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On June 10, CBFVA sponsored a webinar entitled “Re-Imagining Worship in a Post-Covid World.” Widespread disruption caused by the pandemic significantly impacted how local congregations worshipped. Aware of the need to reflect upon lessons learned when “the church left the building,” we offered this webinar to help clergy wrestle with what we experienced and how it affects our worship practices now and into the future.

Our leader for this most helpful webinar was Fran Pratt, pastor, liturgist, and concerned person on the spiritual journey. Fran referred to herself during the session as Pastor of Paying Attention. In our distracted age, we certainly need folks who help the rest of us pay better attention.

Fran is passionate about worship and liturgy—what she calls making space for an encounter with the Divine. God is present all the time and can be found by those who are paying attention. So, Fran sees her role as constantly reminding folks the Divine is among us and in us. God is not “out there” somewhere; God is right here, right now, ready, and accessible.

Fran suggests two primary reasons congregations gather:
1) To meet with each other in community for support and encouragement.
2) To meet with God and engage in Divine encounter.

As the Pastor of Paying Attention, Fran says her liturgy is to create opportunities for folks to pay attention to God at work in herself, in others, in nature, and in embodied practices like lighting candles, communion, etc. When doing her role well, she helps people focus upon the Divine, Love, and evidence of God’s presence in our lives—she fosters a conducive environment for paying attention. Fran designs experiences that lean into this reality. As she describes it, “in our church services the veil between heaven and earth is thinner—here’s the Divine.”

Fran’s advice to participants was to let go of preconceived notions about worship order. Let go of personal preferences and patterned ways of encountering God: there are more ways to encounter the Divine than through singing and preaching. We were challenged to rethink anything that is distracting—whether worshipping in a room together or online.

Fran asserted, “This pandemic season presented us incredible opportunities on a platter.” We can be imaginative and creative. We can design experiences that help our folks pay attention. We can intentionally reflect upon our current “liturgy” (“the work of the people”), and determine patterns/practices that no longer help. This kind of reflection can energize clergy who in turn energize their congregations.

Fran is fond of saying to the congregation she serves, “I’m not your guru. Do your own spiritual work. We (clergy) can’t do that for you.” This approach sets good boundaries for vocational ministers, and more importantly, puts responsibility for soul work where it belongs. The role of clergy is to help folks pay attention, point to the active presence of the Divine in concrete ways, and teach folks to stay awake to the Divine every day.

The pandemic was exhausting for most of us. Fran admits many clergy already have difficulty with self-care and setting boundaries, so many vocational ministers are especially worn-out as a result of protracted pandemic concerns; the demands were intense and many ministers are near burn-out phase. One decision Fran’s church made to help clergy and congregants care for themselves is to designate every first Sunday for rest and renewal – no services are held. It’s a “feed your soul” day and each person or family determines the best way to accomplish that for themselves. This decision is intended to help pastors and volunteers nourish their souls and prevent burn-out while also fostering a “no shaming culture.” In this unique moment of re-imagining church, what might serve the body of Christ better in your context?

Among many important ideas, Fran highlighted the rise of racism and white nationalism in our consciousness during the pandemic. She sees this reality as an opportunity for people of faith to keep justice issues at the collective level of awareness. By celebrating progress, staying awake, refusing to shame, and remaining conscious about the most marginalized, we create a new congregational culture, one that builds something uniquely focused on God and on God in others.

The two pressing questions before us, according to Pratt, are:
1. How do we harness our worship space to direct attention to God?
2. How do we utilize liturgy to encourage more awake consciousness?

Finally, Fran left us with these tips:
• Stay aware of the tension between excellent music vs. performative music.
• Include more faces on the screen/in worship space: readers, special music,
children’s messages, faith testimonies, benedictions, etc.
• Include more embodied practices like lighting a candle – powerful rituals for paying attention.
• Create a culture of commentary – invite participation through the comments section of online worship; give permission to respond to pastor’s message.
• Involve children and youth – embrace them and their un-orthodoxy.
• Keep a sense of humor—stay lighthearted when things go wrong.
• Embrace social media – explain what you are doing.
• Foster creativity – like a muscle that might be sore from pandemic challenges, leaders are stronger because of exercising creativity.
• Don’t compare yourself to others – all worship is contextual.

We are grateful to Fran Pratt for this excellent webinar! Those who participated benefited greatly. Fran makes herself available for congregational coaching around liturgy and worship. You can reach her at fran.a.pratt@gmail.com.