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Many of us have been appreciating the online services and gatherings of our parish community during this time of public health crisis.  The worship services on Sunday and Easter and the Zoom group gatherings for Evening Prayer and Wednesday Morning have enabled us to continue to gather, share our faith journeys and remain connected socially and spiritually when we would otherwise be thrown into distressing isolation. 

Much gratitude to those who are making this online Parish life possible: Reverend Sharon for her pastoral caring, spiritual leadership, community organizing and her considerable technological savvy in making much of this happen. 

Thanks also to Siiri Rebane for music which provides so much to our worship services; to Suzana Valente for her professional sound and video editing, to Mermi V. for website design and management; and to many others in the background holding everything and everyone together. All of you are keeping our St. Catherine’s communal life of faith engaged, alive and relevant in this very challenging time. 

Many of us are finding Online Church to be a steep learning curve, particularly when we participate in Zoom groups (for quick start-up information for Zoom, here is a guide page and video tutorials).  These small group gatherings have a surprising intimacy as we share our faith and lives through cyberspace while being in the familiarity of our own homes. Unlike coming to the physical church building, we are actually entering each other’s homes via our computer screens.  This can create a warm, hospitable environment, but it also carries the risk of intrusion and disturbing distraction.

There are some simple things we can all do to minimize any negative impact and instead contribute to a positive experience for all participants. 

·      Find a quiet physical space at home to sign/dial-in.  Try to be in a quiet room without background noise and/or other household members. This minimizes distracting noises reaching group members.  It also protects confidentiality for group members during times of sharing.

·      Leave behind multitasking and distractions.  We have become accustomed to doing many things at once. Divided attention distracts from the single-minded focus that is so fruitful in faith gatherings. When we sign into a zoom group while we are distracted by other tasks or conversations with others in the background, we bring these interruptions into the group. Leave them all behind.

·      Prepare before signing or phoning in.  Pause. Bring your heart and mind into the present moment so you can enter the Zoom Group with awareness and thoughtfulness.  Your mindful presence can contribute much to the group, sometimes even more than when we gather in person.

·      Become familiar with online and Zoom protocols.  There are a few technical skills for participants in a Zoom call (some video tutorials are available here). e.g. muting/unmuting, stop/start the video, gallery/speaker view, raising your hand, working with the moderator. These may seem confusing or even daunting at first, but with some repeated use readily transition into helpful tools that enrich our participation and contribution to the group. You can be very sure that everyone is with you, supporting you as they are learning too. 

We will be doing “Online Church” for some time yet. As we become accustomed to the technology, we will discover it is a gift that can indeed keep on giving. We encourage your participation, your daring to try the technology and your potential discovery of how rich and meaningful our online gatherings and community can actually be. 

by Deborah Foster