Originally posted on tvprays.org as Video Conferencing and Sacred Space
Hebrews 10:24-25, 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I first opened a Zoom video conferencing account when the Lutheran Outdoor Ministry board president moved us from conference phone calls to Zoom in 2015. I asked our synod if we could use its account while convening the executive director search committee for Luther Heights in 2018. But it was not until I volunteered for Thriving Leadership, a Lilly funded initiative shared by California Lutheran University and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, that I really understood how video conferencing, and Zoom specifically, could be used to create and foster community. The week before Trinity Lutheran, the congregation I serve as pastor, shut down in March 2020 I participated in an online training about Zoom. I learned about simple tools like letting people turn off their cameras, encouraging people to light a candle to separate our time and space, sharing my screen for litanies and prayers, and using break-out rooms. These became vital tools during the early months of the pandemic and I have continued to employ the them often, even after our congregation resumed in-person gatherings. As traffic congestion increases, as people search for faith communities and are nervous about stepping inside church buildings, I have taken book studies, Bible Studies, and spiritual practices online. I am so grateful to Desta Goehner (CLU) and Ray Pickett (PLTS) for writing the Thriving Leadership FormationLilly grant and to Mark Yaconelli, author and founder of The Hearth, for writing our spiritual practices handbook. Leading spiritual practices groups for our synod, as part of this project, nudged me to enhance online spaces and experiment with different curriculums and methods of operation. I am also grateful for the group of women who started meeting around the same time tvprays.org was launched. We met weekly for at least 18 months and my online leadership was nurtured by our time together.
Every time I gather a group using video conferencing, it feels a bit like I am on the trail again with a group of high school youth and we have stopped for Bible Study. I love campfire and all-camp worship and games during which youth get to run and scream, but for me the best part of camp as both a camper and counselor was the cabin group—the relationship formed between young adult and campers. I love the small group for relationship building and mutual learning.
But there is also something surprising about how video conferencing can help create sacred space for people. It surely is not the only modern tool that can do that (check out several applications on my smart phone) and I would first in line to argue that whenever possible we should be in sacred spaces offline (feasting on the Lord’s Supper together, digging in gardens, hiking in the Boise Foothills). But when I read an article arguing that silence was a worship practice Zoom could not replicate, I argued against it in my head. When I sit in silence with groups I am leading on Zoom, it is most often during a spiritual practice. I have given the participants prompts for their imaginations—a memory, an image, a scripture passage. Is that really so very different than the silence I give our congregation in the midst of Confession and Forgiveness or in the midst of the bidding prayers on Good Friday? I am not so sure. For now, I am grateful for the technology and the ways it is helping me connect with people across the Treasure Valley and across the entire synod.
I am grateful to have found new ways to both connect and serve. I will also be one of the first to get myself up to the Sawtooth Mountains this summer to unplug, pull up a chair on the deck at Luther Heights and talk to a new or old friend. It does not have to an either/or option. We can embrace both in person and online communities.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for new and ancient ways of creating Christian community. We ask your Holy Spirit to guide us as we nurture our relationships with you, one another, our neighbors, and the natural world.