As we head toward month ten of pandemic adaptations, we’re all probably finding ourselves on at least the third or fourth iteration of adaptive changes in our faith communities and our own leadership. I expect many of you are like me. You’ve delved deep into your own creative toolboxes and, by now, you might have started scraping the bottom. You’ve been staying tuned-in to social media, looking for ideas and ways to navigate, keeping your people engaged in some form of community and spiritual formation practices. You’ve dipped into your own denominational circles to see if there’s something that might suit the culture of the congregation you serve – and you’ve looked into what’s happening with partner denominations.
As a Moravian pastor and educator, I’ve appreciated a couple of interesting adaptive shifts during this time that I hope might continue into the future.
One adaptation has been a spirit of partnership and collaboration. In the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, I watched as many of my Moravian colleagues finally started plugging into and using Zoom for opportunities to meet and collaborate. Rather than a monthly regional opportunity to gather in-person, the pastors throughout the Southeast (there are only about 60 of us from southern Virginia to Florida) have met weekly. Many of us have learned more about each other and the challenges of our particular contexts in 36 weeks of relatively unstructured Zoom chats than we’ve known or shared before.
Zoom wasn’t just a platform the pastors pivoted to. Moravian Church Without Walls, a group within the denomination, coordinated a weekly Zoom worship and took turns collaborating with a different Moravian ministry or congregation to offer worship to anyone who wanted to join in. For small Moravian congregations around North America that weren’t quite ready to make the technological leap to offering virtual worship, this collaboration provided a way to remain connected to familiar practices. You could worship with John Hus Moravian in NYC this week or with the faculty of Moravian Seminary the next.
During Holy Week, many Moravian congregations share in some form of daily reading services; these include a merged account of the four gospels blended with hymns. Moravian Church Without Walls offered a worship service for anyone tuning in from across North America. They used music from a recording of services from one congregation and a readers’ theatre script that I created. Each night, seven or eight different leaders voiced the parts – from Western Canada to South Florida. This resulted in unique worship services which included a wide range of voices.
As summer hit, partnerships emerged around virtual VBS programming. My congregation partnered with three other congregations and an emerging Hispanic ministry to offer a 4-week series of programs via Zoom. Activity and extension kits were delivered to family homes. We sang with sign language, thanks to the gallery view in Zoom. We shared in four of Jesus’ parables through Godly Play presentations. We worked on service projects and engaged ideas with various crafts. This Fall, part of our VBS partnership merged with another, forming a team of four congregations and the Hispanic ministry for weekly Sunday school. Yes, it was easier to produce the creative elements as part of a team, and it gave an opportunity for two churches with small, inconsistent tween groups to have a solid program for all the kids – even when only 1 or 2 joining from each church.
A second adaptation has simply been creating space to try something different. Most Moravian congregations can be pretty tradition-bound. Sound familiar? However, times like these force us to consider what traditions are important to keep and where we can allow flexibility. Maybe we can hold onto some of this flexibility on the other side of this time; a gift of this strange and uncomfortable time.
Some may remember the Moravian Lovefeast that was shared at the 2018 Annual Event in Baltimore. In the explanation of the event, we stressed that the Lovefeast isn’t just a special Christmas moment; rather, it is about building and restoring community, and it can be celebrated several times a year. During a traditional Lovefeast, there is a lot of singing. Most of the proclamation of the word during a service of Lovefeast is through congregational song. During the singing, everyone usually receives a simple baked good and beverage. But how do you do anything like this right now?
The congregation I serve is celebrating their fourth Lovefeast during this pandemic to mark Thanksgiving. These celebrations have allowed us opportunity to come together in days when the world seems so scattered.
We held a virtual “bring your own” Lovefeast back on Good Friday via YouTube. We used pre-recorded instrumental music to accompany the readings – the only singing was a duet with organ as the special music. Participants could eat and drink whatever they brought with them to the screen. In August, celebrating the renewal of the Moravian Church in 1727, we had a “bring your own Lovefeast” again via YouTube. A small worship team provided the vocals for the hymns. We also offered an in-person version on the church grounds, with only instrumental music. Some enjoyed donuts or biscuits; others had coffee or soda. As we celebrated the congregation’s Anniversary and Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a small ensemble of band members playing hymns in the parking lot as the congregation drove through to pick up their Lovefeast “buns to go.” People were encouraged then return to their homes with their treats and share in the YouTube worship recording. We’ll repeat this plan again for Thanksgiving. We will have one of our servers appear on screen, bringing me a napkin and bun prior to leading the blessing.
As we head into Advent and Christmas, we’re trying to find ways to hold onto traditions, but we’re also having to reinvent them in intentional ways. Our Advent kits go out this week. Thanks to collaboration with our partners, each Saturday, a new video tutorial will post demonstrating a different hands-on element: making an Advent Wreath and learning to trim homemade beeswax candles that our candlemakers shared for this project; creating a Christingle; making a nativity putz scene with little peg people; and folding Moravian paper stars. For our Christmas Eve Lovefeast and Candlelight services, we’ll have the virtual Lovefeast and candle option online so that a more robust form of this song-focused service can be possible. While we can’t record a version of our usual service with only a single worship team, we’ll construct this service with several parts recorded separately. We’ll include a band ensemble, an adult choir, a child’s solo or sibling duet, and a family lighting the wreath. Each part and person we record combines into a worship service that creates a feeling of community. The lights of each life shine in community.
We’re also planning an outdoor candlelight service, which we would never consider doing normally. Many are excited to see the light spread and travel around the socially-distanced circle of gathered worshipers while a soloist and small band ensemble provide live music from a distance. We’ll be offering “buns to go” at our church, while others offer “buns on the run” or “Lovefeast in a box” options. Denomination-wide, a team of folks has put together a resource site full of ideas and elements to create both congregational and home worship materials: https://moravianchristmas.org
One my congregation’s lead band members is also the chair of the Christian Education committee. She holds the knowledge of which chorales are usually played when – whether on Christmas Eve, Easter, or at the Midnight on New Years Eve during the Watchnight service (when the band interrupts my message). Her wise words sum up this year’s challenges well: “This is the year for doing new things, things we might never be able to try otherwise.” Even with the exhaustion of constant adaptation, embracing the things that are possible right now is what is keeping me going!