For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
Since the beginning of June, we’ve been live-streaming the sermons preached on Sunday mornings. This is thanks to the discovery by our Communications Chair, Rayven Holmes, of an “app” called Mixlr, that allows us to broadcast via the Internet from our pulpit to people’s computers and hand-held devices. If the reading associated with a sermon or the hymns either side of a sermon are in the public domain, then they might streamed, too, but please note that no other part of the service is broadcast. What is shared at Joys and Sorrows stays within the Sanctuary!
Aside from being able to listen to a sermon live — which you can do through the UUFP page on the Mixlr website, via the Sunday page on the UUFP’s website, or by downloading the Mixlr app on your mobile device — this also allows us to upload audio recordings to YouTube. Yes, the UUFP now has its own YouTube channel, with (as of yesterday) eighteen Sundays’ worth of sermons, homilies and reflections uploaded for the world’s listening pleasure.
There are a number of reasons for doing this. One is that not everyone can attend a service in person — perhaps for health reasons or because they live out of our area — but they’d still like to listen in. Another reason is that a large part of “church shopping” in today’s world takes place on-line, with prospective visitors checking out websites, lurking on social media, and listening to sermon recordings, all for months or more — even for as much as a year — before taking the plunge and deciding to visit in person. So making our sermons available in this way helps both people already connected to us as well as people who are looking to connect with us in the future.
Of course, when a congregation takes a step like this, there’s often a concern that it’ll impact attendance, that some people will stop attending if they can listen from home in the comfort of their own pajamas. But that hasn’t proved to be the case for a number of Unitarian Universalist congregations that, according to a recent UU World article, are not only broadcasting the audio of sermons, but are broadcasting full video of complete services.
After all, there’s a lot more to coming to church on a Sunday morning than just listening to — or even watching — the sermon. A large piece of it, of course, is about community. Being welcomed at the door by smiling faces, being greeted by people who are glad to see you, being asked how you’re doing by someone who genuinely cares, being immersed in the joyful noises of people happy for one another’s company: these require actually being present in person. What’s more, Sunday morning isn’t simply an experience for the ears and eyes: there’s the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the taste of delicious snacks provided by a hospitality team, even the feel of music and congregational singing that’s distinctly different from sound alone.
The Internet in general and social media in particular are tremendous gifts. For churches in today’s world, it’s not a question of whether they’ll use them or not, but a question of how they’ll use them — and how they’ll do so effectively. And though electronic communications can provide information and ways to stay in touch and even some of the benefits of personal connections, there will always be a need for in-person communities.
When I officiated at a wedding recently, I was actually surprised upon reading aloud the liturgy that I myself had prepared with the number of references to our existence as embodied beings. Reflecting on hands and faces, on the heart’s expression through the senses, I appreciated in a whole new way that Unitarian Universalism truly does celebrate our embodiment, embracing us as whole beings and refusing to treat us as merely disembodied emotions or intellects.
Faith isn’t just about being present in thought and feeling, then; it’s also about being present in body. That comes with its own challenges, and we don’t always respond to them as well as we should, but isn’t it amazing that we strive to offer a place where people can bring themselves, their whole selves, so that together we can make the best of life as we find it?