In the Spring of 2020, it quickly became apparent that the pandemic was here to stay. And in those early days, with worship services shut down, I wondered how I could provide ongoing support for my congregation. At first, I began to share video devotionals like others were doing, but in the end I decided to try something new. I decided to ask others to record brief videos in which they talked about how God has been with them through difficult times. It was conceived as a way for members of the church community to pastor each other.
The first videos had compelling stories but varied in technical quality, depending on the resources people had at hand. I began to wonder: Could we somehow do this better? Could an even a broader array of people (not just young people with smartphones) share something of their story with God? Could this be done with greater technological flourish?
This pondering led to a proposal that was pitched to our church, our Presbytery, and others: To produce 24 spiritual biographies. We used grant money to purchase computers, software, and cameras. We ended up contracting an advertising consultant to ‘market’ these biographies online—in the process he also became our videographer. The results can be seen here.
We learned a lot while producing these videos about the spiritual life of individuals.
There were a number of pastoral lessons. Many people found it daunting to share their stories in front of a camera. Most were more comfortable talking about ‘the faith’ than about their personal experience of it. But spending a little time reflecting on their life with God, and figuring out how to communicate this, was a valuable exercise for many. Of course, the viewers found these spiritual biographies encouraging. We all seem interested in faith as it is lived out in people’s lives.
There were also many practical lessons. The biographies that were structured as an interview rather than a monologue tended to be more approachable. The unscripted back and forth helped the interviewee relax and provided spontaneity. It allowed their unique personalities to shine through. Some of these interviews also provided hilarious outtakes!
There were a number of technical lessons learned as well. We learned that it is efficient to record the biographies in batches (scheduling 4 or 5 in a row) because the set-up for cameras, sound, and lighting takes considerable time. Multiple cameras, allowing for different angles and variations made the videos more interesting, but more sophisticated software was needed to manage different video feeds.
We learned a lot while producing these spiritual biographies. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a pastor or a film producer! In the end, probably my biggest takeaway is how compelling these stories can be for non-Christians. People in our culture tend to shut down when they feel preached at—when people are talking about ‘the faith’. But when friends talk about their own lived experience or encounter with God, there seems to be much greater openness. Case in point, our videographer was pitching a show to the local cable station and showed one of our biographies as an example of his work. They liked it so much they wanted to air it along with the others.
I don’t know how many more people in St. Andrew’s will be willing to share about their spiritual life online, but I hope there will be more—and that this will outlive the pandemic! This initiative has blessed our church in many, many ways.