It was a simple, one-hour service, but it bore the full emotional weight of a Palm/Passion Sunday in a season of COVID-19.
Words of welcome and prayer were shared from many time zones on April 5, throughout this first-ever online service for the whole United Church of Christ. Live music invited reflection during transitions. And dozens of written prayer requests poured in via the "Q&A" feature of the webinar platform Zoom. Among them:
- "For those who have lost jobs and haven't received any assistance yet."
- "For the local nursing home with many, many positive COVID-19 cases, and more than 15 deaths in the past two weeks."
- "For those whose shelter-in-place home is anything but safe."
- "For my 15-year-old great niece, who just lost her dad to COVID-19 and whose mom is quarantined in their home. She is leaving meals at her mom’s door and then running from the virus. She is terrified and traumatized."
- "For my friend who is in hospice and not ‘actively dying yet’ so she cannot have visitors anymore. I miss her."
- "For my Mom, who is hospitalized for leukemia. No visitors allowed due to COVID-19."
- "For medical workers, teachers, grocery workers and farmers." … "For journalists and those who help us to be informed." … "For all hospital chaplains." … "For our health care workers at United Church Homes and all Council for Health and Human Service Ministries member communities of care."
Led by UCC ministers from New England to Hawaii and points between, the interactive "Call to Prayer" kicked off what will now be a regular series of such Zoom gatherings on a variety of themes each Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. They will be opportunities "to lean, to love and to learn together," said Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC associate general minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries, which is hosting them.
Next up, for Holy Week, are an April 7 conversation on the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health and disabilities, and an April 9 Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service. Information and registration links are available at the UCC Facebook page and will soon also be posted at the UCC website.
The UCC Zoom calls can accommodate 1,000 registered participants. The project's staff team is exploring streaming the gatherings simultaneously via one or more social media platforms as well, said the Rev. Chris Davies, leader of JLCM's Faith, Innovation and Formation team.
On Sunday, some participants submitting prayer requests did so anonymously. Others identified themselves by name, place and even sometimes by a local church. Leaders of the service responded. They lifted a few of the prayers aloud, as they were able, and acknowledged almost all of them with real-time written responses. Though primarily in English, spoken prayers were offered in Spanish and Hawaiian as well.
Leaders of the April 5 gathering (seen in the picture at right during an opening prayer) were:
- The Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Associate General Minister, Cleveland (top row center)
- The Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC General Minister and President, Cleveland (bottom left)
- The Rev. Sharon Lee Macarthur, retired, Hercules, Calif. (2nd row right)
- The Rev. Leah Robberts-Mosser, Community UCC, Champaign, Ill. (top right)
- The Rev. Jenn Macy, First Church Somerville (Mass.) UCC (2nd row left)
- The Rev. Edwin Pérez Jr., Manantial de Gracia, UCC, West Hartford, Conn. (bottom right)
- The Rev. Kenneth Makuakāne, Kawaiaha‘o Church, UCC, Honolulu (2nd row center)
The Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelway (top left), Faith INFO's minister of congregational and community engagement, provided music between prayers. Its recurring words: "The world is in God's hands, which are our hands, which are God's hands. And justice will come when it is embodied in us."
[UPDATE, April 8, 2020: A recording of the prayer service can be found by clicking the video icon at the center of this article, or at this YouTube link.]