During the COVID-19 pandemic, Unitarian Universalist churches and CUUPs chapters continue to learn how to do online worship if they weren’t doing it already.
How does one make it so online worship over platforms like Zoom doesn’t feel “flat” or like “worship in a box?” I had a few thoughts on how to make online worship space for Pagan and Earth-Centered worship more engaging and participatory.
When discussing this topic with the worship team at Mystic Grove CUUPs, we talked about all the places during worship during Saturday night worship in the fellowship hall and Sunday morning worship in the Sanctuary pulpit where we invite people to move. What would that look like for the person worshipping with us from home over Zoom? Or in the case of the Sunday Morning sermon — from Zoom and Facebook live?
We came up with a table. Worship in our group is led by volunteers taking turns. The worship leader can do ritual in the style of their own path. Not all our rituals will have all these components. But in general…
Come dressed “as you are” or in colors of the season.
At Beltane, some of us cable tied our flower and leaf crowns to our computer headphones.
Consider “seasonal backdrops” for those who can green screen.
A “Meet & Greet and Zoom Orientation” time online.
Consider making an “on demand” video for “Meet & Greet” so people can give themselves your orientation at any time and help them come prepared to online rituals with you.
Take the time to greet those in your local town or city, those from your state, and those from “further abroad.”
If using, make the Order of Service PDF downloadable ahead of time so the guest can print one out. Post the link again in the chat box during Zoom orientation.
Post seasonal coloring pages for children the parent can print out ahead of time and again in the chat window.
Introduce the worship team at the start so people know how to contact someone if they have tech problems during online worship.
Lush altars and decorations at all rituals.
Lush worship slide visuals in our online Sanctuary services AND in our Saturday night rituals.
Make sure the “altar stunt hands” has speaking words, rings a bell or makes a noise before doing an action to switch the Zoom “speaker view” over to them.
Make sure this person has named themselves “Altar – (Name of Person) so guests know to scroll to the top to see what’s happening on the live altar at any time.
Create visuals and words that help the participant “move” in their minds into the worship space online.
Helpful to use the same method from online ritual to online ritual to help create continuity across your rituals if possible.
|Chalice Lighting||Watch the worship leader light the UU chalice at a “common digital altar” and encourage them to tend their desk or table altar at home.|
Cast the circle “hand to hand” digitally and guide the participants through this method.
Provide an image the at home guest can draw a circle around with a finger, pen, or wand.
Invite participants to raise hands from low to middle to high when casting and later bring down their hands from high to middle to low at the end.
|Calling Directions||Stand and face directions when called or point to the corners of the screen if seated.|
|Muted Mic or Unmuted||
Because of the varying internet speeds participants will have, doing things in unison will be difficult. It will sound misaligned and not in sync.
Invite participants to respond in appropriate places in worship with muted mic (long responses, singing) or unmuted mic (short responses and very short songs at the very end. While distracting in other places, people are more forgiving and welcoming of a little “joyful noise” at the end.)
Encourage guests to sing, drum, dance during songs
|Cake and Ale||
Encourage guests to tend to their home altar during cakes and ale.
Provide clear visuals for those who didn’t bring supplies
|Ext. Chalice||Watch the worship leader extinguish the UU chalice at a “common digital altar” and encourage them to tend their desk or table altar at home.|
|Bathroomor Snack Break||
Have a slide at the end of worship indicating someone will remain on the channel while the rest of the worship team take a short break. Guests are invited to also take a short break to use the bathroom, go get their drinks, snacks or late dinner.
We play a song about 4-5 min in length to time the break.
The slide also contains information for how to do optional online donation to help replenish worship supplies.
At the virtual potluck, the Zoom host guides the guests through a “highlights and lowlights” since the last time we gathered. People appreciate a pandemic check in and one can always “pass” on their turn. Then the conversation for the remainder of the hour is free to ebb and flow naturally.
5 minutes before closing, we do our Postlude song to end the fellowship time. We invite guests to visit other CUUPs chapter events we heard about later than day or weekend.
Other than thinking about more movement and participation in your online ritual components, another way to help create a more vibrant digital worship space is through your reading selections and through music. What could you do about those?
USE THE MUSIC YOU ALREADY HAVE
The UUA has tips for using copyrighted music. It also gives you advice on researching copyright for live streaming. It has made a lot of hymns and readings for use in UU Worship without having to contact copyright holders.
PLAN RITUAL AHEAD SO THERE IS TIME TO ASK FOR PERMISSION
Some of the work in Singing the Living Tradition and in Singing the Journey does require some planning ahead since you will have to seek out permissions from the artists. You cannot do a last minute ritual and then run out to ask people for permissions.
For major rituals in your group, I suggest you have your ritual outline and selections (and backup selections!) ready at least 2 months ahead. This gives you time to contact people, they have time to write you back, and if permission is not given or conditional permission is given but is too hard to work with, you have time to change to your Plan B selections.
GO BACK TO YESTERYEAR
There is nothing wrong with going back in time and seeking music, poetry and other works from the past. There’s also music written to be shared freely. Then no permissions have to be asked because works are in the public domain.
ASK THE ARTIST DIRECTLY
For those who might be a little shy, this suggestion might be daunting… but go ahead find that Pagan or Earth-Centered artist and ask them directly! We are fortunate that so many of them are easily reached through an email on their websites, on their Facebook pages, or from sharing their music on YouTube, Bandcamp, and more! Some also have Patreon pages. You can also check with their recording label or agents. Where possible, if you use their work in worship, acknowledge them in the end credits and consider leaving something in their “online tip jar” Artists also have to make a living in pandemic.
MAKE YOUR MUSIC WORSHIP SLIDES
Both generously have given permission for these “how to” tutorial articles. Next time… how exactly did I make those worship slides with the song attached? How could you do something similar?
Don’t worry if you are on a learning curve. We all are. Create authentic and meaningful worship for your group as best you can in the moment through engaging visuals, readings, movements, music, or singing. Keep learning your digital ritual craft bit by bit as you go.
Over time you will help create a rich digital worship space for your CUUPs chapter that is open, welcoming, and appealing. You also will start creating or deepening your online community and extend the reach of your CUUPs chapter ministry. You may find more guests tuning in than ever before. Since computer “travelers” can go anywhere, don’t be surprised if they come to “visit” you from out of state or even out of country!