“No, the cursor. The blinking thing. On your screen. Okay, do you have a mouse or a touchpad? Right, a computer, but how do you control things on the screen? I know, you don’t feel like you’re controlling anything, I know. But when you — right, a keyboard, but when you . . . okay, that’s a touchpad. So when you touch it, the thing that moves around on the screen? Right, now, move that down to the bottom of the window you have open, and . . . it went black?”
In the past, as someone with a measure of comfort and familiarity with computers and HTML and online stuff, I’ve found the role of “tech support” mixed in with ministry.
Tech support is that number you call, or the department at work you contact, and they often ask “have you checked to make sure it’s turned on?” Because it’s often the heart of the problem. Tech support extends to “you’ll need to replace your AE-35 unit” but more often it’s a series of instructions over the phone or video link that helps you, the inexperienced, make your complex technology work the way you want it to.
Right off the top, I want to say that doing tech support for many, many church members (not always older ones, either) through these last few weeks has been a wonderful spiritual discipline for me. As I’ve said in this space before, patience is not always my strong point; God has in many ways worked with me on this need. Cultivating patience as I walk someone through a series of steps that I do almost unconsciously, and so find hard to describe in stages, and help another person learn how to do it on their terms: it has taught me patience.
Not enough, but I’m getting there.
And once we’ve gotten the video conference link to work, and the mutes off (or on, as needed) and the chat box under control; as people get used to how videos work in a browser window with a separate set of nested controls from their computer’s controls for volume and screen size; as more church members have gotten used to doing worship at home, together online – in all of this, there have been some definite upsides.
There are people in our congregations that have never felt more connected to their church, and more included in their involvement, than they do right now. It’s not that they asked for this or want it to continue, but it’s just as true that they feel less like shut-ins or outcasts than they have in years. We have people dealing with illness and chemo and disease who are not “those people” when they’re not in the building, they’re “one among us” now as we’ve always intended. This should make all of us in church leadership think hard about how we can maintain the work of connection without needing stay-at-home orders to accomplish it.
And I will admit, as a minister, I’ve known these people for years: they have anxiety issues and agoraphobia, neuropathy and low blood pressure. They are older couples with complex health problems, but they are also single parents who work late Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. A recording of the sermon whether delivered on a CD or available online is a solution for some, but the wider experience is something they’re blocked from on multiple levels. Right now, the worship field is level.
Gathered worship is still our goal and what I think of as a best practice, scripturally and personally. But the experience of online worship has led me to reflect on why I believe that, how it works in practice, and what we can do in the future. As we get closer to some form, however limited, of being present in a worship space, I don’t want to lose sight of some of the new angles I’ve started to see through these severe limitations, which actually have made some new relationships and inspiration possible.
And I promise to share them with you as I reach a little better understanding of those opportunities!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he’s still working on that whole patience thing. Tell him how you’ve done or experienced tech support as pastoral care at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.
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