My family enjoys attending Sunday church service together, but we each have a different experience. My 12 year old son is in his Sunday School class here in Austin TX where he is a branch church member. My husband sits in the church service (he started coming with us to church quasi-regularly 2 years ago). And I sit in a private room of the Sunday School with a laptop and headset participating in the Sunday service of the Christian Science Society of Dixon Illinois – 1,100 miles away – where I am currently a member. One recent Sunday, there were 7 people attending the Dixon service; 3 in person and 4 remote via teleconference. I have the role of musician – meaning that I select the hymns and use the internet teleconference system to play pre-loaded mp3s of the selected hymns for all to sing to. When it is time for a solo, I either play a preloaded song or sometimes I sing a cappella from the Hymn Supplement. (Just to be on the safe side for maintaining good pitch, I sometimes play the vocal recording of the hymn on iTunes, connected to earbuds, so that only I can hear the singer, but everyone else can only hear me.) After church, we enjoy a family lunch together or sometimes go out with church friends. God is infinitely creative, right?!
Here’s how all of this came about. Last Fall I withdrew my branch church membership from the Austin TX church where I live and started attending a little Christian Science society in Dixon Illinois where my grandma had been a member for many years, many years ago. The two members that kept the Dixon services going agreed to teleconference their services and meetings so that I could participate. I helped them figure out the technology needed to do this. The Austin branch where I’d been a member of is doing good work in the community and with new members joining regularly, I knew that my withdrawal would not have a negative impact.
Love inspired me to join the Dixon Society and help with the “heavy lifting” associated with resurrecting church. This dear little group was in the ongoing process of building a new edifice. The new building is a vision towards the next century, not the past. It includes self-sustaining architectural elements to keep maintenance costs low. Our desire is to be part of the community and have a home that welcomes spiritual discovery. We want to be attractive to the un-churched and those that are spiritual but not religious. Flexible seating will allow the congregation to sit in embracing circles, more typical of sharing conversations rather than a speaker podium / audience. Our hope is to also help revitalize interfaith inclusivity in the town.
Once we started teleconferencing our services, we immediately increased our Wednesday evening meetings from once a month to weekly. We rotate Wednesday’s First Reader. I’m able to provide the Wednesday evening readings from my comfortable lazy-boy chair in Austin Texas. Two other members who were “official members” on the books, but had moved away several years earlier, returned as regular participants. One of them has taken on the role of treasurer which is accomplished through online banking and cloud services. I’ve taken on the role of clerk and handle email and voice messages. I also maintain our new website and Facebook page. We’ve even set up our church phone system in the ‘cloud’ – it’s a free service that allows us to have a church phone that’s always accessible. Typically now, there are 3 people in the building, and 3 or more of us participating from remote locations. It’s fun to think about how the active membership has doubled this past year, simply by being open to new ideas and being willing to serve where there’s a need, rather than by what’s convenient or based on outdated concepts of geographical limitations.
While all this was getting put into place last Fall, my 12 year old son decided that he wanted to join the Austin branch church where I had just withdrawn my membership and where he’s attended as a regular Sunday School student. He also joined The Mother Church this past Spring. In addition, my husband of 32 years (of a muslim background but not practicing), started attending Sunday services with us more regularly 2 years ago. So, our Sunday family tradition of attending church together was something to be cherished. And yet, I wanted to support the Sunday service in Dixon too (that meets at the exact same time). Recently, the Sunday School superintendent worked out a little private space for me to be where I can sit with my laptop and headset using the church’s wi-fi in order to call into the Dixon service. So now on Sundays – our little family drives into Austin, my husband goes into church by himself, my son goes to his Sunday School class and I call into the Dixon service while at the same time managing the music and solo from a computer site that manages our teleconference. I have to laugh at the creativity of it all – and give all the glory to God. I’m happy to see that other technology related “jobs” that I used to do in the Austin branch church have been picked up by other folks. This demonstrates that spiritual solutions are not personally based but are God sourced, and what blesses one, blesses all.