Embracing change

Sometimes simple things entertain me. Back ion the 1960’s the television game show Hollywood Squares became very popular. It continued through 26 seasons with a fairly similar set throughout the run. Nine actors, usually stars in their own right, sat behind small desks in nine boxes arranged with three on the bottom, three in the middle and three on the top. Contestants played tic-tac-toe by naming an actor who was asked a question. If the question was answered correctly the contestant won that square. People watched the show more for the actors’ responses than to see who was winning the game. The delivery of zingers was so popular that the show’s producers began to plan for them, often giving them to the actors to be delivered prior to the answer.

So here is the thing. I think that this will work with Zoom, but it definitely works with Go to Meeting. You set up a teleconference with nine participants. The participants appear on the computer screen in the order that they log into the conference. If you have nine participants total (host plus eight) the people appear in nine boxes arranged just like the old Hollywood Squares game. Since everyone sees the participants in the same order, they can learn to look up and down and to their left or right just like the actors did in the old game show, appearing to look at each other, even though they aren’t actually sitting in a set like the old game show.

Its a pretty silly thing and not very significant at all, but it amuses me all the same.

The reality is that we are all reinventing our amusements. Of course there are some things that we can do that are very similar to our lives before the coronavirus. We can still go for walks alone in the woods. It’s find to go to the park as long as you maintain six feet of separation between you and others. Our parks aren’t allowing children to play on the equipment, but a walk is acceptable. We can still call friends on the telephone and visit with our grandchildren over Skype. We can still sit in our living room and read books.

But there are a lot of new things. I have commented to several others that the past week has been a steep learning curve. When I went to seminary to prepare for a career in the pastoral ministry, they didn’t teach courses in computer network management, copyright law or livestream broadcasting. I never aspired to be a media preacher, preferring to serve in congregations where live worship was the focus. In a week, I had to transform my worship planning and production to a whole new format. We went live on Sunday morning with a tiny “studio audience.” We now are capable, if need be, of producing a broadcast worship service with just two of us in the room, and the organist can be a long way away from where I stand.

We got there through a lot of quick research and a bit of trial and error. There were some sound problems with our initial test runs and we are learning as we go, but we made the transition fairly quickly. Our normal worship services average around 125 in attendance. Our first livestream video earned 557 views on Facebook, plus a dozen views on our church website. Of course we don’t know how many of the viewers watched the entire service. Certainly some clicked on the link and watched for a few minutes and then left. Still, it is a whole new way of reaching out to people. We aren’t exactly a neighborhood church. People come from all around our area to attend our services. But it is different to see comments from Idaho, New Hampshire, Arizona, Hawaii and Australia.

The circumstances have invited us to think again about the nature of community and the scope of the ministry of the church. At this point, it is all an experiment. We don’t know if the transition to online video will be self-sustaining. We do have an online donation stream and there was a bit more activity on that stream than usual yesterday, but it remains to be seen whether or not we can make the changes work. We don’t know how long we will be in this new mode of worship and ministry, but it seems that many are suggesting eight weeks as the amount of time we may need this heightened level of isolation. In the meantime the general economy is going through a radical readjustment which affects our ministry as well. Some of our people are out of work and worried about day to day survival. Many of our people are very worried about their health. As has been true in every generation, the church needs to be nimble and flexible and adjust to the changes.

Some of the changes will be permanent. We are already thinking about how we can mount cameras in our sanctuary to create a permanent place for live-streaming our worship. We want to continue to widen our outreach beyond the confines of our town. We want to be able to broadcast into the homes of our members who are not able to get out for worship. In the future, pastors will need a basic level of technological competency that was not required of us for most of our career.

I am going to have to hone some of my skills in new ways. I’ve never been good at telephone work. I call people and I answer my calls, but I much prefer being face to face. I know how to judge another’s reaction when I can see their face, but it is a different matter on the telephone. But I need to be on the phone more and learn to pray over the phone better in this phase of my ministry.

They say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but this old dog is finding out that he needs to be learning new tricks at a rapid pace in an uncertain and quickly changing world. Who knows what new adventures we’ll find in the week to come? In the meantime, I can always play Hollywood Squares.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!