Stay at home is the advice as we live through this strange, anxious, even a little bit scary time. We were asked to practice social distancing then told simply to stay at home unless you absolutely need to go out to get food or carry out essential aspects of life. Good advice, based on good reasoning and we will live by the mantra stay at home, won’t we? We will do it, even though it affects us all personally. It will affect the economies of the country and of the world and it will affect not just our working lives, but our whole lives. Working at home, where possible, is to become the norm. Some will be developing the required skills for the first time, maybe through helping our online teachers to keep education going through online school assignments, others will be old hands at it.
Working at home. When the term started to appear on the news and in the papers, I thought that’ll be no problem for me, I have worked at home since I joined the ministry in 1998. I am well used to encouraging a sleeping cat to move off my warm keyboard so that I can write a prayer, but I have to say this past week has felt a little odd. There is a big difference it seems, between agreeing not to meet with people - the bread and butter work of ministry if you like - and being told not to go out and meet people face to face. But there are always things we can do even when we need to change the way we work substantially. There is the phone and e-mail. Then again, the trip to the supermarket has always been a time of catch up with how people are feeling. Shopping is an important time of chat with groups of socially distanced people by the freezers or over a display of appropriately protected bread rolls.
But it has all felt a bit odd. With no real idea when the stay at home order will be withdrawn, all of us are trying to work out what it means to be a church that can’t meet. Yes, the buildings are not the church, the church is the people. So how do the people praise God and get the practical work of the church done, all without leaving our houses? This affects not just me but all of you too. We are all working out how to provide church to our parish. First up for me was to work out some way that the East Church could continue worshipping maybe Sunday by Sunday, but also during the week. I have been on a rapid learning course in how to use the marvellous pieces of software and technology that can make this happen. Simply recording a service from the pulpit in the church was less than satisfactory. Let down by a mixture of a strange rhythmic hiss on our sound system and the echo effect of an empty East church, I sought refuge in my comfy chair in the manse. We are always told that the world is a busy noisy place. I didn’t realise how much that applied to trying to record a sermon. Not only does the church have a humming sound system, but my laptop has a very noisy fan that cuts in and out ignoring all my pleas to follow advice and stay at home quietly in its case. Next, I propped my phone up against some books and began to preach. The first attempt was a little disappointing too. Excellent sound, I thought as I pushed play back, but why no picture? It turns out that unless you change the setting on your phone camera to be front facing, then all you get is a picture of the books the phone was lying against!
But as you will know, I did succeed in producing a version not too far from our normal service online on our website for Sunday. I also am pleased to record that this weekend had the highest number of unique viewers of our website I have ever seen. It wont always be me on screen, I hope over time to persuade others to make an appearance online. Remember, not only can you download a document containing the weekly worship, all the videos are downloadable too. Also have a look around the other worship resources available through clicking on the green area. I am also very thankful to our friends at Drumoak for sharing their Lenten bible study questions with us. Watch for a range of presenters online in the coming weeks especially in our Palm Sunday and Easter day services.
Yes, Sunday was very odd for me. As I was pruning the plum tree after lunch, I suddenly realised why. Back in the day when I was training for ministry, one wise elderly minister said to me, “Just remember Sunday comes every week. In ministry, Sunday is the day that all your weekly work is planned around because every week a service of worship is required.” Even when I am away from Banchory I pray for you all and wonder how it’s going in the church. The difference I felt last Sunday was that it was the first Sunday since 1998 when I hadn’t experienced that Sunday worship worry. Sunday did come round, but it was all prepared and delivered online by Friday.
How long will this last? We don’t know yet, but I have other preparations to make. Norma starts working from home tomorrow, so I need to finish that lunchtime box set TV treat today and move the biscuit tin that Norma does not know about into my personal vault. Yes, my mind is full of questions needing urgent answers as I prepare for the coming week. Should I run a piece of white tape down the centre of the table Norma and I will have to share while we work. It would look quite special with his and hers mugs placed either side on the his and hers workspaces.
This is the first of a series of articles that will explore what it means to be the Stay at home East church, online with you.
Your minister, Alan