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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You might be surprised to learn that there are many things that remain the same.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Here are some examples of worship videos created by our teachers during the pandemic.
Ms. Sytsma tells the story of some of the days of Creation.
Ms. Pargellis tells the story of the lost coin.
Dr. Smith tells the story of the Samaritan Woman.
The third grade leads the school in the Rosh Hashanah celebration.