A Small Change to our Zoom Procedures

A Small Change to our Zoom Procedures

We have been blessed and very happy — in our religious context, I am resisting adding “very lucky”! — with how Zoom has been able to keep us together while COVID precautions hold us apart. Zoom has really been a blessing for us, and, I think, people not only feel some respect for how it serves us. I hope people feel a bit protective about the holy space it helps us create. Our gathering there is truly sacred. 

I say this because I recently experienced my first “zoom bombing.” It was at the beginning of Amy Davin’s ordination. A bunch of adolescent boys — 12 to 15 — got into the Zoom meeting about 10 minutes into the service and caused havoc. 

When folks get worried about Zoom security, I always remind folks that someone could show up in church when we gather physically and do real harm, whereas on Zoom, they can just say or show things that are offensive. 

In the case of Amy’s ordination, these boys seemed to think they had crashed the funeral of the grandmother of a classmate they didn’t like. (I am glad they didn’t!) But they were able to say horrible things and show inappropriate images. In the end, the leaders responsible for the Zoom meeting were quickly responsive and decisive, and kept the intrusion from being any more unpleasant than it was. 

But I was left with a new feeling about Zoom. We have been very deliberate about how we set ours up — with enough security, but also with enough freedom to keep our gatherings very interactive. I want to keep our worship as interactive and participative as it has been because I think that’s what has made it special. But I also want to introduce a bit more security because I am feeling somewhat protective of the sacred space we have created. We would survive a “Zoom bombing,” even with stories to tell! But I’d rather not have our worship space sullied like that.  

Now I want to make one change and ask two things of you all: 

  1.  We are going to initiate “the waiting room” for worship on Sundays. This means that when you arrive at the OFGatheringSpace, you will not necessarily come right into “the Hollywood Squares” of Old Firsters already present. Instead, you might start out on a blank white screen with a message “Please wait; the Host will let you into the meeting shortly..”  We will have one or more “ushers” whose job it is to keep an eye on the waiting room and admit you to worship as soon as possible. So I hope the wait will be just a few seconds. 

We still expect to admit everyone who arrives at church, but the waiting room will simply let us recognize and be aware if a whole group of unknown people try to enter worship all of a sudden.   

  1. Because of the waiting room, if you know you will have guests joining you in church, can you please let me or the church office know in advance, or even on Sunday morning before worship. We can pass along those names to our ushers, and that will make their jobs easier. 
  2. Finally, I want you to know what would happen if we ever did get Zoom-bombed. As soon as we realize what’s happening, we will mute everyone so no one can unmute themselves. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do, short of ending the meeting, to stop people sharing pictures on their screens. So we will simply apologize, promise that in the next 5 minutes or so, we will send out a new Zoom link and meeting password to everyone whose emails we have in Breeze. We might also announce the time we will re-gather. That will be on the email as well. (I will ask people in advance to call our folks who telephone into our Zoom worship.) 

Really, I don’t want to make anyone nervous. But I believe it will be much easier if everyone knows what will happen if a Zoom bombing would ever happen. 

(For everyone’s ease, I would say at this time, that if we ever got cut off in worship for another reason, say the person acting as the Host’s internet or power went down. Check your email for a new link and password, as well as the time we will re-gather.) 

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to ask me, the church office, or any of the co-hosts on Sunday morning. From your perspective, it’s not going to be much of a change, I hope. But it might make our sacred space a bit more protected, and that seems worthwhile… 

— Michael