Confessions of a Livestream Pastor
Stephen Hambidge is Pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary
I have a confession to make: During most church services, I can be seen checking my Facebook. I think prior to the pandemic, I would have reacted quite strongly if anybody would have suggested that I look at Facebook during a service, and although I might not have told members of the church that they shouldn’t do so either, quietly I would have thought that they weren’t giving their full attention to God. But during the past two years, my thinking has changed.
I pastor a church that is made up of a number of young families and one of our strengths has been the way that we have been able to build up a ministry to children. Whereas many mainline denominations have far more people with grey hair in their congregations than any other demographic, the number of children at our church has made us a bit of an anomaly. I think one of the reasons for this is the attention that we give to children. It is important to us that children want to come to church and so we do what we can to create a culture in which they feel welcome. To encourage this, I have worked hard to engage with them, not only during the church service itself, but also in simple conversations with them afterwards.
Pre-pandemic one of our practices was the traditional “Children’s Talk”—a time when the children were invited to sit with me on the floor at the front of the church so that I could share something of Jesus with them. Another weekly practice that many children looked forward to was when it came time to put out the candles on the Communion Table at the end of the service. Each week I would choose a different child to help me. These two practices were all well and good when we were meeting in person, but I wondered how we might keep those children engaged once we moved our services online.
Over the past twenty-four months our church has moved between online only, to a hybrid model and then with the Omicron variant, we moved back to online only, however, the sense that I get is that throughout it all, the children have kept engaged. I believe that one of the reasons for this is the fact that I’ve been intentional at seeking engagement. Currently, whether we are online only or we have some people in person and others watching online, whenever we have a children’s time, I will ask questions of ALL of the children. Obviously, those children who are present can respond directly, but in order to engage with the children who are connected online, I check my Facebook feed to see the responses that they are giving. As I read their responses, I can say their first name aloud and thank them for contributing and together we feel like a community. In addition, at the end of the service when it comes time to put out the candles, I invite those children who are watching online to blow and with my help, they watch the candles blow out and they feel as though they’ve participated
Another time during the service when I check my Facebook feed is during our Prayers of the People. Whether it is me leading the prayers, or whether the prayers are being led by a lay person, we invite those who are connected online to add comments to the Facebook feed lifting up any prayer requests they have. Our prayer leader then names these prayers aloud so those who shared their requests can be encouraged that people are praying for them.
Going forward, it is our intention to continue with the above practices, even when the pandemic is behind us, because for us a return to in-person-only services isn’t an option; instead, services will always fit more of a hybrid model. Because of this, it is important to us that all those who join us—those in person, and those online—feel as though they are equally valued and that the services are equally accessible. Having my phone or tablet with me during the service helps me to feel connected to those who are not with me in person and by keeping an open eye on Facebook, it provides an opportunity for interaction.
I’m nearly sixty years old and perhaps I was introduced to social media a bit late in life, but I do see how in our pandemic and post-pandemic world, it can be a useful tool for ministry. So, if you ever come to our church and you see me checking my phone during the service, please know it’s not because I’m bored, but rather, I’m just trying to look for ways to engage with our congregation.
What We’re Listening To
Building Vibrant Community Connections in Digital and Physical Spaces with Jordana Wright
As many of you know, our current theme for the FCI newsletter is about Innovation and COVID-19. In a podcast from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, Jordana Wright discusses ways of building vibrant community connections in digital and physical spaces during the pandemic. Wright shares several innovative ways to reach out beyond the church walls by encouraging church leaders to listen well and speak to everyone in the community. Innovative ways to reach out must be motivated by the benefits for the community and not just to get people to a church program. It is about making people feel special.
Congregations need to figure out what they are trying to achieve in their digital ministries. When it comes to digital spaces, Wright thinks that digital ministry is more than “just someone filming the worship service and streaming it to Facebook or people sitting in a Zoom room and watching it.” Instead, digital ministry is about an active and meaningful experience of community. Wright shares a number of strategies and further considers hybrid ways of doing ministry that bring together the physical and the digital world.
What is interesting and refreshing about this podcast is the examples of congregational innovation that Wright speaks about. Many of her examples come from older established churches that have an older demographic.
Dr. Arch Wong is Professor of Practical Theology at Ambrose University and Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute
New Leaf Network’s Learning Centre Book Club
Thursdays, April 21, 28, May 5,12, & 19 – 1:30PM ET
Join us in the Learning Centre for our next Book Club as we walk through an exciting new book Overlooked: The Forgotten Origin Stories of Canadian Christianity.
We’ll be joined by the author, Dr. James Robertson, and other New Leaf Neighbours as we dive into this honest assessment of the spiritual ground we inhabit as Canadians. Register Now
Rethinking Preaching 2022
April 25-26 (ONLINE)
The Centre for Religion and Its Contexts at Emmanuel College and Shining Waters Regional Council (The United Church of Canada) are pleased to host the second Rethinking Preaching Conference with this year’s theme, “Intercultural Preaching.”
The challenge of intercultural preaching in the midst of social crises defined by racism, colonialism, and ecological crisis has gripped preachers in all parts of the world. What’s more, online worship and the use of technology are on the rise and have contributed to cultural shifts that challenge long-held assumptions about worship. All prompt us to rethink preaching. Register Now
From the Trenches
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022 – 11 AM Central
Join us for our May From The Trenches event for Parish Leaders where we dive into topics around parish renewal with those leaders who are moving their parish from Maintenance to Mission. Register Here
Kingdom Coming: Pastor's Conference
May 5, 2022, 9:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. (MT)
Join other pastors, either in person or online, for this pastor’s conference.
The three sessions will look at:
considerations for the post-pandemic church
how servants of the King live and minister in these anxious, uncertain, complex times
the church’s gospel call to reconciliation
Report on Catholic Parishes in Canada
This report captures the descriptive findings on perceptions and experiences in areas such as congregational identity, leadership, innovation, discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, neighbourhood involvement, and evangelism within Catholic parishes in Canada. Download Report