Needing More Precaution for Hybrid Worship

Needing More Precaution for Hybrid Worship

We believe we had our first “malevolent visitor” *** show up on zoom on Sunday. It happened so quickly that we have only found one worshiper besides our tech desk crew that even noticed. 

We are thankful that Tony P. and Adam noticed right away and took action swiftly. They avoided the visitor being able to interrupt worship or in any other way upset the safety and sanctity of the worship space we work hard to create online and in the Sanctuary. 

Because this happened, we want to put some added precautions in place. Remember, we used the waiting room for the latter part of the time we were exclusively online (after a sister congregation suffered a “zoom bombing” and said it was really traumatic). While I was in the office leading worship, Tony was in the other room, admitting from the waiting room and muting when needed.  

So now, we are  going to turn “the waiting room” on for the online folks before worship starts, beginning this Sunday, so everyone gets used to it. Instead of being admitted into our zoom space automatically as you log in, you will land in a limbo space with a message “The host will let you in shortly.”

(The brief delay, sometimes, just a few seconds, is not such a problem if before worship. But if you are arriving late, or if you get dropped from the zoom call during worship, and need to log back in, the added time of getting admitted might be noticeable.) 

I am going to ask someone who is regularly worshiping online to take on the task of admitting people from the waiting room. It would be really helpful if you could make sure your name shows up on your zoom screen, it makes admitting people much easier. The tech desk will probably still handle any “questionable, security situations” that come up. 

There’s no way to protect our online worship space completely, because we always want to welcome guests. There are precautions we can take. For example, we already have  our zoom settings so that people cannot share pictures, even “a profile pic.”

The waiting room is another big safety feature. It gives us the opportunity to “sign off” on who we are admitting in the first place, and makes it much harder for a “malevolent guest” to misbehave. We can also move anyone who seems to possibly intend harm into the waiting room, as happened on Sunday. 

We need to think through and plan procedures for when we are concerned that someone or a group of people mean to disrupt our worship, but that’s probably a task for our tech team. 

Finally, just let it be said, if ever, despite our security precautions, we experience someone disrupting worship, in the worst case scenario, we’d simply close the meeting. Then we would send out immediately via e-mail, a new zoom link for you all to reconnect with. 

What happened on Sunday? It might feel like a letdown after all that is written above. A person showed up with the image at the top of this article. Since we don’t allow people to display profile pictures, the image was a background the individual was “hiding behind.” Notice also the name. 

Tony noticed this person arrive in the middle of worship and flagged “them” for Adam. We turned on the waiting room and put the person in there. Adam texted them in the waiting room asking for some clarification in light of their image and name. The person left the zoom meeting. And then came back in – to the waiting room, because Adam and Tony left it on. Adam again tried to communicate with the person, and again they left the zoom meeting. 

So nothing really happened. But imagine if Tony and Adam hadn’t noticed and acted so quickly. What if the person waited until the folks from home were praying. And then, with the mics to the Sanctuary open, had started shouting racial epithets, homophobic slurs, obscenities and curses. Or sharing inappropriate images for people in worship on zoom and in the Sanctuary to experience. We’d all survive, of course, but such an experience could really affect the feeling of safety and sanctity in our worship space. We intend to do what we can to keep that from happening. 

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please let Michael know.  




*** “Malevolent visitor” is an odd descriptor. I struggled to come up with some way to describe a stranger we guess wanted to disrupt worship.  I laughed when I landed on this phrase. As if only one of us at church was evil… and all the rest of us were sinless saints!

But it did make me think: most of us come to church knowing we are not all right, but trying to be better. At least that’s how I’ve always understood it. People don’t come because they are perfect, but because they know they need help. 

Thank heavens, few of us actually get up and decide to come to church to cause harm or wreak havoc! Or if we find ourselves in such a situation one day – maybe we’re in a particularly ornery mood? – maybe that’s the day to skip church? Or just to get back in bed…

Sure, there’s some room in our positive aspiring for a bit of fooling ourselves and others; there’s some posturing and hypocrisy even in the most faithful. In my grandma’s church, they’d tell stories of this one family that, when they came to church, they always arrived late, but walked all the way down and sat in the front row, as if they really wanted everyone to know they were there! I always wondered about those stories. It seemed like everyone was wrong – the family that needed to be seen and anyone else who needed to point out their weakness?   

But, if we are right about how we read our situation last Sunday, our “malevolent visitor” came to disrupt. 

I look forward to seeing you all, church, each Sunday morning, because I believe you join us to mend and to heal and to make holy…   –MC