This Sunday is a big day. Our first attempt at a worship service specifically developed to be experienced in our sanctuary… for the first time since March 2, 2020.
What does that sentence even mean?? As pastors we take classes and receive training in developing and leading worship but prior to March 2020, the fact that we would almost always be doing this in person and in a sanctuary was just a given. Maybe we might be somewhere else, like a lakeshore, a retreat center or a conference room. But for the most part, the idea that a service would be “online” mostly meant that we would make sure others outside of the worship space could see what was going on.
Our first few weeks of pandemic-induced virtual worship in March of 2020 was an attempt to take what we usually do in-person and somehow get it online for the congregation to watch. We faced technical difficulties in those weeks but
muddled through with a lot of support and grace from the community. We could have just focused our time and energy on fixing the challenges we were facing with cameras and lighting and video files and audio quality, but instead we took a pause and focused on the real question: What is worship? What is a worship service really supposed to DO??
We are a congregation for which worship and worshipping well has been a core part of our identity for many, many years. “Good worship” meant that we were attentive to the details in transitions and the flow from one element to another. It meant that the whole congregation felt included in the acts of worship. It meant that volunteer lay leaders felt prepared and good about how they could participate and lead. Children, youth, and families were included and welcomed into leadership. It was grounded in the value that when we prepare
well, we are most likely to spend that hour connecting to God, attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and able to be the most gracious and welcoming to others.
So we took the skills of members and staff and worked together to create a new vision of digital worship for UCUCC. We used Pastor Amy’s background in theater. We leaned into then-Music Director Heidi Blythe’s understanding that music is ministry more than performance. Videographer and All-Star Church Volunteer Trent Siegel help us imagine what visual elements of worship were
possible in this new format. Pastor Catherine and Pastor Todd learned new technologies to support the vision. We brought in new staff to support us – Benjamin Rogers who excels at digital choirs; James Krick, a video editing wizard; Pastor Steve with his extensive leadership of worship in a variety of ways. And we held onto our value of intergenerational congregational participation: all of us together submitted videos, and photos, and learned to sing in different ways, and tuned in for digital worship.
We stayed focused on worship that would help us feel more connected to God and one another. We stayed focused on preparing something that, when experienced, could leave us feeling more attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and more connected and loving towards those around us; this would be our goal. This remains our goal for all worship.
And in the midst of all this, we discovered that online worship could expand our welcome beyond those who are driving distance from our U-District sanctuary.
We created worship that was powerful and meaningful… and it just happens to be accessible in a way we had never considered a priority before 2020.
It’s also really, really labor intensive.
Our typical digital worship service requires at least 50-100 different files and media submissions, 7-10 hours from a videographer/editor, 25-35 hours from pastors, 7-10 from our worship assistant, 20-30 from our Music Director, and 5-100 hours from lay folks (depending on what’s scheduled for the choir).
This means, as we emerge from the pandemic, we had to make some choices about how we would offer worshipful experiences both digitally and in the sanctuary. By holding two services (10:00 am in the Seattle campus and a 5:00 pm premiere for the digital service) we are faithfully answering the “why” question before fixing the “how.” The change in online service time and the new technology installed in the sanctuary allows us to thoughtfully create two fundamentally different worship experiences (online and in-person) without doubling the staff time it takes to do both, and do both well.
This new vision is bold: investing in the community that gathers in-person and online. We’ve already adapted and re-adapted to meet the guidance of the Covid-19 Action Team while staying true to our primary vision of why we worship. The delta variant means more folks will feel like the 10:00 am Seattle Campus (sanctuary, library, and lounge) is not the best option. Some of you are feeling forced into shifting to Sunday evenings. There are hard choices all around. We hear that, and are holding the tension of living into the bold calling of the new thing God is doing among us.
We’ll make plenty of mistakes and stumbles into this new schedule. But please know that our focus, our goal, our commitment remains focused on our congregation being a place where all can experience, know, and be inspired by God’s love.
Here is how to reach us: