With Pastor Stephanie on Sabbatical, members of the church were asked to give a reflective note for the NOUS's this summer in place of the Pastor's Note. Read below for this month's note from Ellie Cale.
In May 2022, Pastor Stephanie and I had a short conversation about Trinity’s evolution as a “hybrid congregation.” I believe that Trinity needs to be intentional in considering what “hybrid church” means and in approaching the many challenges it entails. Admittedly, at the time of our talk, I didn’t have one well formulated idea about how to intentionally consider or approach any of it. Stephanie patiently listened as I shared my observations as a Trinity member, worshiping in person, worshiping online, being on Session, and helping with the Tech Team. As we wrapped up our Zoom meeting, she asked if I would write about some of this for the August Nous.
I’m a clinical psychologist, and one of my primary roles involves providing psychotherapy to individuals. Another role I have is supervising pre-licensed clinicians who provide psychotherapy. I advise supervisees that they need to be honest with themselves when considering the following: “Do you believe people can truly change?” I believe that people can live with trauma, relentless emotional distress, and an array of personal and systemic barriers to well-being, and yet come to develop new ways of living healthy lives. I’ve been taught how people can change, and I’ve seen people change. Sometimes they change because they want to, and sometimes they change because they have to. I’m continually amazed by people’s transformations, regardless of the catalyst.
Providing virtual (i.e., telehealth) services has been a topic of discussion in my field for years, well before the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, much of what we do in the therapy room involves talking and perhaps writing down a few things, but we don’t usually have physical contact with patients or need medical equipment. Despite participating in continuing education seminars on telehealth logistics and ethics, I stubbornly held firm that I would always conduct my business in person, not virtual. Of course, in March 2020, I transformed my private practice and began providing telehealth services, and I was grateful to be able to do so. People can change.
Also that spring, I started attending Trinity’s online worship services. Never before had I watched a church service from home or even really considered it. I was grateful to be able to do so. Of course, the tremendous efforts taken to provide online worship were hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look back over the past two years, we also see how the pandemic spurred new ideas and actions in terms of Trinity’s nurture, fellowship, and mission. We’ve changed.
Just about a year ago, Trinity stepped into the new reality of being a hybrid congregation. Worship services transitioned to hybrid - in-person and online (live or later by recording). Seasonal teams began talking more about hybrid needs for nurture, fellowship, and mission. Trying to deepen my understanding of hybrid church, I’ve read some articles online. I’ve learned that the processes involved in making hybrid church happen have stretched our ministers and many others to new lengths. It’s been overwhelming. I don’t think we’ve had much time or bandwidth to reflect on what hybrid church means for Trinity.
Aware of Trinity’s commitments and financial investments related to technology, I wanted to better understand our technical needs. I wanted to understand the demands on our Trinity members who volunteered countless hours as Trinity’s “Tech Team.” I toyed with the possibility of volunteering with the Tech Team but hesitated, as I didn’t have a ready skill set to offer. I got a helpful nudge one day in the hallway, just outside our in-person sanctuary and the Tech Room door. DeAnne Chenowith asked, “Would anyone like to learn how to do camera for our livestream worship?” and I noticed that the two people standing in front her were me and our pastor. As many of you know, Joe Hinshaw and DeAnne have kindly taught a large number of people the various technical roles involved in worship. Technology is at the center of hybrid worship; there are technical needs in the church building, technical needs for the livestream and recording, and an integration between the two that I have come to greatly respect.
If you step into Trinity’s Tech Room, you’ll see several large, mounted monitors as well as a control surface with many buttons, which constitute part of the Tricaster and connect with other technical pieces of equipment at play. In addition to the livestream, people monitor the TV in the sanctuary, the TV in the commons area of the building, the audio in the sanctuary, and the Facebook Live and comments. People often say that the Tricaster, with all its buttons and connections, is both impressive and intimidating. Yes, it is impressive, and it is another thing for which to be grateful. Every piece of information sent to the livestream has been considered with respect to our hybrid worship; they are pieces of the worship experience that are “cast” beyond the walls of the church building. (Here, I believe one can think in terms of both broadcasting and fishing.) The Tricaster makes this possible. Creating something that allows for a truly interactive, equitable in-person and online presence is quite a challenge, if not impossible. However, I believe that we are a hybrid congregation and that we are connected, the Body of Christ. Church is not a building…
Personally, I’ve experienced a few other surprising changes. I have really enjoyed learning a bit about live video production. I could never have dreamed that I would one day download a pdf for a NewTek Tricaster (and actually read some of it!). I’ll never watch a live newscast or sporting event as I did before. I also have made some new friends and had a lot of fun. It takes seven people to fill all tech roles for any given service. If you haven’t already filled one of these roles, are you interested in perhaps learning a new tech skill…. or two?
As we approach the final weeks of the Pentecost season and of our pastor’s sabbatical, we know that we have changed. We’ve changed as individuals and as a congregation. We may need to set aside time to contemplate what hybrid church means and what God is saying to us today. At the moment, I don’t have novel ideas about how to discern this for the days ahead, but I still believe “that God is alive and at work in the world today…that we are not called to ‘business as usual’.”
I hope to connect with you, one way or another, very soon.