How I Worshipped on Pentecost Sunday 2020.

Pentecost is one of the highlights of the year as we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, described in Acts 2, and celebrate the birthday of the church. However, this year obviously was very different due to the current lockdown restrictions. Nevertheless, I was glad to have the opportunity to attend a couple of services and decided to share how I worshipped on Pentecost Sunday in 2020.

Our church has been evolving our online services since we first started them. Originally, we used to record a service and put it on our website for people to view. A few weeks ago, we moved to live streaming our services via Zoom and this week in addition to this we also streamed it live on Facebook too. (We are still placing a recording on our website).

Preparing for church is very different these days. On Sunday morning, about 20 minutes before the service, I check the link and password we are using for this week’s service. I normally log on about one minute before the service starts. This is mainly because I do not particularly like looking at myself in the web camera. Once I log onto Zoom I play around with the positioning of my laptop so the webcam is the right level for my wife and I.

It is strange to sit round a laptop to worship but that is how we do this currently. Our service was an all age one which lasted about 35 minutes. The service followed the format of opening song, confession of sin, interactive bible reading, sermon (including animation video), prayer and closing song. The theme was Pentecost and the sermon challenged us to see what God might be doing during this time and to be praying and preparing ourselves for life after lockdown, being ready to share His love with those who do not know Him.

Following the service, we had “virtual coffee”. Basically, the Zoom admin person randomly sends us into breakout rooms with 2 or 3 others and we chat for about 10 minutes. We are then brought back together and repeat the exercise. This has been a good way of getting to know some church members who I had not previously spoken with.

In the evening I attended the Diocese of Guildford Pentecostal Prayer Service which was streamed live via their YouTube channel. The service lasted about 55 minutes and contained prayers, songs, greetings from Bishops in Denmark and Pakistan, a very funny sketch based on Acts 2, a sermon, and a song from a Coptic Church in Surrey.

It goes without saying that watching a service on a laptop or the TV is not the same as attending one in real life. However, sadly that option is not available to us yet. It is wonderful that despite the lockdown we still have this technology that we can use to worship God. There is a lot of work that is put in by technically gifted people to ensure that everything works ok. Many people in the world do not have the freedom to worship and so we should be grateful that we still can.

Interestingly in both our services today we were reminded that the disciples were in “lockdown” themselves before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whilst we would prefer to actual meet as we used to, God can still speak to people and meet them through remote worship. He is not restricted by this. Both services were encouraging, and one felt some excitement in looking forward to what might happen in our churches once we come out of lockdown and can meet again.


Online Church Services

Due to the current lockdown it’s now been 31 days (15th March) since the church I attend has been able to meet together in our building. Since that time we, along with many other churches, have moved our services online. We are uploading our online services to our website. Additionally, we are uploading videos for our Messy Church to our Facebook page. Other churches are live streaming services on Facebook.

We are used to services being broadcast on platforms such as BBC Radio 4, Premier Christian Radio, United Christian Broadcasters and not forgetting of course Songs of Praise on BBC1. However, all these programmes will have professional sound engineers working on them. Therefore they will be professionally produced and will be of a high technical quality. Most of our churches will not have access to such skilled personnel, and instead will have to work with the skills available to them within their own congregations.

Obviously all this is a big change for churches and I felt it might be useful to share some thoughts on my experiences of online services.

Our vicar mentioned that he encountered a lot of technical challenges in putting together the services for last week. As it was Holy Week there were four services to produce: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We are using the Freemake video converter to put together our services. This means that everyone who is taking part in the service has to record their contribution and send it to the organiser of the service. The various different files then need to be converted to the same file format and the video produced. Anyone who has been involved in any audio or video production will know though that invariably things are never straightforward. This can be very time consuming and frustrating! Whilst a service might last 30 minutes it would take significantly longer to produce the final video to upload to the website.

When watching an online service it is obviously essential that your internet connection does not crash. Whilst watching a live streaming service on Facebook on Easter Sunday our connection went down at home. Fortunately the outage was only 7 minutes, so we carried on from where the crash occurred. Depending on where you live in the country, the quality of the broadband can vary. For those in areas where the internet signal is weak live streaming services may not work.

Generally speaking the contents of an online service would contain all or some of the following: a sermon, worship, bible reading, prayers, children’s talk, testimony and communion. If we go through each of these individually:

Sermons – most churches these days upload versions of their sermons onto their websites anyway. Therefore in that respect we are used to online sermons. Over the years churches have recorded sermons, making them available in various different formats dating back to the days of cassette recorders. For most of us then this is not really a significant change in how we have listened to sermons if we were unable to attend church. The big difference is that normally these are audio and not video recordings.

Worship – it can seem strange watching someone singing and leading the worship from their own home. We can find ourselves distracted, looking at their wallpaper and pictures that are hanging up! Another potential issue is we might slip into the role of a spectator just watching them sing, rather than joining in the worship ourselves. Our church helpfully includes song lyrics for people to download from our website. In some ways it can be similar to listening to a worship cd whilst driving. Although unlike with driving you can close your eyes and raise your hands!

Bible reading – ideally we should close our eyes and listen to the passage of scripture being read. I have, if I’m being honest, found myself distracted by the same wallpaper issue though as mentioned above.

Prayers – in the Anglican church we have the practice of someone leading the prayers each week. This has worked well in our online services. Obviously it prevents any open pray, as we are all in our separate homes, but I personally have found this part of the service helpful. The important thing is to ensure that you close your eyes and concentrate on the words of the prayers. The same as in “real life”.

Children’s talk – the ones I have watched in the live stream services have been specific and to the point. They have included some visuals too which have helped get over the main point and been done well. In our Palm Sunday service we had a donkey appear which I’m sure the children would have enjoyed seeing. Interestingly the donkey seemed to have a very familiar voice!

Testimony – this is really similar to the section above on sermons. The only thing I would add is that it’s nice to see another member of the church speaking and see a different face.

Communion – one of the online streaming services on Facebook which I “attended” was a communion service. I took the bread and wine, and personally found the service beneficial. This particular service was put on by a baptist church, which has different rules to the Anglican church in this area. In respect of our church on Easter Sunday the service was a communion one. However, that just involved our vicar taking communion on the video. To be honest it felt strange not taking part but that is the current practice in my denomination.

The obvious criticism of online services is they are not the same as meeting together to worship. Of course it’s difficult to disagree with that view. However, at the moment we cannot meet as a church in the normal way. We do not have that option. Therefore this is the best method we have available and we should seek to embrace it. There are many countries in the world where Christians do not have the freedom to worship and they would I’m sure love to have this facility.

Also although we are unable to meet it least it gives us opportunities to see members of our churches on our screens. Additionally, when you post something online, you never know who will watch it. God can use our services to speak to people all over the world.

A lot of work has been put in by churches in producing these services and therefore I am not inclined to criticise online services. Instead let us pray that they might be powerful and effective in spreading the gospel message.

The Nation’s Favourite Hymn

Last Sunday the BBC religious programme Songs of Praise announced the results of its poll to find the nation’s favourite hymn of 2019. The top ten songs chosen by the viewers were:

1. Jerusalem

2. How Great Thou Art

3. In Christ Alone

4. Dear Lord and Father Of Mankind

5. Abide With Me

6. I Vow to Thee My Country

7. Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer

8. Amazing Grace

9. Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord

10. I The Lord Of Sea and Sky

One of the most interesting aspects of this poll is the lack of modern songs. The most recent one is found in third position: In Christ Alone, written in 2001 by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. I was fully expecting 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman to feature strongly, but it was not to be. Also I was surprised to see none of Graham Kendrick’s songs in the top ten.

The results of the poll though obviously reflect the demographics of those who watch Songs of Praise. Although I occasionally watch it, I did not personally vote in the poll. The reason being that I did not know of its existence!

Thinking about the poll begs the question: what makes a good hymn? For some a good tune is the most important aspect. Whilst others would give preference to the words. I personally think that the words are the most important ingredient of the hymn, although I would also want a good tune too. There are two main reasons why I would favour the words over the tune:

1. Well written hymns can help teach us theological truths. I have heard it said that Charles Wesley used to write his hymns to help teach theology to people. This was a great way of helping others to remember scriptural truths as not everyone could read the scriptures for themselves during the 18th century. One of the things I like about the songs of Stuart Townend is that they are very rich theologically.

2. Well written hymns can enhance our worship of God. There are times when we might struggle to put into words the greatness of God and our love for Him. This is why the hymn How Great Thou Art is a favourite of mine. The words declare the wonder and greatness of God. Our response to the marvellous truths written in the verses is to worship God with all our soul in the rousing chorus.

Whatever your favourite hymn might be, let the lyrics remind you of the deep truths of God and use them to worship Him in a deep and meaningful way.

Worship is more than singing songs in Church.

Often when I’m discussing a church service I attended I reflect on how I felt the worship went on that particular Sunday. I might say that we sang a couple of my favourite songs. Additionally I could say I really enjoyed the worship or perhaps I struggled to enter into it. Whatever my comment is it’s usually related to the songs that were sung in the service and my enjoyment of them.

Last Sunday at the end of our service we were reminded though that worship is more than singing songs in church. We worship God not just by singing but also by the way we live our lives. Every thought, word and deed forms part of our worship to God.

We worship God by offering our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice whether we are at home, work, study or play.

When we look at worship like that then it should totally change our attitude to it. It’s more than 30 minutes singing our favourite songs each Sunday. In fact it’s a 24/7 lifestyle!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)