In the past two years, congregations across the world have adapted to incorporate technology into their worship services. For about 6 months at the beginning of the pandemic, technology was an essential part of church.
What we often forget are the inequities and barriers that arise when technology becomes a requirement of attending a church service. How are congregations to host an online worship service when they do not own high-speed internet? Or cameras and a sound system to ensure people at home can hear them well?
This is just with Sunday Worship, not to mention the multitude of other ways adequate technology propels the mission of our church forward. Providing wifi for employees to access when working in the church office, security cameras to ensure properties are being cared for, monitors and equipment to incorporate diverse teaching and learning styles in our small groups.
How do we live out our call to justice and equity through technological resources in this Synod?
Director of Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Tita Valeriano developed a team of experts in the tech field from churches throughout our synod to craft a strategic plan to these unique challenges. This team consisted of Dave Birdsall, James Myers, Norman Puck, Diana Barrios, Jay Boddu, Sheela Gundala and Stephanie Puck. This team was built to address church vitality through technology, using technology as a tool to propel the ministry of churches forward in this season.
With just over $25,000 in grant money to be used on technology in an equitable fashion, this team drafted a vision for how they might establish a strategy of implementation and collaboration to solve technological issues in the congregations.
Pastor Tita, through her deep-seeded relationships, identified six new start or renewing congregations with fewer financial and technical resources, who may benefit well from this team. The selection of which congregations to work with was rooted in the ELCA’s Future Church priorities, while also looking to partner with congregations who are geographically diverse within our synod.
“After engaging with our congregational partners that were in need, it was immediately clear that the digital and funding divide was real, and in my opinion confirmed our team had the right focus,” said team member Norman Puck.
The team identified themselves as the Digital Equity Team, composed of lay leaders from congregations in our Synod with managerial, organizational, and high-level IT skills.
“Our goal has been to reach these churches to help provide a technological lifeline to aid in their worship services, community outreach, increase productivity of pastor and staff, and more. We continue to focus on addressing technical needs and challenges as they arise in these new and renewing congregations,” shared team member James Myers.
Of the original six congregations identified to partner with, four of the congregations are currently being served by the Digital Equity Team and conversation around expanding the partnerships is currently in progress. The Team has had the pleasure of working alongside Fuente de Gracia in Sanger, CA, Santa Maria y Santa Marta Lutheran Church in San Francisco, CA, Lutheran Community Church in Watsonville, CA, and Christ Multicultural Ministry in San Jose, CA. All of these congregations serve a diverse audience and lead worship in multiple languages.
At these congregations, the Digital Equity Team focused their efforts on upgrading internet infrastructure, bringing computers, and setting up audio visual and security equipment. They’ve also provided ample training in how to use the systems they install, as they hope the leaders of each congregation understand how to use and leverage their new technology. Team Member James Myers shares that their hope is to empower the Pastor, Lay Leader and Community to have confidence in their technology as an instrument of furthering the mission and ministry of their congregation.
Alex Gonzalez, Mission Developer at Fuente de Gracia, shared that, “During our first conversation with the Digital Equity Team we mentioned our desire to better equip our facilities in order to better serve our community. We not only wanted to be able to meet the needs of the people during a pandemic, but we also wanted to prepare and develop our ministry for the future years.”
The Digital Equity Team partnered with Fuente de Gracia to install internet routers, computers, a security camera system, printers, and TV monitors in their youth room and sanctuary. These technological upgrades have given their ministry team greater access to their teaching materials and allowed essential administrative duties to operate with ease. The installation of a security camera system gives peace of mind to the community as it continues to keep minor crime away from their property.
Similarly, at Santa Maria y Santa Marta Lutheran Church, a Spanish-English bilingual church in San Francisco, CA, the Digital Equity Team installed a plethora of new equipment that helped revitalize the congregation over the past year. The Team installed internet, security cameras, an entire zoom worship set-up, new cameras in the sanctuary, monitors to display the worship service, and overall gave life to this congregation in the heart of the San Francisco Mission District.
“These improvements added not only a breath of fresh air to our congregation, but new life,” shared Pastor Monique Ortiz.
The congregation continues to learn and adapt as they implement these new technologies into their worship services and other ministry areas. Church Administrator Ayelen and Council President Tom Mikkelsen are often the individuals running the technology on Sunday mornings, and they both speak to the initial steep learning curve, but also the opened-door for a new realm of opportunities. These foundational upgrades have inspired Santa Maria y Santa Marta to remodel their space, build a sound booth to hold the new technology, and engage in thoughtful discussion and consideration about what the future of this church is with these new gifts.
The final stage of the Digital Equity Team in their initial grant is to gather the congregations listed above and learn about the impact this technological support had on the mission and ministry of each church. The Team also hopes that in bringing these congregations together, they might begin collaborating with each other to share how they’ve implemented this new technology and what future goals they have in using it.
While the Digital Equity Team is drawing near to the completion of their original grant, they are continuing to have conversations around how to continue the ministry of digital equity throughout our synod and complete their work with the original six congregations. A few members of the Digital Equity Team are concluding their time serving in this capacity and thus, the team is actively seeking new individuals to serve this ever-growing need.
Current Team members speak highly of this intentional, collaborative team that has diligently served together over the past two years. Members share fond memories of their zoom meetings featuring conversation around the best ways to make salsa, or days spent trouble-shooting sound boards in a rather warm sanctuary.
“Over the past few years, I've had many exciting visits to different churches in our Synod. From working three days in sweltering heat in Fresno in the summer, to beautiful autumn days in San Jose and Watsonville, and the chilly, wet, and windy conditions in San Francisco. I absolutely love visiting our churches and exploring ways we can work together and collaborate...It has been an honor, privilege, and pleasure to provide servant leadership in the form of providing technical help and assistance. In the end, the smiles we get and thankful sighs of relief we hear as we finish each project symbolizes the power of our collaboration,” shared Myers.
The mission of the Digital Equity Team aspires to become an integral ministry of the Sierra Pacific Synod, and invites interested individuals to reach out if they are interested in serving.
As one Team member shares, “We are always looking for qualified and talented individuals that can help congregations with their technology. I would say that equally important though is for congregations to reach out to the Digital Equity Team if they have any tech questions, need assistance, etc. If any congregations are at their wits-end regarding technology, give us a shout and we can provide help, recommendations, insights, advice, etc. It's okay to ask for help.”
For more information on the Digital Equity Team, to get involved serving, or to learn about how they may assist your congregation, email DigitalEquity@spselca.org.