Saturday’s Moderators’ Conference presentation on helping PC(USA) mid council moderators hold more purposeful meetings gathered input from three people with specialized knowledge on their topic:
- The Rev. Josh Park, the manager for Korean-Speaking Councils Support in the Office of the General Assembly, gave the 145 or so people in attendance in person at the Presbyterian Center and online help with nuts-and-bolts considerations for holding hybrid and online gatherings.
- valerie izumi, manager for General Assembly Nominations in the OGA, discussed using the lens of equity and inclusion before and during meetings.
- The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology & Worship, discussed “what I really care about: thinking theologically about worship and helping [mid councils] to think about it too.”
- The Rev. Jihyun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries in the OGA, moderated the 90-minute workshop.
“I like to rewind the tape so we do this before we get to [mid council] meetings: from an equity and inclusion perspective, ask, ‘Who is present and who isn’t? What prevents ruling elders from participating?’” izumi asked. “How are ruling and teaching elders being prepared for service to the mid council? Are there accommodation issues preventing people from serving? The reality is, there is already a place for you. We just need to remove obstacles that prevent you from serving.”
Gambrell said he has three considerations to help shape the tone of worship for any service he’s helping to design: knowing the purpose of worship, beginning with the Word; following the Spirit “and surrounding everything with prayer”; and remembering the body. As to that last one, Gambrell noted “the body” has two meanings: “the whole person, all of who we are,” and “the whole church, the work of the whole people of God. It’s a communal activity.”
“When it comes to setting the tone, we have to remember technology is a tool and a channel in how we communicate, listen and connect to those present and those joining online, as well as for those who stream their mid council meetings,” Park said. “I know it’s more work, but you can’t just prepare the agenda. You have to practice with the technology and think about those connecting with the technology.” Having online speakers look straight at the camera while speaking “is a lot more engaging,” Park said. “Be well aware also that when the sound is not being heard, it becomes extremely frustrating for people online.”
“You will get better as you do it more often,” Park said. Eventually, “the technology disappears and you realize you are connecting with a larger community through the technology.”
Gambrell suggested mid councils consider regularly engaging in “different patterns of worship,” including services as simple and earnest as daily prayer. “They are simple and short with just a few main ingredients: scripture, songs and prayer,” Gambrell said. “They make space for silence, listening and prayer.”
“Silence can raise discomfort online,” Oh noted, “but there is a place for it, too.”
Park recommends mid councils streamline their technology when it comes to offering up online or hybrid meetings, adding a bonus they can reap: “Mid council meetings can be a channel for spreading the gospel. It’s an evangelism tool,” Park said. “Know the opportunities are great with what God has in store.”
“Making things easy is hard, but is it learnable? I absolutely think so,” Park said. “God has already given us the talents needed for us to move into this future.”
Fractures can happen “even when all of us are in the same room,” izumi said. “We leave work undone or we have our 10th argument of the day with our 5-year-old. Everyone comes to the same place feeling a little bit fractured. I love to have gatherings with time to allow that connection to happen.”
“In communities of color, when we get together, we spend time checking in,” izumi said. “I think that’s important in mid council meetings as well.”
Gambrell discussed research around mirror neurons. “If I raise my hands to pray and you are paying attention to that, neurons fire and respond accordingly,” he said. “We are connected through space and across screens.”
“I am learning the value of using fewer words and more songs,” Gambrell said. Children can learn a brief phrase such as “thanks be to God” and join in during hybrid worship, he said.
“The pandemic has enforced multisensory engagement,” Gambrell said. “It involves collaborative planning and it’s hard work, but we end up with wonderful organic worship.” Gambrell said he’s “come to really appreciate the value of hymnals as worship technology. Have you ever tried to sing a round with PowerPoint? You can do it, but it gets complicated. I appreciate those old-school gifts.”
“We think of technology advancements, but meeting with imagination is about expanding our minds about why technology is important,” Oh said. “It’s a way of connecting with one another and expressing the mystery of God.”
Mid council moderators “have the opportunity to be ambassadors as well,” izumi said, suggesting that moderators journal about what’s happening as they travel through the presbytery or synod. “When I call leaders in mid councils, I find out things I would not have found out about.”
Since “constant communication is a key in a connectional church,” everyone should have basic skills, including knowing how to make a brief video, Park said. “The more you communicate, the more people will check in with you.”
Check back with pcusa.org for more reporting on the Moderators’ Conference, which concluded Saturday.