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This is the new normal - For Churches this Easter (Pastor Matt Garvin)

As I write this my head is spinning a little. It is Good Friday and I have just conducted my first statewide online church service attended by about 200 people.

The service featured bible readings and prayers in both Nepali and English as well as a children’s song, a number of reflections and a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the saxophone. There were about 20 people actively involved in leading the service… and none of them (or the other 180 people joining us) left their homes.

This is the new normal.

One of the questions facing religious leaders like me, but also leaders of community organisations and businesses is “How do we build community online?” It is a vital question because all the research shows just how dangerous social isolation is.

So far I have been pleasantly surprised by what is actually possible through software platforms like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Youtube and Facebook. Most of our church members have made the transition, and some are already starting to talk about keeping some kind of digital connection in addition to face to face meetings when the restrictions are lifted.

The way we think about building community has had to change. Normally churches like ours are focussed on the once a week meeting, with perhaps one other small group through the week.

In this new digital world we are finding that we need more regular, and shorter, communication than we were previously used to.

Something else has changed too. I have been fascinated to watch American talk show host, Jimmy Fallon, who is recording ‘the Tonight Show’ from his home, filmed by his wife and starring his daughters. I have a sense that this might be the new kind of leadership that is needed in this moment: heavy on authenticity, and light on perfection.

For those of us trying to hold communities together things have become busier than ever. Each day I talk with 40 - 50 different people, most of them in little boxes on my screen. I also seem to be sending more email and responding to more Facebook, google and text messages than I ever considered possible.

All of us have been adjusting to a lot lately, and we will all continue to adjust. While we all look forward to the day we can meet in person once more, we will continue to explore what it means to build community in a digital world, because we must.

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