On a snow day, worship goes virtual

Photo above: A parishioner and her cat tune in to Facebook Live to join the Rev. Megan Castellan of St. John’s Church in Ithaca in morning prayer. The church offered virtual worship  after regular church services were canceled due to extreme weather. Photo by Sara VanLooy via Facebook

When a severe winter storm convinced many CNY churches to cancel Sunday services last weekend, some got creative and worshiped virtually. Episcopalians and their neighbors took time out from snow removal with Morning Prayer over Facebook Live and sermon videos hosted on websites—making time for God and one another.

Pastor Terry Langdon of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Pulaski said she “wanted a plan,” if leadership was going to cancel the church’s usual 10:00 a.m. service, recalls senior warden Paige Taylor. Taylor suggested that she and her school-age son Andrew would co-lead a service of morning prayer on Facebook Live—and a plan was born. “I was a little nervous,” she admits. But she knew that her son, who has plenty of practice at church, would do a great job reading prayer and scripture. Plus, “being eleven years old, he loves the opportunity to see himself online!”


Posted by St. James Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 20, 2019

The service came together: Langdon shared her sermon manuscript for Taylor to read in the service, and Taylor distributed a “mini-bulletin” to church members over email. Up to 18 people were online for the prayer service when it went live on Sunday morning. “It was fantastic!” exclaims Taylor. “That was definitely more people than we would’ve had show up at church, had we not canceled. The comments left in the feed were of gratitude, encouragement, ‘amen’s,’ and it was great to be able to bring a little spiritual lift to parishioners, friends, and family that tuned in.”


Welcome to Snow Day Morning Prayer!

Posted by St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Rev. Megan Castellan, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ithaca, led a similar Facebook Live service on Sunday morning, and members of St. John’s  followed along with their Books of Common Prayer at home. They were joined by members of several Ithaca churches whose services had also been canceled.

As in Pulaski, those who tuned in were appreciative. Some are trying virtual worship for the first time, and finding it a meaningful alternative when gathering in-person isn’t possible. “The Snow Day Morning Prayer was rewarding for me,” said Michael Roman, senior warden of St. John’s Church. “I don’t think of it as a substitute for Sunday morning congregational worship—I think of it as yet another way to spiritually connect with God, like private devotions, meditation, etc. I was aware of the fact that 29 other people were simultaneously doing the exact same thing I was, some from far away—this added to the experience for me!”

Cliff Durkin, who tuned in for a pre-recorded mini-service on the Facebook page of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Chenango Bridge, asked for more virtual worship opportunities. In a comment on the page, he suggested a service of evening prayer in the future, and shared that one member of his household “felt like she was in church for real when we watched.”

St. Mark’s had taken a different approach, pre-recording a short worship service with prayers, a Gospel reading and sermon from rector the Rev. Mark Giroux. The church’s volunteer communicator, Andy Pierce, suggested they record a video in advance of the storm, and posted it on the parish’s Facebook page and website Sunday morning. The warm reception the video received makes sense for Pierce, who sees the congregation as including a virtual community that extends well beyond the parish. “We have a base that already knows to go to our Facebook page or website to see the weekly sermon and Kid Stuff [children’s lesson],” he says. People, including parishioners who’ve moved away and friends and family of current members, regularly tune in to St. Mark’s videos from places as far away as Colorado and Alaska.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “I am there among them.” And in case there was doubt, this recent snow day proves there is more than one way to gather. “I felt the Holy Spirit before we even got online,” recalls Taylor of St. James’ Church. “I felt the Holy Spirit in the quiet prayers I said in my head while doing the service Live. After it was done…I saw how far the Holy Spirit can reach” as more viewers watched the video throughout the day. “I am happiest, settled, smiling inside when I can be the instrument to deliver prayers, readings, a sermon, a message to people that want to hear and receive it. It just seemed like a no-brainer.”

Want to try Facebook Live?

It’s simple!

1. Make sure you are an admin or editor of your church’s Facebook page. If you aren’t, contact your current admin to get set up.

2. Grab your smartphone or computer. If you have a smartphone, you can use a tripod to keep it steady while you broadcast.

3. Head to your church’s Facebook page, and click “Go Live.”

4. You’ll be able to preview and practice before your live stream goes public. Make sure you are comfortable, well-lit, and close enough to your computer or smartphone to be heard clearly. That’s it!

Showing 4 comments
  • Robin Weisbrod

    What a WONDERFUL idea!!! I believe we could implement this at our church too!!

    • Meredith Sanderson

      Oh, I KNOW you could, Robin! I have seen you on Facebook Live. 🙂

  • Sandy Fillingham

    I often “go to church” at St. Mark’s (Chenango Bridge) on Sunday mornings. I live around 50 miles away, but I feel that St. Mark’s is my second church and look forward to the services.

    • Meredith Sanderson

      That’s wonderful, Sandy! So glad to hear it. Thanks for being part of St. Mark’s and our diocese!

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