By Brett Hetherington*
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, churches have been tasked with finding new and different ways to remain connected with one another. For many churches in the East Ohio Conference this has involved some form of online streaming of Sunday morning services. Some churches have opened their online doors a tad further and have been able to find ways to broadcast other regular programs. Then there are churches that have viewed this new phase of life as an opportunity to explore and see just how widely they can engage their congregation during the days of stay-at-home orders and limited numbers of people being allowed in the church building.
In addition to livestreaming the Sunday morning services of Greensburg United Methodist Church (Canal District), the Rev. Katie Osier has encouraged the leadership of the church to regularly create new video-focused content for the church Facebook page that continues to engage congregants from children through older adults.
One of the most popular weekly events is Family Dinner Live. Each Wednesday Osier and her family gather for a family dinner – usually around their own dinner table – and invite others to join them for conversation, jokes, and even some deep discussion. The family has experimented with a few different methods of sharing the video feed and has had both successes and challenges. A webcam is set up wide enough to capture family members as they eat and it allows viewers to feel as though they are sitting at the table with the Osiers.
With all of the potential for challenges, successes, and distractions such an undertaking can involve, it is important for Osier to remain grounded, and she shared a mantra that serves as inspiration: “It doesn’t have to be overboard, just authentic and transparent.”
Osier then shared that these virtual family dinners began as a way to model to her church the importance of being a Christian family.
“I have a heart for youth and family ministry, it is at the core of who I am. With the family dinners we want to show good, Christian fun. We have good days, and we have bad days too,” Osier said.
Most of the virtual family dinners unfold in similar fashion, with Osier’s family gathering around the dinner table, utilizing a webcam to stream the meal to Facebook. Viewers are invited to eat their dinner at the same time, and to join in on the family’s conversation in the comment thread for the livestream.
“Sometimes we will have something simple and fun to share, like doing quizzes or Mad Libs together, sometimes we will address what is going on in the world,” she said.
Osier shared that the church has sent out curriculum packets to families with participation ideas, and that the nature of the weekly meal invites a very casual connection.
“Families will pop on and off, and some just can’t stick around because of the screen overload they are dealing with during this time,” she offered. “Others have shared an apprehension to be involved because they are not members of our church. But for those families that we have been able to connect with through this dinner, it has been a benefit. Even though we can’t all see each other, it gives us a chance to be together, doing something normal together.”
The family dinners are just the tip of what Greensburg UMC has been offering to keep people engaged. Praise Band Leader Dustin Oliver can be seen every Thursday sharing a song of encouragement on camera. Children’s Ministry volunteers share age-appropriate videos every Monday to keep younger children engaged in Scripture each week.
Perhaps the most surprising piece of engagement for the church has been found in Tuesday’s program, Betty at the Bench. This video series features church organist Betty Gross sharing a hymn from her home organ. “One week someone in Germany caught on of our Betty at the Bench videos and was so touched they recorded a hymn themselves and sent it to her,” Osier shared.
“We want to have something every day of the week on our Facebook page. Like with our family dinners, it does not have to be theologically heavy, we want to be God-centered and offer encouragement and hope during this time,” she continued.
When the church is again able to open the doors of the building and welcome people back inside on a regular basis, Osier is not sure what will become of her family’s Facebook dinner.
“We normally have hand bells and choir practice on Wednesday nights. I don’t know what the future holds for us when we can go back to being together in person. This could morph into something entirely new, possibly.”
No matter what the future has in store for the church, the leaders who are creating God-focused content for children and adults, or even those who feel they are on the outside looking in, Osier and the people of Greensburg UMC have taken what many have viewed as quite a challenge and found a way to put God at the center and invite the community to join them, one day at a time.
The Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that our nearly 700 East Ohio Conference congregations are answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to their communities in creative ways. Please e-mail EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ministry story.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.