Indeed it’s an opportune time for the Church around the globe to change the gear of patterns of ministry from that of traditional system of worship to modern system by using media as well as Information Technologies. No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has put us into difficult time for not being able to conduct corporate worship and other various church gathering programs. Yet, this is the best time to revive the family altar in every Christian homes; over and above, the church had learnt how to reach out to every single soul through media and social media. Many Pastors/Church leaders came to learn how to effectively use media tools to reach out to members both far and near. Also many Church were able to start media ministry by using online worship, YouTube Channel, Zoom Video fellowship/worship, Sermon through video and audio, virtual choir/music, using loudspeaker for the entire colony/villagers etc.etc. In Nagaland, some of the government offices started morning devotions by reading the word of God and start their work with prayer. The Church seizes the opportunity to organize worship programs at Quarantine centers by maintaining social distance as well as through loudspeaker. The Church also provides Bibles, Christian literature books, pamphlets, newsletters, etc. including food to the returnees during the pandemic. There are many other things done by the Churches which cannot be accommodated here in this short write-up.
Here are some people who say about “How the Pandemic has Changed our Worship” (Names have been changed):
In this chaotic situation that we are facing right now, God is in control and is doing everything for a reason. The Pandemic has led to a situation where every gatherings including the Church to be locked down, yet the beauty of a firm believer is that it opens the heart and enables our faith to be rooted in God. It has led many believers to have a stronger relationship with God and also it has given us an opportunity to worship God with our family members and reaffirm the family relationship through fellowship. So, the pandemic has made us realize how valuable our personal devotion with God is.
Worship is a way of life. It has opened our eyes, we can worship God where ever we are, even at home. But since we are trained and brought up in a community, giving importance to corporate worship, we cannot deny our allegiance to corporate worship. The zeal and power that we find in corporate worship is felt missing. However due to this Covid-19 it has strengthened our personal devotion and family worship which has been missing in many families.
In the past years, we did not make much use of social media for sharing the gospel but because of this pandemic, social media became the medium tool for worship activities. People from home with family members can worship God. There are some families who had never done a family worship or prayer time before but are now getting the opportunity to worship together as a family. Therefore, this has helped people to build good rapport with one another and most of all could build in depth relation with God.
The Church in adapting with the present scenario and keeping the government regulations came up with some changes in the worship system. Firstly, family worship has been emphasized where every family member gathers in their own homes for worship during the worship hours on Sunday. Secondly, sharing of the Gospel has become more intensive by using electronic media such as loud speakers and through internet. Thirdly, breaking down of the congregation into smaller section of groups where the members can gather and worship while maintaining the precautionary measures at the same time. Group participation during the worship has been minimized. While trying to incorporate some few changes in the worship system, they were not without drawbacks.
On a personal note and experience, it has been a challenging task when the normal activities/programs couldn’t be carried out freely as planned. Yet the brighter side of the pandemic situation has also led us to look into alternatives of ministry and that the Gospel can be shared in a lot more wider platform. Most importantly, family worship does bring a sense of meaningful worship in time of a crisis such as this pandemic.
For a big church like us, it’s difficult to get in touch with our members, but this pandemic has brought some big challenges with positive impacts. It has opened up an opportunity for the leaders to go one on one with their members through telecommunications. Online worship is breaking boundaries and now it gives opportunity for far flung members to be part of the worship. An old man said, he is sad that congregational worship couldn't be materialized but happy for the fact that at least he gets to see all his family members’ part of home worship which is rare on usual Sundays.
There is a mixed response about how the pandemic has changed our worship. Some are happy though they miss the worship and have a strong conviction that worship will come alive and vibrant once the pandemic is over. Some are sad that congregational worship is not happening any time soon and worries about the adverse effect it will have on people who never pay attention to worship.
This Covid -19 pandemic has brought innumerable changes to the way we live, work and exists as a community. We find ourselves adjusting to what we are defining as "the new normal". We have been restricted from a lot of things which we until now haven't faced or questioned about. For the Christian community, one of our defining marks has been the coming together and congregating for worship on a regular weekly basis, especially on Sundays. The social distancing norms and the restrictions on public gathering as a safety precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus has deeply impacted this aspect of our Christian worship.
For our local church, following the guidelines and SOPs given by the government for implementation by religious places of worship to limit the congregation to 30% of the seating capacity and to maintain strict social distancing, we have started 4 shifts services for our church members by grouping 3/4 colonies to come together and worship at a specific time. So in all these worship services we have about 20-25% of our congregation come and worship together, thereby meeting our target of giving opportunity for all church members to come and worship in at least one of the worship services without having the whole congregation crowding together for one single service. Moreover, we live stream our services on YouTube and Facebook pages and thereby we've been able to reach out to our church members not only here in Kohima but those that are spread far and wide across the globe for work or studies.
Worship defer according to the areas – Town churches, mostly conducting online worship, pre-recorded worship, audio worship and neighbors’ small group fellowship whereas some churches in village continuing the normal worship. Youth leaders are more active in social media to keep the connection with their youth and organizing creative programs, like conducting Bible Quiz, Bible handwriting competitions, sharing of Bible verses in youth groups, DIY (Do it Yourself) - creative sharing, song competitions, sharing of testimonies etc. with the creativity and updated worship pattern, more youths are reached at this hour of pandemic for which I am thankful to God.
We conducted a virtual Bible study for the whole month of July with the entire youth of 168 churches. Videos of Bible verse reflections and added guidance were sent to the respective youth pastors daily and they made sure that their youths understood and followed the Bible study plan. We have been able to publish a book during this pandemic and distributed to all the youths as they have plenty of time to read. On certain Sundays, programs and sermons have been prepared by us and sent out to all the churches. Our media team has been actively using platforms such as whatsapp, facebook and instagram to connect with our members. We share prayers, encouraging thoughts and even movies which will serve in strengthening our worship towards God. One advantage of using media is that we are able to connect to more number of people, for instance, those who do not usually come to Church or those who are away from home for work or study purposes. Hence, even after this pandemic is over, we plan to continue using media to minister to different groups of people effectively. Apart from the activities taken up by us, all the individual churches have been actively conducting different virtual competitions, counseling and trying their best to keep the members involved with different activities. The major change that has been brought in our worship through this pandemic is that, our worship has been shifted from physical gathering to a virtual one.
REFLECTIONS ON THE ASPECTS OF WORSHIP IN THIS NEW NORMAL
Church redefined - The aspect and understanding of the church as not merely a building and that our worship is not confined to the church sanctuary has been upheld and deepened through this situation. That we, the believers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fellowshipping together in worship and adoration and edifying one another can happen beyond the four walls of the church building and many homes have become altars of worship for the family.
Nominalism challenged - This pandemic has challenged and questioned many about our faith and walk with God. For many Nagas, our Christian faith has been limited to the faithful church going on Sundays. With the restrictions on congregating on Sundays for worship services, the true worshippers continued to seek the Lord and deepened their faith in God while many nominal Christians have found themselves drifting away.
Intentional worship - Most of our worship services had a lot of human community aspects which were not necessarily part of worship but had been a practice or tradition for the community's gathering. Most of these non-essentials have been discarded in the worship services now and it's more focused and well planned and the sermon and teachings are more relevant and intentional to the congregation as it has given rise to an in-depth study of God's Word in the light of our situation and circumstances.
In conclusion, the present pandemic has given rise to using media as a platform to reach out to the church members through live-streaming of worship services, audio/ video recording of sermons and sharing of sermon outlines and worship orders through social media like whatsapp, Facebook and YouTube channels. There's always the challenge of adapting to changes but many churches in our context today have risen up to the occasion and had creatively adapted themselves to ways and means of reaching out to the members with the message of God and giving spiritual feedings. Though, this can never replace the essence of the fellowship of believers in congregating together, this has been necessitated with the present pandemic situation which we find ourselves in. God bless everyone.
Compiled by Rev. Vikuo Rhi, Nagaland, India