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The Digital Sidesperson in the Age of Zoom

The Digital Sidesperson in the Age of Zoom

The Anglican Communion is the third-largest Christian communion in the world, with over 85 million members, and like other faith communities, it is doing its best to adapt to the digital world we live in.

In this great gathering of Christians, the sidespersons or greeters are appointed to "promote the cause of true religion in the parish and to assist the churchwardens in the discharge of their duties in maintaining order and decency in the church and churchyard, especially during the time of divine service."

Of course, as with all lay officers of the Church, the role of the sidesperson in the Church of England is well defined in the Canons. They are usually selected by the Annual Parochial Church Meeting and receive guidance in their duties from the churchwardens.

Whether it is the celebration of holy communion, baptism, and confirmation, a memorial service, a service in ordinary time, or a Sunday of Advent service, the sidesperson or greeter plays an important role in the well-functioning of the church.

As one of the key layperson roles, there are many guides to being a “Good Sidesperson”.

Let me briefly summarise the role here.

One of the most important aspects is to greet people as they enter the church, especially newcomers. As we all know, first impressions count so it is well understood the importance of making a good impression!

  • Make eye contact,
  • Smile as you hand out the service sheet and any accompanying books,
  • Suggest the range of seating options,
  • Hold the door open, especially for the elderly, disabled or those with a large family and, most important of all,
  • Invite everyone you meet for coffee, champagne or sherry, depending on your parish’s practices after the service!

There are a number of other key responsibilities, such as arriving early and helping to set up service and pew sheets before the service, opening and closing the doors of the church to maintain an ambient temperature, participating in the offertory, guiding and assisting parishioners during communion. Of course, after the service, assisting in the clean-up – putting the service books and sheets away, helping with the count, returning the Treasure, and closing the Church if required.

And then COVID arrived and for the first time ever in the Church of England’s history, the churches were forced to close their doors.

Many churches, congregations, and priests entered a new world – not the one we all have been expecting -  the return of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ -  but the digital world!

Yes, some churches had been active on social media, and a few had been live-streaming, but it was, for the most part, an area of the Mission that had not really been focused on. Although the Digital Labs team at the Church Of England had been prophesying about the importance of digital, like many, their voices were not heard.

Many churches were able to shift their services online and much of the congregation followed. There were even some new members attracted to the service. The Digital Church Platform® was launched fortuitously in early March just before the first lock-down to make it easy to use church software or what some call churchtech.

Sadly, some existing parishioners have not been able to manage the transition due to costs  – either through the lack of a digital device or a lack of bandwidth.

Other barriers have been a lack of know-how and, as with any behavioural change, an inability or unwillingness to learn the skills required to match the art of video streaming.

I am old enough to remember when our cottage on the Canadian prairies did not even have a phone! When we did obtain a phone it was a party line or the need to go to the local phone booth! And many years later, my grandmother still thought it was too expensive and refused to spend any more time on the phone than a brief hello and thank you for calling!

There are some people who just do not want to accept change. I do hope for their sake that the churches will open again sooner rather than later. When the physical church opens again, the church online will continue to exist, and there will be some who would like the option to zoom in if they are unable to attend in person. This mixed mode will serve as a basis for increasing the depth and breadth of the engagement within the parish and beyond.

So, we would like to propose a good guide to “The Digital Sidesperson”