For 11 minutes, the service went quiet, save for gentle background music. Dozens of names appeared, scrolling slowly past the image of a burning candle. Dozens more poured in – live, from many time zones – via the webinar platform Zoom.
It was the central moment of the United Church of Christ’s All Saints worship service Sunday, Nov. 1. For those in the United States Eastern Time Zone, it was evening. For those joining online from places like Hilo, Hawaii, Vancouver, B.C., McKinleyville, Calif., Rio Rancho, N.M., and South Holland, Ill., autumn daylight added to the light of candles on screen and in participants’ homes.
Simulcast via YouTube and Facebook, the service was recorded and can be viewed at the UCC YouTube channel, here.
Inviting their presence
Christianity’s annual moment to remember, grieve and celebrate the lives of those who have died in the past year was especially poignant given the current coronavirus pandemic and the uprisings of 2020 in support of Black lives, said the Rev. Chris Davies of the UCC’s Justice and Local Church Ministries in introducing the service.
“We take time to offer our online witnessing to the deaths directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to uplift the pandemic of hate that is present against our African American siblings who are being murdered by police officers, and name the violence against our trans siblings and indigenous and Native American siblings,” she said.
The service honored those “who have left this life to go to another,” as one worship leader put it – “all the individuals who have influenced our lives,” said another. It also invoked their presence, drawing on diverse traditions, symbols and images, including a Celtic guided meditation, an African pouring of libations, scripture, poetry, candlelight, prayer and music.
Names shared in ‘chat’ and said aloud
In the on-screen scroll and Zoom’s chat feature, names of those who have died of COVID-19 or of violence were mingled with those of all kinds of others – in the UCC and beyond – who died since All Saints Day 2019. People were also invited at one point to call out the names of family members and friends whom they wanted to remember.
Leaders of the service were:
- Mark Miller, Minister of Music, Christ Church, Summit, N.J.
- The Rev. Chris Davies, Team Leader, Faith Education, Innovation and Formation
- The Rev. Brendan Curran, Pastor, Forest Grove (Ore.) UCC
- The Rev. Emily Munger, Pastor, First Congregational UCC, Pierre, S.D.
- The Rev. Drew Brown, Creative Arts Pastor, Trinity Church Streetsville, Mississauga, Ontario
- Rebekah Anderson, student, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
- The Rev. Jabari Douglas, Pastor, Love Center UCC, Washington, D.C.
- The Rev. Samantha Houser, Associate Conference Minister, Tri-Conference Ministries, Sioux Falls, S.D.
- The Rev. Nikira Hernandez-Evans, Pastor, Brighton Allston Congregational UCC, Brighton, Mass.
- The Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister, Justice and Local Church Ministries
Connecting people across time, space and culture, the service concluded with this benediction from Blackmon that included these words: “Let us go from this place loving one another, even as those we love begin to soar.”