2021 was tumultuous, as we entered a second year of pandemic life.
We began the year worshiping at home as I led Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services from my craft room, using only music in the public domain. In February, Ken Guzmán and Josette Rechul offered to share their musical gifts, which gave us a reason to purchase licenses giving us the right to use more modern music in our online services. In July, after much discussion and planning, we returned to the sanctuary for a hybrid style of worship. In addition to those who gather within the church building, we also continue to livestream the service to our Facebook page for people to worship at home. I set up the camera sequences for these services; create graphics of readings, prayers, and hymn lyrics so that people can follow along at home; and put them in place so that our videographer (usually Bill Kolasa) can queue them on screen at the appropriate points throughout the service. I reformatted our services so that children are not seen online and so that prayer concerns can be shared before the live stream begins. Peoples’ health information and sensitive prayers should be kept private. Since the pandemic is ongoing and primarily airborne, I have reduced the number of congregational hymns because singing produces significantly more aerosols than speaking.
In addition to the first Sunday that we returned to the sanctuary after fifteen months away, two worship services in particular may stand out in our collective memory. On December 12, without heat, lighting, microphones, or an organ, we worshiped in Fellowship Hall during a power outage and then moved to the sanctuary for the Christmas pageant, which was illuminated by candles and flashlights. I stood beside the piano holding two bright lights so that Doris Ann Campbell could see her sheet music. On December 24, we took our candles outside to sing “Silent Night” under the stars, which was a beautiful way to end our Christmas Eve service.
Recognizing the need to have more opportunities to pray together, as in 2020, I led five evening services for special occasions: Easter vigil, Earth Day, Feast of the Ascension, Memorial Day, and Longest Night. I led weekly Wednesday evening prayers from March 2020 until September 2021, bringing them back in December for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. All of these online services featured graphics and music videos that I created and some services also included lay readers and special music that I edited (including some hymns for which I recorded different harmonies and digitally layered them to create a virtual “choir”).
In 2021, I edited and uploaded literally hundreds of videos to our YouTube channel (which has 351 videos as of this writing). Every week, I post a video of Sunday’s service, a video of just the sermon (with complete closed captioning), a video of Tuesday’s Bible study, as well as a video of Wednesday’s evening prayer or any other special service. I also continue to manage our website, Facebook page, and Instagram account.
I continued to attend many webinars and online classes on subjects including emotional intelligence, digital communication, various online resources, leading hybrid worship, copyright law for churches, small church outreach, and narrative budgets, as well as a two-day conference on “online church”. I also participated in Bible studies at my home church as well as worship and fellowship at my church in Washington, DC over zoom.
Although the Milan Ministerial Association has only been able to collaborate on one service in 2021 (an outdoor Sunday morning worship jointly led by Peoples and Marble United Methodist), I nevertheless reached out to try to coordinate services or outreach projects for Good Friday and Thanksgiving. Along with the First Presbyterian Church of Royal Oak, I led a contemplative service for the first Sunday after Easter. I continue to serve on the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and continue to attend presbytery meetings and clergy gatherings.
Although I was offered a raise in 2021, I declined it and asked for an additional week of vacation instead. As in 2020, I did not submit any professional or continuing education expenses for reimbursement and continued to use my personal laptop, video editing software, teleprompter, microphone, camera, and lighting system for all services and Bible studies that I streamed from home. During Holy Week, I worked over one hundred hours and spent many long nights throughout the year trying to make all of our services as meaningful as possible, even though I knew that everyone was less than satisfied with the online format.
We are not yet out of this pandemic chapter of our lives together and it has not been an easy or peaceful chapter by any means. I continue to be deeply grateful for Peoples’ willingness to try new things, learn new technology, and find innovative ways to care for each other. I hope that someday (God willing, someday soon), we can sigh with relief that this chapter has ended, but I also hope that we can look back on it with pride, knowing that despite everything, we continued to love and serve God and the world that God so loves.