Christian Worship and Devotion during Social Distancing

Editor's note: The following document serves as an outline and a directory for a collected set of pieces functioning as one resource. Each piece listed below will either appear as a link (when it is available) or with a "Coming Soon" tag. Check this page regularly to see when new pieces are linked to view, or visit this issue on the Ministry During the Pandemic page to see new content listed. 

Who we are

We offer this resource as instruction and guidance for the church during this time of social distancing. We are scholars, teachers, and worship leaders in The United Methodist Church. We represent several seminaries and former worship staff for the General Board of Discipleship, with expertise on matters of online worship and sacramental practice. We have included a few liturgies from the Order of St. Luke. We recognize that these may be useful in some church settings, especially during this time when many are seeking contemplative practices for home worship.

Our concerns and our hopes

We who have been called and authorized to lead the church during this time of social distancing may find ourselves feeling unprepared for this moment. Few if any of us received instruction in how to lead a church entirely through technical, digital means of communication. Many pastors in the UMC serve congregations consisting of older people and rural people who may not have the skills or the technology to join an online meeting or watch an online service. During this moment of crisis, we may be experiencing a range of emotions:

  • fear for our congregation members, our families, and ourselves;
  • anxiety about our own skill levels;
  • uncertainty about what we can do and what we should not;
  • deep concern about how we will minister to the sick, isolated, dying, and dead when the virus comes to our communities;
  • how our congregations will cope financially with these new pressures;
  • whether we will be able to lead our people through this raging storm, and how long it will be before the storm passes.

In the midst of our concerns and fears, we may also have a sense of hope for the future. Through this challenge, we might renew lay leadership in our churches. Practices from earlier points in history, as well as tactics from other congregations and denominations, can adapt and be useful in these new formats for meeting. So we are in a moment to consider best practices for life together as we use online communication. life together as we use online communication.

Most of us are doing the best we can, so our first moves may be to try to replicate the familiar. We can record what we would normally do on Sunday morning, perhaps limiting and distancing our worship leaders so that not too many are together at once; celebrate communion on the First Sunday of the month as usual; use the regular pattern of worship that people know-but take it online to a screen.

What we do on Sunday mornings emerged over centuries in the context of a physically gathered community. Many of the things we do in Sunday worship don’t translate well to an online format. And what if someone wants to be baptized or join the church? Does it endanger the health of our ministry leaders to gather, even standing six feet apart, and create music right now? And when we offer songs online, are we in compliance with copyright law?

These difficult times call us beyond ordinary responses. We now have before us the extraordinary opportunity to help people meet and know the real presence of Christ through all the means of grace that God provides.

Resources and practices

The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion require physical gathering. Because of this restriction, which is based in scriptural theology and church tradition, by focusing on the means of grace, our aim here is to offer resources and practices for what we CAN do during this period of time when we cannot physically gather.

We offer the following basic guidelines and pastoral suggestions along with links to specific resources, which can be used right now. These are based on an appreciation for the power of the Word and the use of the means of grace in all their forms. 

Many pastors and congregations may find resources among practices of daily prayer for morning, evening, and night. These ancient practices are of particular value for family, small group, or congregational use. The availability of a wide range of contemporary prayer forms and meditative practices with Scripture, music, and visual sources can and will deepen shared spiritual life. Among the visual means are icons, paintings, and related artistic materials. Among the musical and poetic means are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which can be shared online. Such visual and musical means of grace allow for a range of cultural, racial, and ethnic affinities and expressions suited to our diverse congregations.

As you consider how these resources may be useful in your setting, be gracious to yourselves and each other. Do what you can. Don’t feel pressured to produce resources or services beyond your means or capacity. We aim to provide a healthy menu. Draw from it what may be enriching for your congregation. Don’t feel compelled to make use of every resource we or others may provide. 

I. Possibilities and Participation

II. The Means of Grace

III. Resources for Home Services of the Word 

 Resources for Sundays

B. Resources for Specific Days of Holy Week through Easter Vigil

C. Resources for Easter Season through Pentecost

D. Resources for the Passage from Death to Life

E. Resources for Daily Prayer

F. Resources for Seasonal Daily Prayer

IV. Praying and Searching Scripture Together

A. Praying with Scripture

B. Praying with Art

  • Praying with ArtVisio Divina Art in Christian Tradition: A searchable visual library of Christian images from the 1st century A.D. to the present [coming soon]

C. Scripture and Community

V. Prayers in a Time of Pandemic

VI. Links and Other Resources

comments powered by Disqus