When the COVID-19 pandemic forced congregations to suspend public gatherings, Pastor Russell Peek of Lutheran Church of the Epiphany in Winston-Salem was amazed by how his congregation mobilized to bring their worship services online. “At first, I started navigating digital worship on my own,” he says. “But then more and more folks joined me in that effort pretty quickly. So then the idea became, let’s try to get as many people as possible involved in the worship services.”
Producing digital services created new opportunities for participation in Epiphany’s worship. In addition to worship and music leaders, they needed audio-visual technicians and video editors. Then they invited congregation members to send in videos from home, like children’s sermons, skits, announcements, and scripture readings from creative settings.
Getting new people involved in worship also happened through Epiphany sharing their services more broadly than ever before. “We felt like we wanted to be able to share the resources that are here, and we’ve been delighted to do that,” says Pastor Russell. “We hope we’ve been a blessing to any congregations that may not have the ability to do the sorts of things that we’re doing. For us, it’s really important for us to be church together in this.”
Over the past 15 months, North Carolina Synod staff have led the effort to be church together by coordinating the sharing of worship services with congregations across the synod. Epiphany is one of many congregations who offered their services for sharing. Additionally, synod staff have provided weekly sermon videos, lead worship on Zoom accessible by Internet and phone, and produced full worship services for the Sundays after Christmas and Easter.
Pastor Joanna Stallings of Good Shepherd, Goldsboro is one of many pastors and lay people in the synod who express appreciation for the shared online worship services.
“The services that they put together following Christmas and Easter were especially helpful,” Pastor Joanna says. “They enabled my musician and me to take some brief time away, which is important. And I think it’s been very good and illuminating for my congregation to hear the synod staff folks preach, and to hear some other kinds of music that other organizations can put together in a very fine way because they have that technical capability.”
Good Shepherd has also seen the impact of sharing their own worship services with a broader community. Their online service is regularly viewed by 25-30 people each week who are not congregation members.
Pastor Russell says, “Part of what we’ve seen is that while our ministry is centered here in Winston-Salem, it’s also had impact in other parts of God’s church.”
One Sunday, Epiphany was collecting towels to share with its mission partner The Dwelling. After worship, Pastor Russell received an email from a woman who said she had watched their service from a different part of the state. She had towels to share and, while she was far away from Winston-Salem, she asked Pastor Russell if he would help her connect with an organization in her town that could use them. “Sharing our worship means we’re helping to give folks the ability to do God’s work in their local context,” says Pastor Russell.
The Easter season marked the end of Epiphany’s prerecorded worship services. But their digital presence is not going away. “We’ve had folks who have said they still want to be able to watch our worship, or to share it with friends, or show people what a service looks like so they can invite people to worship. So that’s exciting. A lot of creativity has come out of this. I want to think about how we can continue to involve as many people as possible in worship. We have a vision where all God’s people are able to use their gifts to worship and serve.”