First Churches of Northampton

Virtual Tour

The alarm rings, sun shining, and you yawn, preparing to face the day. Dressing in your Sunday best, you get ready for church. But instead of leaving the house, you sit down at your desk, open up your computer, and wait for the Youtube Live show to start. 

This has been the reality for the members of The First Churches of Northampton since March 2020. The pandemic has made safely gathering together in the church impossible without excluding a vast majority of the members. However, this new, virtual arrangement has brought out some surprising positives, and has left the church with a clearer future than before. But to get to this point, the process was a bit messy, and not to mention confusing.

Initially, the church opted to use Zoom and Facebook live. This started to break down when Zoom would crash or freeze for people. Facebook stayed and grew, but they started to stream the weekly Sunday service on Youtube. Through this new platform, the members are no longer constrained by the time the services are held, and they can connect with God whenever they need and want. They use Zoom now for more intimate meetings, such as Coffee Hours. They used to have these Coffee Hours in person, on early Wednesday mornings, where only older members would attend. However, since Coffee Hours were moved online and at a more reasonable time, the attendance of younger members increased. This is also related to the fact young members are more adept with technology, and they are becoming more involved in church life since the lockdown has moved everything online. One of the only downsides to this is the fact older members find it more difficult to use this new technology. Communion was also a problem the pandemic created for them. Normally at communion, members take sips of wine and pieces of bread distributed by the minister and assisting lay people. However, First Churches was able to perform communion through Zoom. Members would hold up their cups and break their own choice of bread, such as a baguette, on camera. In addition, Rev. Todd Weir or Rev. Sarah Buteux, the co-pastors of First Churches, would change words spoken at communion to be applicable to being online such as “We gather here in this cyberspace”. 

Facebook page of the First Churches of Northampton

This is the Facebook page where the First Churches post announcements, meetings, community engagement and adjustments.

While having to adjust to these changes isn’t ideal, the church has found the benefits of meeting online. One of them is that the church is able to produce visuals that they wouldn’t be able to in person like an image of a sunset. Youtube has allowed them to create a more aesthetically pleasing scene that would be impossible to do in real life. These visuals are also the closest thing members can appreciate instead of the beauty of the church. Surprisingly, it is easier for members to talk on Zoom during Coffee Hours, because everyone is equally seen on screen. As a result, more members are able to pay attention, and Zoom prevents individuals from the formation of small groups hiding in a corner of the room. The church hosts as many meetings as they can, for they understand that quarantining can often make people feel alone. Thus, members come to these meetings as a way of spiritual deepening. Interestingly, more single, older women have joined to learn to create a bond with themselves. Seeing how successful the online medium has been, the First Churches sees the adjustments made during the pandemic to have long-term effects on the community after the pandemic has abated. 

In the future, First Churches will continue to have its services broadcasted through a digital medium. They will push all congregations to be digital. Although this was something the church planned on doing, the pandemic has made it happen quicker. They have already seen a trend where people who join a church don’t usually come to the services often, even if they are involved in the community. If their online platforms are not robust in the future, less people will find them or be interested. 

With this in mind, and as this pandemic continues, the church also continues adapting. There may be a transition to this mix of in person and online aspects, but this doesn’t seem to be a bothersome challenge, and instead it is a step to opening up the church for even more people to join the community. The church plans to expand their online platform, to keep up with the new generation. No more newspaper ads or paper pamphlets; Facebook, Youtube, the church website will all be utilized to reach a wider audience. And so, even though this new morning routine may last for a little while longer, when the church comes back together in person, the community hopes it will be stronger, more multigenerational, dimensional, and accessible than ever before.

The services viewed on Youtube are examples of adaptations made by the First Churches community.