideas that have been marinating for the semester. Paper topics include:
• The marks of spiritual friendship in Aelred of Rievaulx (12th cent) as compared with modern understanding of friendship, • Responses to revival by church leaders during the first great awakening (hint: apparently not everyone was happy about it!) • Personal reflection papers on my own personal spiritual design and my own response to the ‘project of reconciliation’ course
Needless to say, I’ve got my work cut out for me for the next 3 weeks! I’ll therefore keep this update fairly short, and share three pictures from the past month. Guess what order these were shot in.
Biggest news of this update is unrelated to seminary studies – Shauna and I got engaged!
In case you haven’t heard the story yet, we got engaged in the forest behind L’Abri … incidentally it was this same place where we met three years ago. I had our friends from l’Abri invite us over for dinner as the decoy plan, and then request a short delay in start time due to a ‘busy afternoon.’ Shauna took the bait and even suggested we take a walk in the woods while we waited for our friends to get ready. Perfect! The plan went off flawlessly, and (in case you were wondering), she said yes!!
Wedding will be a covid-wedding of course, which we are still trying to figure out what will look like: where, when, with who…all these details pray we can sort out in the coming weeks and months so that we can have a special and safe wedding.
In other less interesting news, I’ve been getting involved in the Gordon Conwell chapel worship team. It has been so refreshing to be involved in worship here as a musician but not the primary worship leader. Even though the worship services are short (we play just 2-3 songs), and even though the congregation is masked and not singing, they have been powerful and moving times of corporate praise. I enjoy seeing how other leaders lead, and experiencing the simple but powerful Gordon Conwell chapel liturgy.
I’m chugging along in coursework. Greek is hard and getting harder. Kyrie Eleison. The emotion of anger is not one I experience much, but when it comes to something in Greek I don’t understand (or one of the 986324598762349576y43 exceptions), I find myself so angry at the language. Why are there two words for the same word? Why is that word ‘untranslatable.’ Ugh. But there are still moments of clarity and inspiration while studying. I have to keep reminding myself (and the textbook is good with small reminders along the way) that studying the Greek language is a tool with a very important end – knowing the word of God better. We don’t study greek because we enjoy it (well, at least I don’t), but because it is the tool by which we know God better.
Hope you are all well during this ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. I’m certainly not looking forward to the possibility of another strict quarantine, but am remaining hopeful that 2021 will be a year when we see a vaccine and come out of this thing together. Until then, stay safe and stay well. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with a phone call or email.
When I last wrote, I was right in the middle of sorting out moving up to campus, having just found out I did get a spot in the on campus apartments. I asked for your prayers for what I was sure would be a crazy few weeks orchestrating a move with about 1 week notice.
Well thank you for praying! By God’s grace everything worked out wonderfully. It has been really neat to write these updates because I have a tangible reminder of ways that I’ve asked for prayer and can see ways that these prayers were, in some cases very quickly, answered.
I found someone to take over my lease in Watertown, found a moving truck, packed the thing up with the help of 12 friends (thanks, all!), and got settled into my apartment the second week of September. This is the first time I’ve lived on my own, and I have to say I’m really enjoying it. I miss my roommates, of course (and our late night video game sessions), but am also really enjoying getting connected with the student body here on campus.
As a part time student for the past two years, I have become aquatinted with many people, but have not really gotten to know anyone that well. As a full time student, I’ve already met tons of new people and am reminded that seminary students are an awesome bunch of people. I’ve really enjoyed making connections over shared interests and learning all the crazy ways God has led people to study at Gordon Conwell. The student body is quite diverse in age and gender and cultural background, but somehow I feel at home here already. I had lunch with the president (with a bunch of other students) and am excited by his vision for the future of the school.
I attend chapel worship services on Wednesday mornings, and am learning how awful it is to stand and not be able to sing. We are indoors, masked, and physically distanced from others and it’s such a strange feeling of incongruity to be present in a worship service but not able to participate with my voice. I was not planning to get involved in the worship ministry here (I do enough of that at TCC), but after two weeks of drumming on the pews, humming to myself, and generally being quite antsy, I couldn’t take it anymore and emailed the chapel director to get involved 😂😂😂. So I’ll be playing in the chapel band soon. If you know me (and if you’re reading this you probably do), you’ll know that I just can’t NOT make music. It hurts my soul to just stand there.
Three classes this semester:
Greek I (a re-do of my summer intensive Greek experience). This is a much more reasonable pace to learn a language and so far I’m mostly understanding things. (In person, masked and physically distanced indoors)
Spiritual Formation for Ministry. This course focuses on not only spiritual formation for yourself, but learning how others are spiritually formed and learning tools and resources to help people grow in faith. Great readings and some great papers that I’m excited to write at the end of the term. (In person, masked, and physically distanced indoors)
The Project of Reconciliation. A course that was petitioned by several students to be moved up a semester (originally planning on taking this Spring 2021), this course examines the racial tensions happening in our culture and seeks to equip students to be agents of reconciliation for the sake of the Gospel. Assignedbooksarereallygreat. (Online via zoom)
As always, if anyone out there is interested in hearing more about any course don’t hesitate to reach out!
At TCC, we’ve moved to outdoor services in September. As we launched our ministry year theme “The Return,” we invite people to return to church, but also see this return as a metaphor for a greater return we all need to make in our hearts of repentance and renewal, and long for the ultimate return of Jesus that we all hope and pray for.
Outdoor services have been so life giving. If leading worship for the frozen chosen here in New England is hard, when they are masked and can’t sing, it’s even harder. Being outdoors, even while still masked, and spread apart has allowed ~200 people to feel comfortable to gather and sing. The first day, I chose the call to worship from Psalm 95, and felt so grateful to be leading the church in the words “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”
Thank you all for your continued support!!! These updates are a joy to write and I hope they are a joy to read as well.
That I would make life-long connections with students, staff, faculty, and administration here at the seminary.
That I would find a life giving core community of friends.
That I would be able to balance the demands of ministry with the demands of school work.
Partnership program goal is 90% met. The rest can come from my supporting church(es) in 2021. So while I can’t officially say I’ve finished fundraising, I’m essentially done.
Apartment swap and move went so well! Moving is stressful and it seemed to go pretty well without any unexpected difficulties.
It’s been a crazy few weeks here. After a short but lovely vacation with Shauna’s family, I came back to MA and quarantined by way of a short retreat to New Hampshire with my two roommates. Pictures below. Little did we know it would be a farewell tour of sorts. In a matter of about 72 hours I went from not being sure I’d be able to live on campus to grabbing a spot and having to now quickly scramble to find someone to take over my spot in Watertown. As I write this I *think* i’m all sorted for a fall move up to the campus. Please pray that the final leases, paperwork, and the daunting move goes smoothly so I can feel settled for the semester to begin on September 14
I’m going to miss living in Watertown, but am excited for the idea of having my own space for some time. I’ve never lived by myself, and though I’m sure it will be at times lonely, I know there are plenty of folks nearby and of course I’m now just a 10 minute drive to Shauna’s place.
The semester ended well with a couple real big papers. For those interested here are the three papers that concluded my semester. I was surprised how much I enjoyed writing these papers, chipping away a little at a time with of course a final push at the end to complete them. The contemplative listening paper is the most compelling to me for personal application. In it I argue for the need for protestants as a whole and evangelicals in particular to embrace the practice of spiritual formation for lay people and for clergy as well. I began meeting with a new spiritual director myself, and it has been wonderful to have the time set aside (just an hour a month) to explore how God has been speaking to me, make meaning out of past memories and events over the course of the month, and consider where God is leading me and guiding me next. I specifically explored the subject of gender and spiritual formation, which was an underrepresented topic in scholarship.
I’ll be posting monthly seminary updates on this blog! If you’d like to support my studies through Gordon Conwell’s Partnership Program, you can do so here.
July 2020 Update
Greetings, friends! I hope this update finds you well. Here in Boston we are in the indefinite “phase 3” of reopening. This means that Shauna and I went out to dinner for the first time in like 5 months. Yes, we wore our masks – just not when we were eating or for this picture.
I’m now a bit over a month into full-time seminary work, and I can say it is fun, fulfilling, and also very hard! When the summer started I was enrolled in Summer Greek, which is a summer intensive course that crams an entire year of study into just 9 weeks. After a few days I quickly realized that this was not possible to do while taking two other courses and working part time, so I swallowed my pride and dropped this course. It felt hard to “fail” right out of the gate. I felt badly at first, knowing that my friends and family are supporting my studies financially, to not be taking the most classes I could, but Shauna reminded me that you are supporting me so that I can learn and grow, not so that I can pass as many classes as possible in this year. So I heeded her (and others’) advice, and swapped Greek out with a course on History and Theology of Worship which begins next week. The short week I was in greek, however, was really cool. By the end of a week we were translating (the easier) sentences from the New Testament on our own. In the moments I was not completely stressed out, it was neat to begin to be able to read the Bible in the original language. . I’ll take Greek in the fall, at the regular pace and am excited for it now that I know what I’m getting myself into and the time it will require.
Other courses I’m taking this summer include Theology Survey, which is all done except for the final paper that needs to be written – my personal statement of faith. Finally, Shauna and I also both took a course through Regent College (Vancouver, Canada) on Contemplative Listening. This course showed me how important and how rare it is to truly listen to someone – not just wait for your turn to speak. Each day we had exercises where we took turns practicing listening, which sounds simple but was actually quite hard. We were not allowed to ask questions, offer advice/suggestions, or relate to the speaker with our own stories. We were simply to listen, and notice things the speaker said, reflecting and mirroring back to them what they said as an invitation to explore the thoughts and feelings deeper. After the initial awkwardness, I found the exercise indeed worked. Both myself and the people I listened to were able to go deeper into our own thoughts. By not immediately hearing advice or suggestions from our listener, we had the space, the silence, and the freedom to go deeper. I realized how much this is needed in ministry, and how bad I am at it! The church needs better listeners, and I was grateful to spend two weeks studying with others (through zoom, of course) how to better do that.
It has been so encouraging to see you all respond to my initial email with offers of support. There were several days when I was having a stressful or bad day, that I would be so encouraged by seeing a new email come in with an offer to join my team of supporters, whether financially or with prayer and simply wanting to hear more of my journey. As of last week, I am about 80% of my goal, which is wonderful! This means I am fully accepted into the partnership program. If you haven’t officially given, you can still do so here.
Other Life Updates:
I am planning on moving to an on-campus apartment in September. This will be another hard transition, as I’ve really enjoyed living in Watertown with my roommates, but being on campus will help me focus on seminary work, cut down on the commute (GCTS is planning on having in-person classes this Fall), help me find community at the seminary, and give me a chance to have my own (very tiny) place at a pretty good price!
– Adjusting to full-time seminary and part time ministry work. Prioritizing seminary is hard when there are always things to do at TCC!
– For me to find on-campus housing for the Fall.
– For the last 20% of fundraising to go well (what this means is one or two more supporters plus a church partnership through TCC or my home church PBC)
– For Shauna and I to find a bit rest/vacation time in August (even during Covid-19)
With churches around the world gathering virtually, and choir rehearsals suspended indefinitely, I took the past few weeks as an opportunity to “gather” our choir for a virtual choir anthem last Sunday.
The process of creating a virtual choir video is not for the faint of heart. It involves many hours of editing click tracks, instructing choir members, mixing audio, editing video, and syncing clips all together to create the final product that looks so simple. This was my first go at it, so it was a learning process for me. Along the way I figured out a few things that I would do differently next time. If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, get a bit frustrated, but really want to work hard to produce a virtual choir, keep reading!
What You Need:
Computer. A new-ish one. If you don’t have that then you can quit now.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This is the software that lets you record and edit audio on the computer. I used Ableton Live as I am most comfortable and familiar with the interface, but you could use also use ProTools, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, or free software like Garage Band or Audacity. There are dozens of DAWs out there, so I won’t get into the pros and cons of each but there’s plenty of info online about how to use each one of these. If you’re just starting out with music production, learning how to use one of these (I’d recommend the professional software: Ableton, Logic Pro, or ProTools) will be the a great time investment that will benefit you for the long term. Learn it.
USB Digital Audio Interface. This is a piece of hardware that lets you plug microphones and other line inputs into your computer. It also lets you monitor sound through headphones and external monitors. I have this one from Scarlett but they are even cheaper today.
A decent microphone. For recording instruments it is well worth the investment to get a good quality microphone. Spend more than $100. Don’t spend over $500. I love the Rode NT5 because they sound great, come as a pair for recording in stereo, and can be used for so many different applications: single acoustic instruments like guitars or strings, stereo piano mics, and even choirs. This mic can do it all and won’t break the bank.
Option 1: Headphones. DO NOT try and do this with only your laptop speakers. You need a way to accurately hear the sound from all the different sources you’ll be mixing. A pair of studio monitor headphones will set you back about $100-200. Again, a worthwhile investment on your path toward music production glory. I like these from Beyerdynamic because they’re comfy. These from AKG are only $76 and are good for the price.
Option 2: Studio Monitors. Active speakers are better because you don’t have to wear headphones all the time and can sit back and listen more comfortably. I bought a pair from Event Electronics for $300 back in college and they have been with me ever since. They’re going on 15 years of use and still sound great. Spend $200-300 on something from here.
Note, you will notice I didn’t actually even include a video camera. I used this one because we have it at the church, but these days your cell phone takes great video under the right lighting conditions, so most people can get away with just that. When your final product is a little square in the middle of a huge grid of videos, you don’t need the best quality video.
Got it all? Let’s get to work.
Before We Proceed…
Just so you know what you’re getting into, this is what my final mix looked like. It doesn’t even fit on one screen:
ONE: Create a click track
This was probably the hardest step for me to accept as a musician. As someone who trains the choir to be musical and allow the tempo to ebb and flow as we sing together, the idea of syncing everyone up to a click track and then conducting seems to go against everything I learned in conducting school, but these are strange times and this was the best way I could think of to get us all to sing together. But that doesn’t mean you have to start a song at 100BPM and stay there the entire time. Ableton allows you to manually automate tempo changes throughout an arrangement.
As you can see there are about a dozen or so tempo shifts throughout the piece. The downward slopes are ritards. The steep downward and quick upward slopes are slight lifts for a breath together. It took me a while to get the tempo change to feel natural. I think there might be a way to record tempo automation by tapping live while recording in ableton, but I didn’t figure that out. I just drew it in.
TWO: Create the reference instrumental part.
For any piece for piano and choir it means recording the piano part, since singers will likely sing to the piano more than they’ll sing to the click. To do this I simply recorded the piano into Ableton (I didn’t bother recording video, but in hindsight I could have also recorded video at this point). You’ll sync up the video later. Confession: I didn’t want to learn the rather tricky piano part to this piece so I actually recorded the left hand and right hand parts separately. This actually allowed me to add more notes to fill out the harmonies and make it sound more orchestral, which is what I think the composer would want out of the piano part!
THREE: Record the virtual conducting video.
Ableton doesn’t handle recording or editing of video but it can actually import video, which is a nifty feature.
I then played back the music on Ableton and recorded myself conducting to a video camera. The result is this:
FOUR: Record rehearsal tracks for the singers. (Optional)
Because I work with amateur singers, many who don’t read music, I went in and recorded each vocal part. As much as I wish all my singers can read music, the fact is that their experience is so much better when they have someone singing in their ear, so I’m happy to oblige. I then exported them individually to create these:
FIVE: Export a final virtual choir demo. (Also optional)
This step might not be necessary for choirs with music readers and I would also discourage it for music educators or school choirs. If your goal is still to be teaching music reading and musicianship, this step might be seen as a crutch. But for church choirs, and amateur choirs, where the goal is community, having fun, and praising God, this step makes sense. Ableton (remarkably) can actually export a video, so I made a rough mix and exported video. Result is this:
For this one I turned OFF the click track, but in hindsight I might have kept it on for this one too.
SIX: Recruit your choir!
Now you have all the components the choir needs to record their tracks. I used our church website to host all this stuff so the choir can easily access the rehearsal tracks and recording. I also included a few tips, the most importantly being use headphones when you record your choir part! I also wrote all the tempo adjustments in there so they could write notes in their music before they sang. Whether or not they did is up to them.
SEVEN: Request Video Submissions
For uploading, I bit the bullet and got dropbox plus. I’m requesting large files for upload so after doing a bit of research it seemed like the best option and gives me 2TB of space. Google drive and box.com seem like good options too.
On dropbox, I used the “request files” feature to create simple perma-link that the choir members can upload. Uploading video is sometimes a hard slow process, so be ready for choir members to ask questions and need help. If people have apple devices, airdrop makes transferring the file from the phone to the computer very easy.
EIGHT: Mix the audio.
From each video submission I used adapter to easily extract the audio as a wav file from their .mp4 or .mov video submission. Then I brought this audio into Ableton and got to work mixing. A few tips about audio mixing for virtual choirs:
Some recordings sound good. Others sound bad. Depending on the quality of the cell phone microphone, some may have a muffled sound, some may have a high pitched hiss, some may have a lot of ‘noise’. You work with what you have. For the better ones, I used minimal compression and some simple EQ that looked like this:
For others that had some background noise I had to cut a lot of high frequencies. You loose some of the vocal brightness, but with 44 tracks, you can’t really have any audible hiss or noise in them or it will really ruin the final product.
As with a non-virtual choir, sometimes it’s hard to get all the singers to sing in tune and at the same time. Hard consonants are particularly tricky, as any minor variations come through as a muddled mess of t-t-t-t-t-t-t in the final product. In hindsight, I would be super clear about where I want those harder consonants like T/S/D/K placed. I did quite a bit of adjusting in Ableton after bringing the voices in. In the example below you can see the cuts and shifts I made to make some of the vocals line up with the rest of the choir. Yeah sopranos.
Using Ableton’s automation feature, you can also automate the track volume throughout. I know the guy who mixes NPR’s tiny desk concerts uses volume automation very liberally to achieve a natural even result.
Add some ‘verb. Jesus’ blood is the most effectual thing for covering sins. A sweetly tuned reverb is probably the next best thing. I used this as a return track, which means I can dial in the amount on a per-channel basis. I used about %60 on my vocal tracks and only a very little on the piano so the piano cut through and the vocals blended together. You could never get this result in a live acoustic performance.
Group tracks and apply glue compressor. This tool helps “glue” your tracks together to make them sound like one unified unit. I don’t really know how it works (but I’m sure someone else could tell you), but I know it works. Here are my settings for the “men’s voices” group.
When you’ve spent 9865873648245 hours mixing and are ready to make the final master audio track, head over the master channel for a rough go at audio mastering. I’m aware mixing and mastering are really two separate skills and art forms, so I acknowledge that I’m very much a beginner at this. Ableton has a nice audio effect rack that has mastering tools. Here’s what mine looked like. This should all be very gentle … no harsh adjustments here. Listen on multiple outputs (Nice headphones, cheap headphones, nice speakers, cheap speakers) to see what your track sounds like across multiple devices. It might sound amazing on your nice headphones, but what about when 90% of the people listen to it off their phones or laptops. You gotta make it sound as good as possible on as many devices as possible. A bit more compression is your friend here.
Okay all done? Now export it! Make sure you turn off the click for your final export :-).
NINE: Video Editing
This is actually the step I know the least about. If you’ve gotten this far and were really hoping for help here, I’m really sorry! You’ll need video editing software: Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Premiere are the standard software for video editing. You will struggle if you try to use iMovie for this. I had a colleague that is much faster at video editing grab all the video submissions, sync them up, and generate the final product. It involves cropping, resizing, and arranging all the videos one by one. It takes a. long. time. I started at it, and used Premier’s effect controls to adjust the position and scale and cropping of each clip. Syncing is tricky here. In hindsight, I would ask the singers to clap for the camera four times during the intro so we could sync the video easier using the audio spikes as they are visible in the video editing software. This is why movies use those clap-boards to start takes.
So that was my journey of doing a virtual choir. It was fun. It took probably 50 hours of work and another 10 from our video editor. I’m sure I’ll be faster if I do it again, but it does take a TON of work! People loved it though, and there’s a special joy you get when you see everyone’s faces singing “together.”
17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe that liturgy (which is to say any practices, actions, words, or habits that we do with regularity) has the power to shape our hearts. As our world is turned upside down, our thoughtful liturgical practices will help us remain connected to God and serve as an anchor in very turbulent waters.
We’re doing church virtually now – a “practice” that I’ve always resisted because I feel it shapes our hearts more as consumers or passive viewers than as active participants. But in God’s providence we’re all watching church on screens now, so what choice do we have but to make the most of it.
People have been overwhelmingly appreciative of our efforts to get things running smoothly online. Someone in my small group mentioned last night (via a zoom call, of course) how nice it has been to walk through the Church’s liturgy together. Even though it’s carried in a different vessel of the computer or tv screen, the content remains the same, and it’s to him very grounding and assuring. I couldn’t agree more. Through singing and reading scripture and praying together – especially repeated things – we see and read into them even deeper meaning than what we’ve seen before. I know this firsthand from allowing the liturgy to wash over me while walking through a divorce. The words became somehow more true, more meaningful, more real for me. This pandemic is in many ways similar – it’s easy to say “God is my refuge and strength” when all is well. Quite another proposition to say that during Coronavirus. It is my belief and my hope that by saying and praying such words from your heart when things are well, we can with God’s strength, say them the same way despite whatever is going on around us.
So in many ways, the church should continue doing what it always does – proclaiming Jesus as the way of life, health, peace, forgiveness, and the only true and lasting reality we’ll ever know. My job isn’t any harder. It’s just gotten a bit different.
Who knew when I started this daily posting habit that I’d have such a curious and unknown world full of things to write about. But here we are in the middle of a global pandemic. We are not gathering in groups of more than 10, we’re tele-commuting, and basically everything is cancelled. (Favorite tweet so far: “Never thought I’d be giving up this much for lent!”)
At the church we’ve moved to a live-stream and video recorded services only. So now my weekly work is filled with website updates, communication updates, video recording projects, and tech setups. Churches around the country are trying to adapt as quickly as possible to this new normal. For many, including us, it’s live streaming and video recorded content. This is a great way to continue leading people in worship right in their homes. We did it last Sunday here:
Our friends at L’Abri are also offering live-streamed morning prayer every day on their facebook page:
But while all this live streaming is great for the time being, I’m also beginning to realize that whenever this all finally passes, we’ll be forever changed by the weeks or months spent not meeting on Sundays. It’s actually testing our hearts to see if we really understand the true purposes of worship. I’ve seen some people commenting on facebook, “I could get used to this!” I earnestly hope we don’t get used to this – that we long to be united in worship and fellowship in the flesh, not just virtually. I also wonder how much sustained engagement we’ll get after weeks or months of live-streaming only. It’s a lot easier to watch church and make breakfast, listen to the prayer and scroll through instagram when sitting on your couch.
When we began live-streaming, I resisted greatly because the medium itself teaches us that worship is about consuming content, not offering your heart. I never wanted our virtual worship to replace our in-person worship gathering. It’s a lot harder (but don’t hear me wrong – it’s not impossible!) to offer your heart while sitting in your pajamas on your couch.
But I do think this is a test for us. I think we need to figure out ways to lead and engage people’s hearts through the virtual format and it must look different than a normal Sunday service. Innovation will happen. It has to*. After all, the words “virtual” and “communion” don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. This is actually an opportunity to teach some heart-shaping habits. Liturgy can be an anchor for us in this time of uncertainty. More on that tomorrow.
*I’m grateful for leaders who write thoughtfully about the role of the church and how to pastor people during this pandemic – see this article.
Glad I’m still writing to give myself a bit of an outlet to process all the crazy things happening on God’s good earth right now. I cancelled choir rehearsal tonight, and am also house-sitting / dog-sitting for some friends out in Framingham, so I’m feeling pretty lonely out here.
I have noticed in all my interactions with people that everyone is simply trying to process this massive uncertainty and talking about it together is certainly a good way to help process. The fact is so many of us have no idea what is happening, but we all process this information differently. Some process by repeating (or sharing on social media) the news they are hearing, and interpreting it for their lives. Others are more quiet, trying to digest everything that’s coming in and making guesses as to what will happen next. Some are criticizing leaders for not making clear leadership decisions.
The point is everyone processes this uncertainty differently. I am talking to this cute dog and skyping with friends and family.
I’m noticing that we all crave community. I feel myself getting anxious not only of the spread of the virus but of the social isolation. I missed having choir tonight. I will miss meetings and things being cancelled. I’ll miss seeing people. I suppose we’ll rely on technology to help us feel connected. I’ll get better at reaching out to people on the phone just to say hi and chat. “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18a)
So let’s stick together, however possible. Make sure you’re reaching out to friends. Talk about how this is hard. Talk about your anxieties and loneliness. I think we’re supposed to.