Improvising Church in the age of Covid-19
The first rule of improvisation is “yes, and!” In improv you must deal with what you are given. No matter what your scene partner comes up with, no matter how far off kilter it is, you cannot deny or reject what they give you. You must accept it and build upon it. It is the classic “Yes, And.”
This pandemic, Coronavirus Covid-19, has forced the church to improvise how it provides community and a worship experience. Most of the churches I know are hosting the daily offices on Facebook live. The officiant reads the office and viewers can follow along with their own Book of Common Prayer or an online version. For the most part the services were conducted by a lone officiant from their home. If the officiant was a priest, she or he wore a clerical shirt with no other vestments. Lay officiants tended to wear street clothes.
Many of my friends watched the live stream from The National Cathedral in
In full vestments in the empty cathedral were the dean, several clergy
assistants, lay ministers, the organist, and four members of the choir. The
number of participants looked to be the maximum number allowed for gatherings,
ten. Since the live stream was from the church, vestments were used, and music
included, this gave a more fulfilling viewing experience. It was still,
however, watching a service on a screen and not full participation. Washington D.C.
The oblivious pieces missing are communion and the opportunity to gather in community. With the ban on public worship lasting at least eight weeks, this means no communion for over two months. It also means that church offerings will be down considerably.
At this time there are to be no public gatherings and personal events should be limited to ten people. Until the CDC recommends strict quarantine it is possible for small groups to meet in member homes. What if ten people would gather in a home and watch the live stream together? Certain homes would be designated as house churches and the leaders would be trained in how to properly clean and keep proper social distance with guests in the home. The home leaders would also need to be trained or licensed, depending on diocesan guidelines, to distribute communion.
What happens at the service? In preparation, the home leaders would pick up consecrated bread from the church prior to the live stream. The priest would conduct a special service where all the bread sent out to the home churches would be consecrated. The parish office would create home bulletins to be used for the service. Included in the bulletin would be several hymns. At the designated time, members of the parish who have signed up to be part of a house church, gather in the host’s home. The readings of the lessons will be done in the home. The live stream would provide the Gospel, sermon, and music for the hymns. The only individuals needed at the church for the live stream would be the priest and the organist or musician. Other musicians or choir members could also participate, keeping the number of attendees at ten or under. The priest would celebrate the Eucharist and during communion, the house church members would receive from the reserve sacrament brought by the host. A collection would be taken in each home and brought to church the following week when the host picks up next week’s bread and bulletins.
Obviously this would not fit everyone. Those with a compromised immune system, the elderly, and sick would not be able to gather even in groups of ten. But at least for some the church could provide some sort of in-person community. I know the polity of the church says lay Eucharistic visitors can only go forth on Sunday immediately following the regular service. But this is a time to improvise and think outside the box. This is just one idea, but one that might be worth considering.