Churches across the world are working to discover how to express and preserve our community in Christ in a time when various government agencies have asked us to limit contact in order to protect the vulnerable among us.
Rev. Clint Schnekloth is sharing some of the ways that he has made this possible in his congregation. , You can view his other posts in this series: streaming using Facebook Live, podcasting sermons, and pastoral visitation during social distancing.
Visit the ELCA's Public Health website for updated resources on this rapidly unfolding situation.
Although a primary focus for faith leaders during the pandemic may be on livestreaming and other alternatives to Christian worship assembled in large groups, worship is not the only weekly faith practice disrupted by COVID-19. Regular Sunday school and small-group Bible study have also been affected.
Right now, those who teach Sunday school classes and Bible studies, together with parents, are going to need to be the primary link for continuing faith formation. So the best first step is to rely on their expertise, and connect to some of the at-home learning practices they are already implementing because their public schools have sent packets home and set up learning environments on Google Classroom.
Start with this simple insight. It will help children learn inasmuch as routines are maintained, and new routines are established. It can lower anxiety to set up new routines that children can anticipate and rely on.
Toward this end, provide guidance especially for how to continue Sunday morning worship and Sunday school. Our recent blog post on livestreaming worship is a good resource. Once you are streaming worship, you can then also encourage families to create ways to participate during or around the worship event.
One very simple idea: Encourage parents to pull crafting supplies from their cupboards and have children create art based on the lectionary readings and sermon during or after the worship service. One family in our congregation did this last Sunday already using Play-Doh. Children could watercolor, paint, draw, or sculpt. One great coloring sheet resource is Illustrated Ministry. They are currently providing free weekly resources during COVID-19. There are also coloring sheets available from Sparkhouse.
But children (and adult Bible study participants) may also want to see their teachers face-to-face. So how to accomplish this? Well, one option is a Zoom classroom experience. Anyone can sign up for Zoom for free and can host group sessions of up to 40 minutes with a free account. Once you’ve created an account with Zoom, you simply open the app. On the main screen, select “Schedule a meeting.” Schedule it based on the time and format you want to host. Click “Host” and “Participant video on.” Zoom will automatically paste the scheduled Zoom meeting to your calendar. From that calendar event, copy and paste the details of the meeting and email it or text it to the parents of those participating in the Sunday school video class.
Another option if the live Zoom call is impractical is a simpler and briefer video check in, sent out to Sunday school families. I’ve seen some really loving and humorous ways teachers are doing this in university and school contexts. For example, making brief videos of their dogs and saying a quick “hi” to their students. It’s very possible that right now the primary work for everyone is to maintain loving social connections as much as teaching any Bible stories.
This can be as simple as recording a brief video on your phone and then sending it out via email or Messenger. You can also record videos in a variety of hosting platforms, such as Facebook, Google, TikTok, or YouTube.
Finally, and this applies more to adult learners than children and youth, there are excellent platforms for blending messaging with video, and the best of the best is Discord. Discord originated (and is still widely used) as a chat, audio, and video platform for gamers who wanted to play socially with others. Now it has begun to spread as the all-in-one voice, video, and text chat that’s free, secure, and works on both your desktop and phone.
There is something of a learning curve for Discord, so I recommend users play around with it, and even watch some video tutorials, to get started. But basically, once you have the app downloaded, you create and host a server. Title it something like “Tuesday Coffee Shop Bible Study” or whatever your group is and does. Once the server is created, you invite other users. Once all the users are a part of the server, they can post text messages in the comments thread (which is a surprisingly fun and helpful asynchronous way to study together), or click on the voice or video icons in the top right corner to initiate a group meeting.
Finally, a reminder that online there are now tutorials for basically anything you want to do or discover. If you get stuck, just google “Discord video tutorial,” and someone has already created what you need to keep moving forward.