Who would have thought that a bunch of camp professionals helped prepare me to serve my congregation in a time of physical distancing? I’m not sure I would have. My council’s executive committee decided to cancel in-person gatherings through March 31 on March 13. The first thing I did on March 14 was purchase a Zoom account for myself. I was pretty sure we would use Facebook Live for worship since our congregation has a decent following and presence on Facebook. But what about small group gatherings and meetings and other random conversations? I knew of no better tool than Zoom meeting and the reason I knew about Zoom was because of my two terms on the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (LOM) board of directors.
I always thought it was a bit fun and funny that it was outdoor ministry professionals who taught me the most about technology over the past eight years, everything from Dropbox (a while ago) to Zoom to Google Drive. It is funny, of course, because these are the same professionals who know the great value in getting unplugged. I make a huge push every summer to get all the kids (plus a good number of adults) from my congregation to Luther Heights Bible Camp. There are lots of reasons for my push, most important being the value in spending a week in intentional Christian Community. But I also know that one week being unplugged does them well. The youth know it too. On more than one ride home I have heard, “I love being unplugged. But there’s no way I can do it on my own.”
When I first served on the LOM board we used conference calls. You might think that an introvert like me would like those because there was no eye-contact. But being introverted is only one part of my identity. I am also the person who reads the room. I was told once, during an Emotional Intelligence training, that you could tell the temperature of the room by the look on my face. (I have no poker face). I don’t try to read the room; it’s just something I do instinctively and when I can’t, like when I’m on a conference phone call, it drives me crazy. So I absolutely loved when our board president introduced us to Zoom.
A few years later, when tasked with leading the search committee for Luther Height’s new executive director, I asked our synod if we could use their account. We drew together members from Nampa to American Falls. Geographic representation was key in gaining the trust of our loyal constituency. But some of us had never met until our first meeting. If I had not been able to read people’s facial expressions and body language it would have taken us all much longer to gel. Video conferencing was pure gift.
There are a few more things I really appreciate about Zoom, especially right now. One is that even though I have written a great deal about reading body language, my members who do not have computers or internet can still join in. Every time I send a link I specify that they can also call in with a flip phone or land line. Finally, at least with the subscription, so far the connections have been quite stable, with is impressive considering how much traffic Zoom has right now.
I do not want to put Outdoor Ministry people up on a pedestal for their use of technology. I know that a variety of networks and coalitions of church people have been using video conferencing for a long time to do ministry. I just love that I was introduced to the technology by people who 1) have understand small-group ministry for forever, 2) who continually lift up whatever young adults bring to the table (which has included new ways of connecting through technology), and 3) who are the same people who would tell me to get off of all my devices and go get some Vitamin D.