To Gather Together

This week’s eNewsletter feature story
is written by Jim Teague,
FPCE communications coordinator.

Dear friends,

In all of Scripture, one of the most meaningful images for me is where it says in Exodus, “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (Exodus 13:22). I am in awe of how God’s presence was so manifest — so real — among the people he loved.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine an old, wizened Hebrew man sitting and watching the fire glowing before them at night as they traveled away from Egypt, away from slavery. I see a young girl waking in the earliest light of dawn, peeking outside her family’s tent and then rousing her father to say, “Abba! God’s cloud is moving again! We need to go, right?”

As one people, they would quickly gather their belongings and set out to follow their God — our God.

There is something about people gathering together in the presence of God that stirs our hearts. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting Shelter in Place order has meant we are missing out on that large group, side-by-side experience of worshiping God together in one place.

Since we first began our “virtual worship” experience back in mid-March, our “tribe” has been scattered across the internet, participating in our worship services through Facebook, YouTube, and on the FPCE website.

One of the wonderful (potentially kind of creepy) benefits of using the internet in this way is that we can not only share these services over a variety of outlets, gathering congregants from all over the world, but we can also look at the statistics afterwards and see how many devices are watching the services and what kind of devices are being used.  But, be assured: We do not get any data about who is watching, and we don’t take any kind of “attendance” of individuals during each service. Like I said, that would be creepy.

One of the negatives, however, has been that, while most of us are participating in the service at the same time, we aren’t all really together in that shared moment of worship. Some are on Facebook, some on YouTube, some using the video on the website, and still others taking part at a later time with any of these posted recordings.

On Sunday, July 12, all of that will change.

We will be moving our services to a new online home, accessible directly from the FPCE website. If you’re a tech nerd like me and want more technical details, they’re available at https://firstpresevanston.org/church-online-tech-info/.

We will not longer have LIVE services on Facebook and YouTube. Instead, we will all take part in the same experience together. There will be a live chat (just like Facebook and YouTube have, but with us all in the same chat).

This will NOT impact Fellowship Time, Adult Education, or any other events which normally take place on Zoom.

Here are some highlights:

  • One button on the FPCE website takes you to the service.
  • Congregation members can serve as “hosts” during the service, welcoming close friends and first-time visitors alike.
  • Prayer Companions will be online and available during and after the service to pray with attendees in private chat rooms rather than needing to connect in a separate Zoom meeting.
  • Important church information can be shared through “moments” in the chat at appropriate times during the service.
  • An online form (on the same screen) for weekly registration.
  • An online Bible on the screen.
  • Videos will still be shared to Facebook and YouTube AFTER the Sunday morning service for watching at a later time.

If you are finding your pulse and respiration increasing at the thought of having to learn a new technology, let me try to allay your fears by saying that it really is as easy as clicking a button on the front of the FPCE web page. That button takes you to live.firstpresevanston.org where the online service is held each week.

There is one negative to this upcoming change: There is no easy way to watch the service on a Smart TV without connecting another device (like a smart phone or tablet).

According to our statistics, less than 6% of all our “viewers” use a Smart TV to participate on Sundays.

As a staff, we believe the benefit of being “back together” as a church body outweighs this lone negative.

Over the next two weeks (June 28 and July 5), FPCE staff and lay ministers will be getting practice together in using the new platform. If you are interested in taking part in these “dress rehearsals” on Sunday mornings, let me know by sending me an email using the subject line “Church Online Platform” at jteague@firstpresevanston.org (If you use this link it will create the email for you).

We, as a staff, are eagerly anticipating this new season of online togetherness and hope you are, too!

May God’s presence and his peace go with you!

Blessings,

Jim Teague
Communications Coordinator