image of laptop and cup of coffee. Photo by Chris Montgomery via Unsplash

Photo by Chris Montgomery - via Unsplash

The more than 130 present or soon-to-be mid council meetings learned how to set up and run purposeful meetings during a Friday webinar offered as part of the Moderators’ Conference, hosted by the Office of the General Assembly’s Mid Council Ministries.

Moderators learned from these resourceful leaders:

  • The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s associate for Disaster Response in Latin America and the Caribbean, who works part-time handling a local church’s technology needs
  • The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for Worship with the Office of Theology and Worship
  • The Rev. Molly Casteel, the Assistant Stated Clerk in the OGA for Equity and Representation.

The Rev. Jihyun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries, moderated the event.

“The way we’re Presbyterian is we gather and discern in community, which means meetings,” Casteel said. “We participate in the mission of God and we care for all who can gather. When we’re anxious, that can narrow what we notice.”

Gambrell offered three emphases for moderators who are planning worship: think theologically about worship b asking questions “about what we are doing and why,” remember the whole body of Christ when planning and leading worship, and consider the shape and shaping of worship, because “how worship and meetings are shaped tends to shape us,” Gambrell said. “Worship can transform us and also malform us and keep us stuck from the work God is calling us to do.”

The Rev. Jihyun Oh

The Rev. Jihyun Oh

“We sometimes say we are all in the same boat, but there are different boats,” González-Castillo said. “We aren’t all prepared the same and we don’t all have the same resources.”

“Sometimes, we can make a phone call. We don’t always have to have a Zoom meeting,” he said. “Be conscious of the needs of others and what kind of boat everyone is in.”

Setting a tone for worship in the midst of a church council meeting “sounds easy, but it’s harder than you might expect,” Gambrell said. While shifting gears from meeting to worship, it can be helpful to start with silence or a musical offering, he said, or even reflecting on a piece of art, or dancing or drumming. “In our media culture we equate silence with dead airtime and music with background noise,” Gambrell said, asking moderators to help participants to “experience the Sabbath rest God can offer even in a moment of silence.”

“We treat Zoom like we treat the Bible. We expect that everyone knows it,” González-Castillo said. But the truth is that “there are people who have never been in a Zoom meeting.”

The Rev. Molly Casteel

The Rev. Molly Casteel-Photo by Rick Jones

“Not everyone is gathering in the same way with the same resources and the same access,” Casteel said. Adaptation and openness are keys, as is “letting loose the tight group that there is only one way to do this thing … As moderators, the meeting is in your hands.” She called mid council meetings “the holding space for the gathered community to discern the will of Christ.”

“We’re learning that hybrid meetings are much harder to pull off” than first thought, Casteel said. “How do you hold space when there is a gathered community in front of you with more access to communicate? How do you hold folks meeting with you electronically at the same time as those who are physically present?” Casteel advised moderators to “pause to accept feedback,” using their “moderatorial discretion to pause the task because we have something at stake we want to make space for.”

Because the moderator can’t see everyone’s faces on the screen all the time, “you do need to know the motion and to hear what people are saying,” González-Castillo said. He suggested that mid councils with technology questions and concerns contact their neighbor who is “already doing this to see what can work for you.”

Casteel reminded moderators of the assistive technology available for those attending online, including headphones and other enhancements to enhance accessibility.

“Hybrid meetings are here to stay,” Gambrell said. “The main things we need are patience and grace and listening and love … We have to be open to experimentation and adaptation, thinking about multiple senses and intelligences people bring to worship, offering them multiple ways to engage.”

The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo

The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo

Many mid councils, he noted, enlist the help of “digital deacons” who will monitor participants and offer help when needed, “so the moderator isn’t doing everything at once.” Digital deacons “make sure everyone is being seen and heard and listened to.”

Oh has observed meetings in which a digital deacon uses the chat function to let participants know who is currently speaking, especially during gatherings with many participants.

González-Castillo offered this link from Harvard Business Review on what it takes to run a great hybrid meeting.

The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell

The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell

“Rehearse and test everything you can, even if you’ve tested it a dozen times,” Gambrell recommended. “For liturgy and music, I commend the value of simplifying, making things small but intentional. Shorter services, songs and sermons are all valuable in hybrid and online settings.”

Gambrell recommends “reading and praying and singing the psalms” while gathered for worship. “This is where the psalms live, between lament and hope,” which are the themes of the 225th General Assembly next year. “It’s a nice, simple way to start a meeting, a psalm and a brief prayer.”

Casteel asked moderators, “What is the new thing we are being invited into, and how do we do the transformative work?”

“This is an incredibly hopeful and healing moment for us,” she said. “We have all been wounded healers, and this moment, we are more aware of it. There is increasing hope I have for this getting a more accurate understanding of ourselves, our systems and the work that is set before us.”

“Let us move forward with that new understanding of our call.”