Hingham Churches Embrace Long-Term Changes in Worship Services
At the Episcopal Parish of Saint John the Evangelist in Hingham, parishioners are adopting a new motto: âBe faithful, be flexible,â said Rev. Tim Schenck.
The parish first adapted to fully virtual services due to the pandemic and then to limited capacity in the church when in-person worship resumed in May 2020. Now they are running hybrid, live services for those who can’t or don’t yet feel comfortable coming back in person, Schenck said.
âI always come back to that as a mantra for this community because things haven’t come back to what they were before the pandemic and they probably will never be completely back to where they were before the pandemic, so this is is finding some solace with that, but also not being afraid to embrace new things, âsaid Schenck.
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Various congregations in Hingham have had to take similar approaches, adjusting to a new way of life with hybrid and outdoor services, and some church leaders believe these changes are here to stay.
“One congregation, two audiences”
Schenck said these changes have been an “opportunity” for the church to adopt a hybrid “one congregation but two audiences” model, which allows people to pray in person or participate in services from their homes. .
With Schenck’s far-reaching social media platforms, the church has even attracted parishioners who have joined the congregation despite living outside of Hingham, Schenck said.
âSo it’s really a unique opportunity for us to be able to share this good news with a wide range of people – not just my mom who listens from Baltimore every week,â said Schenck.
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Other church leaders have taken similar approaches, including Reverend Steven Aucella of New North Church in Hingham. Instead of live streaming the Sunday services, Aucella said it records the service and posts it on YouTube for viewers to watch at home.
âI saw live services and we don’t have the people for that or the equipment for that,â Aucella said. “And that was just too much – we just want the church. We don’t want to mess around with the cameras and stuff.”
Aucella said he was leading a “very small” congregation, so even when capacity restrictions were in place during the pandemic, parishioners who wanted to attend in-person services were able to do so, as the church can accommodate 250 people. .
Parishioners at New North Church continue to sit in all other pews, marked with green ribbons, and masks are optional, Aucella said. They also adapted the communion to where parishioners take wine and cracker from a table where portions are arranged and at the end of the service. A plate for monetary donations is located near the door, instead of the offerings being taken by the ushers.
At Hingham Second Ward, Reverend Stephanie Kelsch said on some days the church sees as many people tune into the live stream as there are in the sanctuary. Kelsch said she believed part of this was due to the convenience of attending the weekly services online.
âPeople are so busy that if they can somehow get their spirituality on without having to get everyone out of the house, it works best for them,â Kelsch said. “So there is also a lack of practical time.”
The challenges of hybrid worship
While parishes have adapted to the pandemic with hybrid worship, live streaming services, and outside connections, these changes are not without challenges.
Although Schenck said he was impressed with his community’s resilience and ability to stay connected to his faith and to each other, as well as embrace new technologies and “new ways of doing and being a church” , they are tired, said Schenck.
âI think you talk to any clergyman and people are tired, we are tired, I am tired,â Schecnk said. “I’m used to this time of year, to a full church and a lot of energy and enthusiasm. And excitement and it’s a little tempered this year.”
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Plus, hybrid worship takes twice as long, Schenck said, as he has been mindful of two audiences, welcoming parishioners to both pews and home.
âI don’t want this worship experience, this hybrid worship experience, to be something where people online feel like they’re just worshiping,â Schenck said. âI want them to feel like they are engaged in worship and are truly a part of this congregation.
As adaptations are made in churches to accommodate the current circumstances of the pandemic, some church leaders believe these changes are here to stay.
“I still think in some ways this pandemic has really opened things up for churches and do we just put our heads in the sand and run away from change or do we embrace change and take bold and creative action? to really change the way we are the church community, âsaid Schenck.
Kelsch said the pandemic has “accentuated and accelerated” a change in church, referring to a theory which Kelsch said asserts that “every 500 years there is a huge change in Western civilization.”
âSo when I talk about an important event, the way we live changes,â Kelsch said. âPeople always talk about the way technology [is] which makes us different, and the church is one of them. “
Kelsch said part of the church’s role is to explore “the mysteries of life,” and those mysteries change when you are able to find answers, explore topics that cannot be explained or “Things that we think are unfair or things that we think are … wrong in the world.”