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FOCUS: Pivoting from the pulpit with new technology (Dec. 2020)

December 21st, 2020 · No Comments

Churches and synagogues ready for on-line services

By Mary An

Nine months into the global pandemic, religious communities have shifted their pulpits onto digital platforms. With Christmas coming, churches seem to be taking the social isolation mandates that limit their ability to connect physically with congregants in stride, while enjoying expanded audiences and in some cases, even surprisingly  intimate connections.

In a way, we’re engaging more people because people don’t have to go out of their houses, and they’re coming from far away…So, there’s a blessing

—Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, City Shul

Colin Phillips, Chair of the Board at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, says having live-streamed and pre-recorded services has helped gain more attention from people in “other places in Canada and the world.” Online streaming has grown audiences for Sunday services to more than 300 people who watch either through social media or the church’s website – although some people seem to be choosing to view the services on other days of the week. This new form of connection also seems to create a new kind of closeness.

Trinity St. Paul’s United Church has opted for an outdoor wishing tree due the lockdown. The Bloor Annex BIA parkette on Major Street is a perfect spot for this popular pop-up. NEILAND BRISSENDEN/GLEANER NEWS

“The randomness and intimacy of Zoom breakout rooms has made for unlikely connections between congregants who might not otherwise talk,” wrote Phillips said in an email to the Annex Gleaner

Other religious organizations have shared this experience.

“In a way, we’re engaging more people because people don’t have to go out of their houses, and they’re coming from far away,” says Rabbi Elyse Goldstein from City Shul. “We have people coming to our [online] services from Israel, New York, Boston, and Virginia. So, there’s a blessing.”

The weekly celebration of Sabbath days continue through digital platforms as other occasions do, but with some challenge presented by the meaning of those days.

According to Rabbi Goldstein, on the Sabbath, people are meant to “cease from being involved in the commerce of the world,” by taking a day of rest from technology, work, or shopping. 

“It’s very personally hard for me, because I don’t have a day of rest,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “But, my congregants like it. They feel taken care of and that’s what’s really important.” 

Other creative ways of connecting were seen in September through the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The synagogue held an outdoor drive-in service at Ontario place, where 135 cars arrived, and celebrations were visible on a big screen. 

Trinity St. Paul’s United Church also has their doors open with physical distancing measures in place and a maximum of 10 people allowed at any given time within the sanctuary. Activities that create camaraderie, such as cooking food for one another along with their outreach programs, holiday prayers and traditions, after-choir practice, and hosting pageants, will all continue with  social distancing measures in place – or they will take place online. 

“The pandemic has been a time to live out the old adage that the church is more than a building,” wrote Phillips. 

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