KABOOM! WHIZ! POW! ZOOM! The first time I heard the reference to the new online platform back in March of 2020, I smirked. “ZOOM” was an onomatopoeia from a Marvel comic book!
It was a godsend when Skylar and I had the phone conversation after our governor in California gave the stay-at-home order. Skylar shared with me the Emergency Distance Learning (EDL) taking place in the local school. Her daughters were already up and running with Zoom, so she walked me through the download on my computer. We had just stepped into the future. It was a new form of ministry with links, and passcodes, muting, and turning on the camera.
Little did I know that Zoom was soon to be a household word. The world around us changed quickly, so I adjusted my ministry as the Director of Christian Education.
During Lent and Holy Week 2020, the question I kept asking my ministry team was how we could still observe the liturgical calendar while meeting over Zoom. First there was Stations of the Cross for Families. The fourteen parishioners participating in the dramatic reading had to scurry at home to come up with costumes as we did not have time to send out the ones from church. And back then, there was also the concern about transferring germs through shared materials.
In June, we had our first ever Zoom Youth Sunday, with college student Emily offering a great homily. Summer is always the time for Vacation Bible School and that held true for 2020. We offered a condensed VBS with the theme “Journey to the Holy Land.” We ran a hybrid model of three Zoom meetings during the week and one in-person evening.
Our Godly Play Coordinator Anne and her daughter Catherine made recordings of the Godly Play stories then uploaded them to YouTube so we could share links with our families. For our youth, I resourced the Sparkhouse digital curriculum, downloading the Mp4 on my laptop for Zoom share screen.
For 2-3 weeks in the fall, we transitioned to outdoor Sunday School, CDC compliant. The children and youth returned, and we were happy to be together. Anne arranged all the Sunday School materials on a pushcart and taught Godly Play in the Peace Garden while I had the youth on the East Wing Patio. We sat six feet apart and wore masks. But then the holidays came, the virus numbers went up, and we closed the parish building down again.
Out of love, we went back to Zoom. And again, asked ourselves how we might observe the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas virtually.
We ordered Godly Play at Home boxes to share with our households in Advent. Over Zoom on Christmas Eve I read The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher and illustrated by Christine Kornacki. Soon the Epiphany Star came and went.
I ordered purple canvas tote bags and filled them with activity pages for Lent and Easter, along paper green palm branches for Palm Sunday. Another formation resource, sent into our members’ homes.
We’ve observed the liturgical calendar for an entire year over Zoom, but what about the day to day ministry we share with children and youth?
Since the children and youth of our church attend school over Zoom during the week, I found myself wondering how we might use it on Sundays. I thought of Mr. Rogers and how he felt television offered the perfect medium for him to communicate his message. Love the children. Teach the children. I wanted to be like Mr. Rogers. I told myself, Zoom was just like being on television, but with the scientific twist of being interactive!
I needed to work with the medium. I went to my office and found my hand puppets. Then looked at my bookshelf and found the best picture books I could find. I pulled the CD player from the nursery and decided that for our youngest members, this was going to be Sunday School with energy!
Now each Sunday, while a mother serves her youngest breakfast in a highchair, the other two children sit with me on the Zoom. We sing songs and share about the week. I see the loose tooth and the arms full of shared stuffed unicorns. I in turn share my own papier-mâché unicorn from Target painted blue and gold. As March pushes forward, I will respond to the four- and five-year-old’s questions of how to make a leprechaun trap!
Many weeks include trips to the post office to send home Bible coloring pages. The following Sunday, the children hold up their colored pages to the Zoom camera for me to see. And then we will talk about Jesus.
Youth formation is also quite different. Usually Bibles and Books of Common Prayer are distributed to new confirmands, but there is no telling when we will be back in person for the Bishop to lay on hands. The Bibles will be sent home on their own this year. When I purchased the Youth Bibles at Barnes and Noble, the serendipitous comment by the cashier was a reminder to me that God is present even in challenging times. She said behind the plexiglass, “I had one of these Bibles when I was young!! Look at the cool new cover!”
How have you adjusted your Christian Formation this year?
What’s worked well and what’s been most challenging?
Where have you met the sacred?