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What does worship look like during a global pandemic?

October 7, 2020 | Abby Liu

One of the aspects of Mustard Seed School that I have always loved is daily worship. Worship provides an anchor in the day, a time to come together as a community to pause. Reflect on who God is and who we are as children of God. To sing. Tell the stories of our faith. Rejoice together. Grieve together. Live as a community who cares for one another. A community who serves each other and the world.

Lower School worship during non-pandemic times

 

During non-pandemic times, there are three separate worship services at Mustard Seed School: Preschool and Lower School first thing in the morning and Middle School worship at the end of the day. These experiences are led by teachers and are developmentally appropriate. And there’s a seasonality to our worship: we follow the liturgical calendar with a twist of “Mustard Seed” thrown in. 

Preschool worship during non-pandemic times

 

In the fall, we celebrate the Jewish holidays as a part of our Christian heritage. Jesus was Jewish, after all. In November, we tell the stories of saints, broadly defined as people who have come before us who followed God. During Advent, the Lower School and Middle School worship together. We sit around the Jesse Tree and watch skits performed by students and teachers. We delight in the stories from the Old Testament that lead up to the birth of Christ. During Lent, we’re quiet and reflective, writing and drawing our prayers in journals. We hear the stories of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. We meditate on works of art that deepen our understanding of those stories. Then spring brings Pentecost and Ascension. And there are worship themes to explore during Ordinary Time.

We share a rich life of faith at school. And parents are always invited to join as they are able. 

This time together forms the foundation for social-emotional learning. And it provides a place to respond to what’s happening in the lives of students and the world. We’ve come together in prayer and tasted of God’s goodness even in the midst of struggle. The death of a student. 9/11. Superstorm Sandy. And now, a pandemic.

So, what is worship like now that we must remain physically distant?

I spoke with Dr. Jessica Smith, our Worship Coordinator, about what Mustard Seed School worship looks like, now that we cannot gather in the same way.

How has worship changed during the pandemic?

One of the biggest changes is that we can no longer gather safely as a larger community. Some of us are on-site during worship time and others are remote. We’ve had to find other ways to be together. To share in our experience of worship. Teachers have been pre-recording videos of the worship story or lesson. Students who are on-site watch worship in their classroom and students who are remote join them via Zoom.

Because COVID spreads through small droplets in the air, we’re unable to sing together when we’re at school. And we really miss singing! We’re used to singing every day, multiple times a day!

What has remained the same?

You might be surprised to learn that there are many things that remain the same. 

  • Teachers still rotate through worship leadership in each division.
  • We still follow our regular worship cycles/curriculum. 
  • We worship every day.
  • Classes worship together (in-class or remote).
  • Every class lights a candle at the beginning of worship to signify the Light of Christ that is with us.
  • We still ask wondering questions that are structured to deepen students’ understanding and explore their faith
  • We continue to hold our special Celebrations. Although they look a bit different, the heart of our Celebrations remain the same. Even though they must happen over video. In the spring, you may have seen the Palm Celebration led by the Kindergarten. Or Ascension led by the fourth and fifth grades. This fall, the third grade led us in the Rosh Hashanah celebration. You can expect a Thanksgiving Celebration, Las Posadas, and all the rest.

What opportunities have come out of worship during the pandemic?

I’m amazed at the innovation of our teachers. They’ve found creative ways to use video and Zoom to tell the stories. And video does have benefits.  For example, during a recent worship video, Ms. Rachuri burned paper around a piece of metal to show “Refiner’s Fire.” Because the camera was right above the action, we could see much better on screen than we would have if we were all together in the Community Room. Not to mention she probably wouldn’t have used fire like that in school. I’ve taken to using stick figure drawings and music tracks from time-to-time to tell the story. I can change the background on Zoom to create a virtual set. I’ve told the story “live” from Jerusalem. Video gives us a different set of tools.

There are different ways to include students in the videos. There are more opportunities to incorporate students into responsive readings, for example. Eighth grade students have gotten creative with the birthday skits (a Middle School worship tradition). 

Classes can also worship at different times, so the scheduling of worship is more flexible. 

There are some other benefits, too. We’re creating a digital library of worship videos. This will be helpful for training new teachers and giving other teachers ideas. It also means that we can share the videos with a wider audience. And usually teachers across divisions don’t get to see the other worship services. Now they can! 

And surely there are some losses. What would you say those are?

Music!!! Everyone misses the music. We’re a school that sings. That makes music together every day. Many of our teachers play instruments and would often play during worship. Our students and teachers sing harmonies. The Middle School Worship Band added so much dimension with students and faculty and staff playing together. Our PROS musical ensemble joined us frequently. We’ve tried to incorporate music where we can in our video worship, but it isn’t the same. The PROS have played for some of our celebrations. A group of students joined some faculty members for a virtual chorus for Opening Worship. But we miss raising our voices together.

And of course, we miss being together. Having younger and older students in the same room for a shared experience. Interacting live and getting student responses and feedback in real time. We miss having the leadership of our 8th grade students.  In “normal times,” they serve us through lighting the candle, ushering, leading the responsive reading, and running the technology. 

How are teachers rising to the challenge?

I gave you a little bit of insight before when I talked about the creativity with which teachers are approaching video. They’re working ahead and planning for their presentations. They’re thinking hard about engagement and working to be succinct. It’s much more difficult to engage students in worship on video, particularly in Middle School, and teachers are going above and beyond.

What have we learned during this time?

We have learned so much. Even though worship may look a bit different, we can still do it. God remains with us even when we’re not all together in the ways that we’re used to. 

Mustard Seed School teachers are resilient and can pivot! They’ve learned new technologies. Gotten comfortable with telling stories on video. Some have even dabbled in video production. In fact, teachers tell me that there are some things that are more fun or easier to do on video!

Worship Video Examples

Here are some examples of worship videos created by our teachers during the pandemic.

Preschool Worship

Ms. Sytsma tells the story of some of the days of Creation.

 

Lower School Worship

Ms. Pargellis tells the story of the lost coin.

 

Middle School Worship

Dr. Smith tells the story of the Samaritan Woman.

 

Celebration: Rosh Hashanah

The third grade leads the school in the Rosh Hashanah celebration.

 

 

Abby Liu

Director of Marketing and Communications

Ms. Liu loves to tell the Mustard Seed story. She’s the parent of two Mustard Seed School alumni. She's seen the impact of a Mustard Seed education from the early preschool days all the way up to eighth grade and beyond.

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