Visit to another congregation

Written on Sunday, March 25, but not posted right away due to press of events.

Carol and I went to the Sunday service this morning at the Open Circle Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Carol’s dad went to services there before he died, and was warmly welcomed, so it seemed like a good place to go.

I was impressed by the congregation, and by some of the innovative things they’re doing. So here’s a quick summary of my impressions.

Open Circle share a minister with the UU fellowships in Green Bay and Stevens Point. The minister was present in person in Fond du Lac this week, while the Stevens Point and Green Bay folks watched him via livestream. In addition, several Fond du Lac members joined the service via Zoom. (Presumably some Green Bay and Stevens Point folks joined their congregations via Zoom as well, but I only happened to notice what happened in Fond du Lac.) Thus there were six groups of people joining in: in-person and Zoom participants from each of three congregations. I believe there were three people managing the tech in Fond du Lac: someone to operate the camera and sound board; someone to manage the Zoom meeting; and the minister managed the PowerPoint slides.

I noticed a few other technical points. Only the sermon was recorded, thus doing away with copyright problems for the music and readings. Both announcements, and joys and concerns, were done at the end of the service, after the Zoom session had split into three breakout rooms (one for each congregation), so no one had to worry about making announcements, or stating joys and concerns, that didn’t apply to the other two congregations. The children’s story was a video of a reading of a children’s book taken from the internet — this was probably the low point of the service for me, since the audio quality of that video was poor (needed EQ), and the background “music” was more repetitious than a video game. However, using such a video did away with possible copyright conflicts. All in all, I felt the video and audio technology was handled extremely well.

The whole service was very well done: smooth and competent, without going too far in the direction of the overly polished feel of glitzy mega-church worship services.

I wondered if coffee hour would live up to the high standards of the worship service. It did. People started talking with us from the moment we stood up at the end of the service. There was good conversation, fair trade coffee, and good snacks. Before we knew it, an hour had gone by. You learn a lot about a congregation from coffee hour, and clearly this was a congregation where people liked each other, and cared for one another.

In short, we both felt welcomed, both service and social hour were good, and I learned a lot watching how Fond du Lac handled multiplatform multicongregation worship services.

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