“Oh, no—not another ZOOM meeting!” How often have you heard this lament? I confess, it has been uttered with some frequency in my household, over the last two years—with increasing frequency in the past 6–8 months!
Committee meetings. Worship services. Catch-ups over coffee. Bible study groups. Seminars. Why, even full conferences have been held online, by means of ZOOM. ZOOM meetings of Presbytery. ZOOM meetings of Church Council. Even the state-wide 2021 Synod was held online (although on a different platform from ZOOM).
Early on in the pandemic, the Synod organised for all Congregations to have a ZOOM account at a reduced rate, especially for church organisations. It meant that we were able to maintain connections with friends, family, people in our Congregation, people across the Presbytery, despite all the restrictions and lockdowns. There have been lots of online gatherings. People have been grateful for the continuation of connection that online gatherings have provided. And yet, people are getting weary of it. “Not another ZOOM meeting!”
However, there has been one opportunity for meeting online that has a different feel about it. It has only recently started. It has just begun to gain momentum in the past few weeks. At the beginning of Lent, opportunity was provided for people to gather, briefly, online, at the start of each day, and towards the end of the afternoon, for Daily Prayers. The offer was for something that lasted 8–10 minutes, a regular pattern of prayer, each weekday. It was an initiative of Elizabeth Raine, minister of the Tuggeranong Congregation, and was advertised across the Presbytery as well as on the TUC Facebook page.
Over five weeks, now, the online community has been meeting. There are about 20 people who participate—although, in true church style, “you never see them all together at the one time”, just like most Sunday morning worshipping communities! Over the weeks, the community of prayer has formed; the pattern and routine are becoming familiar. Each time, there are 8, 10, sometimes 12 or 13 people online. It changes each time.
The centering of heart and spirit for the day is now an expected part of each weekday morning. The slowing and gathering together at the end of the day is also a regular routine. And the invitation to reflect back on the past seven days, on Friday at 6pm, brings a sense of completion to the week. Each day the resources of the Northumbria Community (a dispersed monastic community) are used, providing reflective prayers, short scripture passages, and an opportunity to reflect in silence and then with gentle music.
But more than this has been taking place. The community of prayer has become a community of care. Some folks log in a few minutes early, chat with each other, share their news, and exchange plans for the day. More recently, one person reported that their partner was moving into palliative care. Those present, hearing this news, have ensured that this person and their partner are remembered in prayer; one participant has ensured that practical help and support is provided. Those gathering make gentle enquiries before prayers begin. The community of prayer has become a community of care.
And even more: the community of prayer, now a community of care, has become a community to share with still more people. Those participating are largely members of the Tuggeranong Congregation. A few people from elsewhere participate in the weekly online Bible Study of the Tuggeranong Congregation; some folks from elsewhere in Canberra, someone 300kms north, another person 250kms west, are joining in regularly for prayer.
Facebook advertising has drawn the group to the attention of a person in a large rural town; they are now “part of the group”, participating regularly. A welcome voice, an assurance of gratitude that they have joined, a clear expression that “we are glad you are here; you belong!” is all that it takes. The community is there, to share with others.
This is how the Church is meant to function! An open community, focussed around our spiritual needs; an invitational community, welcoming people in and actively ensuring that they are made to feel comfortable, valued, a part of the group. And offering food for the soul, a prayer gathering, can be a doorway into community as much as offering food for the body, a soup kitchen, or food for the mind, a Bible study group, or food for our relationships, a community worship service. For this Lenten experience, I am most grateful.
To join the Daily Prayer, go to the TUC website ( https://tuc.org.au ) and click on the Church Services icon.
To sample the worship resources of the Northumbria Community, go to https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/