The Church that Zooms Together, Prays Together
Local pastor uses Zoom to connect with his church community during COVID-19
Webster, NY - COVID-19 has been a learning curve for most everyone. Churches, for example, were forced to find innovative ways to continue offering their parishioners weekly worship services virtually to prevent the spread of the virus and adhere to the statewide shutdown.
Saint Martin Lutheran Church on Bay Road in Webster was among those churches. But unlike many churches that chose to stream their services on Facebook or YouTube, St. Martin’s used Zoom.
“In March, churches were scrambling to figure out a way to reach our members in whatever way we could,” shared St. Martin’s Pastor Korey Finstad. “With a few members familiar with Zoom professionally, we knew it to be a good option to connect in an interactive way. Since we were gathering together, it was natural for us to pray and read scripture together.”
In addition to navigating the “new normal” during shutdown, Pastor Finstad also had the challenge of adjusting as the new pastor of St. Martin’s. He has only been with the Webster church since May 1, by which time the Zoom worship services were already in place. On top of that, St. Martin’s is in a covenantal relationship with Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Penfield, meaning Pastor Finstad is the pastor of not one, but two churches.
But in spite of all these challenges, things seem to have gone very smoothly for St. Martin’s, with its Zoom services being fairly well-attended, considering the circumstances, says Pastor Finstad.
“We averaged more than twenty-five at our services through the summer, which was close to half of our regular summer attendance,” said Pastor Finstad. “That meant that many of our folks were not participating, but considering the challenges people were facing, the technological hurdles people were having, and the natural awkwardness of this very different way of gathering, we thought it went very well.”
That’s not to say there were no technical difficulties. Pastor Finstad says they had to get creative with some elements of their worship services due to challenges with the virtual format.
“Since we enjoy singing, we tried that too, but later chose to record the music and singing beforehand because of difficulty with delay,” said Pastor Finstad. “Our Covenantal Partner, Bethlehem, recorded a service beforehand, allowing the congregations to have different online worship options.”
He added, “I do not know of another congregation that does their full service over Zoom, but with so many people using Zoom to gather, I would be surprised if we were the only ones.”
Along those same lines, the virtual experience did present quite the learning curve for some. For example, some people did not know how to mute themselves or work their camera or microphones.
“But the ability to be together as we banter and check in on each other and worship together made it all worth the imperfections,” said Pastor Finstad. “The fact that we could be together and not worry about anyone catching COVID made it much appreciated.”
St. Martin’s didn’t stop at worship services. The church created a separate Zoom gathering for its children's Sunday School. School materials are either delivered or picked up beforehand, allowing the children to complete projects and discuss together without the risk of COVID infection. Church meetings have been held over Zoom as well, and Bethlehem has a Zoom gathering strictly for a time of fellowship.
St. Martin’s resumed in-person services on Sept. 13, which was also the first time Pastor Finstad worshipped with his parishioners in the church sanctuary since becoming pastor.
Now that the church is back to offering in-person worship, instead of gathering over Zoom, Pastor Finstad says those who are unable or uncomfortable attending in person can watch a livestream of the service through the St. Martin Facebook page. However, Sunday School continues to be held via Zoom.
“Back in July, we invited a small number of individuals to join me in our Fellowship Hall,” shared Pastor Finstad. “These were folks who were not able to use the technology to get on Zoom. We participated in the Zoom gathering together from my laptop as it was projected onto a screen.”
Pastor Finstad served at Bethlehem Lutheran in Fairport from 2005 to 2012. He then served parishes in Denver, CO and Battle Ground, WA. He and his wife enjoyed living in the Rochester area with family nearby, so when the opportunity to serve Bethlehem/St. Martin came up, Pastor Finstad took it.
COVID-19 has certainly changed the way church communities connect with each other, and while there may have been some drawbacks and learning curves, many people have managed to pull some positivity from the experiences.
“I could never have imagined a cause besides severe weather that would prevent us from gathering together in worship, and definitely could not have imagined services being canceled for six months,” Pastor Finstad shared. “It was (and is) horrible to not be able to gather during a time of anxiety. We yearn to connect and to hug and to join our voices together. But our desire to keep each other healthy and safe are greater. Our online options are not the same, and we yearn for things to be back to the way they were.”
He added, “However, our previous efforts to bring worship to those not able to attend physically have been far surpassed! Churches have been made to embrace helpful technology that otherwise would have taken us a long time to adopt. We are much stronger in our ability to care for the lonely who are unable to leave their homes. Those who are traveling do not have to choose between taking a trip and worshipping with their church family.”
“I also believe that people have appreciated being able to connect and worship while still drinking coffee in their pajamas,” he quipped, “but whether this is a positive or a negative is up for some fierce debate!”