On Aug. 19, parishes in the Toronto East Deanery worshipped together in a new way – through a live stream.
The project was prompted by the Rev. Jeanette Lewis, incumbent of St. Barnabas, Chester. In the spring, Ms. Lewis had invited a member of the congregation, an archaeologist who had just returned from Egypt, to preach.
“He mentioned that he was nervous about doing it, because he usually had slides for people to look at instead of looking at him,” says Ms. Lewis. “I thought, there’s got to be a way we could put something on the web that people could look at while he’s talking.”
When she later mentioned her thought to the parish’s leadership team, an idea was sparked. “The treasurer here said we used to do a lot of things as a deanery,” she says. “We thought maybe we could do something together as a deanery on the internet.”
With a visit from Bishop Kevin Robertson scheduled for August, Ms. Lewis began to dream of a way to use technology to bring the deanery’s 12 parishes together. “I was hoping to bring some technology, some of the 21st-century stuff, into the worship that would excite different people,” she says. “Also, those at great distances or who can’t physically get into the building – they could experience a service in real time.”
To put her plan in motion, Ms. Lewis enlisted the help of the Rev. Tay Moss, incumbent of Church of the Messiah, Toronto. Mr. Moss is a live stream enthusiast, broadcasting his parish’s Sunday worship service each week and frequently sharing his expertise with other churches.
“Live streamed video is quickly emerging as one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to engage people with a relevant message of hope in a cynical age,” he says. “By its nature, live streaming is about connecting people in a way that exudes authenticity, immediacy and a back-and-forth relationship between the content creators and the audience.”
With cameras set up at St. Barnabas, the other parishes followed the service on large screens, tablets and phones in their own worship spaces. After the exchange of the Peace, the other churches turned off the screens and celebrated the Eucharist separately, while St. Barnabas continued the live stream for those watching online.
Eight of the Toronto East parishes participated, a response far greater than Ms. Lewis had hoped for. “It was wonderful, it was so affirming,” she says.
Among the 117 people who tuned in were family and friends of parishioners from around the world. “Our deacon’s family in Singapore got to watch it, seeing her doing her ministry for the first time. I had family in England that watched it. Lots of parishioners had family in the islands who were able to see it,” says Ms. Lewis.
As for the other deanery churches, their members were enthusiastic about the experience. “They really enjoyed it. A lot of them felt it was really neat to be a part of a bigger whole,” says Ms. Lewis.
Given this success, Ms. Lewis is eager to keep using technology to bring people together. “I want it to be more interactive in a lot of ways, getting others involved who would take their devices out to shut-ins and take communion,” she says.
She says she would love to get youth involved, and she’s started talking with Jillian Ruch, the area youth coordinator, about how that could work. She’d also like to explore the idea of hosting a multi-parish Bible study with a live-streamed component. “We could do something different, making it interactive and dealing with issues that everyone is focusing on at the moment in the Church,” she says.
Whatever direction the next live stream takes, Ms. Lewis emphasizes that trying out new technology is essential for the Church. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to spread the Word,” she says. “You can see it on the streets. People aren’t looking at each other; they’re looking at their phones and listening to what’s playing in their ears. We need to reach out to them in those ways. Otherwise, we’re not going to be heard.”
Mr. Moss agrees. “In the Church, we create many engaging experiences such as worship, concerts and classes — why not make those experiences more available? I am all about kicking over bushel baskets to let the light shine,” he says. “I believe the future of the Church depends on finding new ways to share Christ with the world.”
Ms. Lewis’s advice to other churches considering live streaming is simple. “Go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? Nobody watches. Well, so what? You’ve done it,” she says. “It’s so important to keep up to date and try new avenues. It’s exciting stuff!”