Jessy Hennesy of Arvada has been attending Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden for about 20 years. This week, service was a little different from what she’s used to.
“It’s just before 11 and they’re starting with morning song where we sing a couple of songs prior to the service,” Hennesy said in a video of herself streaming the service from her laptop.
Church leaders open the worship by inviting virtual congregants to join in and sing the song, "This Little Light Of Mine." Hennesy closes her eyes and begins singing to herself in her living room, coffee in hand.
Restrictions on group activities and events have forced faith groups to cancel services to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Jefferson Unitarian Church has suspended all gatherings of 12 people or more and leaders are encouraging congregants to stay connected by watching services online. Before COVID-19 forced closures, the church offered Sunday services online. But now they've added more streaming blocks to replace in-person programming.
A spokeswoman with the church said typically about 40 devices stream Sunday services but last Sunday, when in-person services were canceled, 470 devices were streaming.
“I liked being able to just sit in like, whatever I wanted to wear that day and be comfortable and readjust, and not have to worry about was I sitting in a way that like was going to bother other people,” Hennesy said.
When church leaders lit a chalice on the video stream, she lit her own blue chalice from home. The chalice lighting is a tradition in the Unitarian Universalist faith that symbolizes the community coming together. Even though she included that in her worship service at home, Hennesy said it's not the same as going to church in person.
“I didn't get to connect as much with my fellow congregants or with the staff in the way that I normally do on a Sunday,” she said.
Usually, after church, Hennesy spends time catching up with other congregants in the common area. There is food available, too, for a donation. But even that’s a little concerning right now because “I assume that folks have their financial situation up in the air and so there will probably have to be some reconsideration,” she said.
Online streaming isn’t available to everyone and some in the church are reaching out to those people to make sure they have access. That will be important to ensure congregants stay connected, Hennesy said.
She said the support of an online service is reassuring at a time when things are changing so fast.
“I'm more worried about the costs of inaction than I am about kind of closing things off,” she said. “I think that we have a whole lot of creativity within our church, within society, in our ability to get work done, and so there's a lot of struggle and I think that we'll be able to figure things out in a way that keeps people connected.”
How are you and your faith community approaching remote services and remote fellowship? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.