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Zoom Memorial Services: A Reflection from the Rev. John Morris

The Rev. John Morris has written the following reflection on attending memorial services held on the Zoom platform:

Recently, I have had two opportunities to participate in Zoom memorial services for retired clergy who died. The first was for The Rev. Al Cramer, who died on November 23, 2020 (just one week short of his 87th birthday). Al served the Church in the Midwest and then moved to Vermont with Janet, his wife. He assisted me in various ways at St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains Church in Wilmington, when I was the pastor there. Later, he and Janet moved to Brattleboro and became members of St. Michael’s Church, where Janet served for a while as Senior Warden and Al was a Priest Associate.  A wide variety of people participated in the Zoom memorial service for Al, including family members, parishioners from St Michaels, and long-time friends. The second Zoom service I attended was held on February 7 for The Rev. Bill Atkinson. Bill was a long-time educator, athletic coach, and referee in Connecticut and Vermont, but also served as Rector of St. Martin’s Church in Fairlee, Vermont for many years before retiring on account of health issues. He and his wife, Doris, moved to Meredith, New Hampshire and spent many winters in Florida. Bill assisted with parishes in both states. He died at the age of 94. Again, a wide variety of people attended the Zoom memorial service. Bill was an avid sports fan and many of the people who attended the service wore jerseys or hats of Bill’s favorite sports teams!

Both services were very poignant. My experience is that some of the people who offered reflections about Al or Bill were much more “relaxed” than if they had been making comments in a more traditional church setting. Because they were participating from their homes, it seemed to me that they might have been able to speak more personally and spontaneously than if they were making comments during a more formal liturgy. Plus, I don’t know how many of Bill Atkinson’s loved ones would have worn their Patriot’s jersey to a service in a church building! Anotherf benefit of the Zoom form is that everyone gets to see speakers “up close and personal” instead of from a distance. Furthermore I had the sense that there were probably many more people attending these memorial services than might have been the case if people had been invited to drive to a church building. For example, in both services, it was interesting to see that people who offered reflections were from as far away as the state of Iowa. 

If you have had experiences of Zoom memorial services, we invite you to share your reflections about them.  I am wondering if, even when the pandemic has lessened and we can return to in-person worship, we will find some people may continue to utilize Zoom for memorial services. That will be interesting to see.

Tips for Hosting a Zoom Memorial Service

  • Zoom Meeting provides a more personal experience than Zoom Webinar for attendees and family alike, as the faces of those attending can be seen.
  • If using Zoom Meeting, you may want to subscribe to the “large meetings” add-on, which will allow for more than 100 people to attend.
  • Set your meeting to have all attendees enter on mute. Consider beginning with a “welcome” that asks people to remain on mute.
  • Consider playing prelude music with a screen-shared slide or slideshow as people enter to encourage a sense of having entered a sacred space and make the experience less awkward.
  • Create a “script” of the liturgy distributed to participants in advance. Make sure each participant is comfortable with how to use Zoom, particularly with muting and unmuting themselves.
  • Since this will likely be a large meeting, consider adding an “A” to the beginning of the names of those participating so they will appear at the top of the participant list and can be found easily by host to message if necessary.
  • Do not post the link and password anywhere on the web or social media where it can be easily accessed. Distribute this information over email only. Make sure the host and any co-hosts know how to mute people who come off mute by mistake and know how to remove “Zoom bombers” from meetings quickly.
  • Be prepared to use the record function as the family may request a recording to share with others after the fact.

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