Guest Column: The New Era of the Presbyterian Church of Scipioville | Lifestyles
Reverend Ben Fitzgerald-Fye special for the citizen
If you look around the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church of Scipioville on a Sunday morning and walk around, you will notice a number of changes. A camera now resides near the icon at the back of the church. The wiring now runs around the top of our walls. New speakers are installed. A projector now plays images of Zoom participants on the wall. A projector hangs from the ceiling in our fellowship space. Inputs, microphone relays, sound equipment, and other bells and whistles reside in an “AV bridge”. A laptop is now a constant presence in the sanctuary and I have a nifty little control box in the pulpit.
Among other things, including the introduction of Zoom during shutdowns, these are indications of a church that has embraced the 21st century. We have accepted what is often called “the new normal”.
Church attendance nearly doubled during the pandemic lockdown. We were joined by people from Pennsylvania, Oregon, California, New York, Syracuse, Florida and other places. On several Sundays, our online attendance exceeded our in-person attendance. Our leaders and I had many conversations around the idea that we didn’t want to lose our participants online. We have now committed to the concept of digital inclusion. This type of inclusion also applies to church members who cannot be with us in person for a number of reasons. In fact, recently we moved the church online rather than canceling the church during an ice storm. Technology has become a tool of mission and care for our members. Technology and equipment is not just an expensive vanity project, it is central to the ministry of this church. The latest wave of technology updates is a call to us to intentionally reach out into virtual space to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have only just started work.
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Our intention was for the online worship experience to be as close to the in-person experience as possible. Now, online attendees can read scriptures during worship and interact. Online video sound and images are noticeably better, and with a few more tweaks, music will sound much better. Already, our online community is noticing how much things have improved.
Among the most moving effects of technology are visits from mothers of LGBTQIA children and others who cannot find welcoming and supportive churches where they live. They may only come once or once in a while, but they know now that there are churches that welcome them and love them. We have also received visits from people who do not necessarily identify as religious, but who are open to hearing the message we have to offer them.
From a practical standpoint, the newly installed speakers and audio system are also designed to increase clarity and volume, without feedback, for members of the congregation who have hearing limitations. Proper speaker placement and sound quality can overcome a significant difficulty after worship due to hearing limitations. Installing audio and video capabilities in the fellowship space opens up the opportunity to participate in meaningful presentations and even watch movies from time to time. I already wonder how many people would join me to watch my favorite non-horror movie, “Sunset Boulevard.” We will also be hosting a presentation as part of the Southern Cayuga Wider Parish series on celebrating and supporting creation. Our online participants can now join the coffee hour, which strengthens our ability to include them in the life of the church.
As we move forward, new technologies and enhancements to our audio-visual capability are important parts of our mission, outreach, evangelism, congregational service, stewardship, public communication, and digital footprint in a social media world. We are not a church that has a geographic community like other churches do. Yes, we are definitely looking to interact more with the direct community, but our members come from various locations in Cayuga County. Our potential impact radius is quite large and can be defined county-wide. With this comes challenges and opportunities. We will continue to discuss both. Technology is one of our doors to the greatest potential impact radius.
It is simply amazing that our small country church is now at the cutting edge of technology and energy efficiency. We simply refuse to be defined by the arbitrary boundaries imposed on churches of our size and geography. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, and the journey out of pandemic exile and into the future has only just begun. Our embrace of new technologies and upgrades to our building and AV offerings is a sign of our resilient determination to move forward. The Spirit is moving and our work must follow.
I thank God that the leadership of this church and our members are ready and willing to go where the Spirit leads.
May the peace of God be with you all!
Reverend Ben Fitzgerald-Fye is pastor of Scipioville Presbyterian Church at Scipio Center. For more information, contact the church at (315) 364-5110 or scipiovillechurch.org.