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Lockdown can’t stop Tabernacle

rodborough rClive Malcolm, Treasurer of Rodborough Tabernacle URC in Gloucestershire, explains how the initial shock of lockdown hasn’t stopped people Walking the Way of Jesus.

It all begins

The time of lockdown came as a shock to us all at Rodborough. We have always been a congregation that thrives on the fellowship that comes through worshipping together and from the social interaction after our services.

Our mission activities have been based on close personal contact with friends and neighbours. Technology hadn’t really played a significant part in our church life in the past, beyond the use of screens in the sanctuary used during services.

Lent 2020 brought the realisation that things would not be the same for a long time to come and that we needed to do something to support each other at this difficult time.

Our minister and the elders first responded with a renewed focus on the importance of telephone contact. Many calls were made and offers of help with getting shopping other essential supplies kept on flowing.

Video services

The challenge of producing worship remained and, after a week without a service, we turned our attention to filling the gap. Our technical skills at that time were limited to using SongPro music presentation software as backing for our singing worship.

On Palm Sunday, we produced our first virtual service. We prepared slides and audio clips in PowerPoint, exported it as a video to a cloud system, and shared it with members and friends by e-mail.

We were pleased with the response to these first efforts and were convinced that we could continue to worship God during this difficult time. This realisation was a great relief to us, even as challenges lay ahead.

We wanted to include as many people as we could in our services by inviting them to read or sing. As such, a good number of the congregation have now taken part in services.

We have also been able to include the congregation of Brockworth Free Church, with whom we share a minister, in our services.

Music

At Easter, we started uploading recorded services to YouTube, where subscribers to our channel and others with a link can easily find them.

Using PowerPoint soon outlived its usefulness as a tool for putting service videos together and we turned to a more specialist video editing program.

We were frustrated by the limitations that were placed on our ability to include music in worship. As a church with a strong musical tradition, we wanted to do more than play a hymn tune with the words on a screen behind it! We have now developed two main streams of musical input. The first is a video recording of individuals playing and singing original worship songs, and the second is a virtual choir!

You may have seen examples of virtual choirs on television. Putting it together is not as easy as it looks! Singers and instrumentalists follow a karaoke-style guide track as they record their own vocal or instrumental contributions. These are then put together using an audio editing program before being finalised for inclusion in the service video.

To make broadcasting of music possible, we have had to be careful of copyright issues. More information on dealing with copyright can be found in this handy URC information booklet.

Using tools to reach people

We are delighted to have been able to reach members who do not have computers. Each week, we take the soundtrack of our video service and prepare it for playing over normal land-line telephones. This is used by members, including some who are housebound and could not get to church even before lockdown.

We asked ourselves at an early stage whether we should use Zoom to do virtual services. Its main advantage is in bringing the whole congregation together at one time in an act of worship, but there are also three major disadvantages, namely, security concerns, participation limited to those who know when it’s happening, and the impossibility of making music together in real time. We are offering an after-service coffee meeting on Zoom, but we are not yet confident in using it for the service itself.

Our average congregation before lockdown was 40. We know that we have more than 50 full views on YouTube at 10.30 each Sunday, and many of those will be of two or more people. YouTube reports an average of 188 views for each of our services, although not all of these will be views of the full service.

In addition to the virtual services, we have introduced a newsletter containing prayers, poems, news and humour. It just makes people smile.

Moving forward

We pray and hope that science will provide a way back to ‘normal’ church life, but we are prepared for a long wait, and so we will continue to look for ways to keep our congregation close together and close to God.

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