Dubai: How does a person attend a prayer meeting in Dubai, a worship service in Kerala and a Bible study in Mumbai in the space of 80 minutes? By using teleconferencing, of course.
The lockdown around the world has helped many people learn the uses of technology and benefit from it. And Christians, as with other communities, have discovered the joys of being part of this innovation. Gone are the days when one had to drive 50km to attend a church retreat or seminar in Dubai. Today all it takes is a digital device and the click of a button to be part of a meeting.
The app of choice is either Zoom or YouTube. For all the reports that Zoom is unsafe and that it compromises security, it is still the go-to application for most Christians in the UAE. This could be because of the ease of use and because of the publicity it received in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Some groups simply choose to log out and log in after the 40 minutes offered in the basic package, while others have upgraded to the paid version.
One of the main advantages of using technology for Christian meetings is getting to hear the best speakers from the comfort of one’s home. So, on any given day, a preacher based in Germany, an evangelist from the US or a bishop from Kerala could be bringing words of comfort and encouragement in the time of COVID-19, all in the span of a few hours. Compare this to what used to happen earlier - block the available dates of the speaker in his calendar, book flight tickets early to get a good rate, ensure the visa is in order and take care of accommodation. All that is needed now is to ensure that the speaker is available for a 30-minute slot.
Worship services are now beamed live from cities, towns and even villages around the world. For many Christians in the UAE from Kerala, there is a plethora of worship services to choose from. The local worship in the country is always there, usually beamed from the pastor’s residence. Conversely, one can opt to worship online in the home parish in Kerala, where services are held with a maximum of five people in attendance. Yet another option is worshipping in another church online, with friends you know, but something you were unable to do earlier because the service timings clashed with your own church.
Not restricted by time or space
Prayer meetings and Bible studies are part of everyday life for a Christian. As churches remain closed, prayer meetings are held regularly online. Once again, because one is not restricted by time and space, there is no limit to the meetings a person can attend. If there is a good speaker around, a person can attend all his meetings by simply logging in to a different Zoom ID. People in Kerala regularly log in for some of the meetings held in Dubai and vice versa.
So, where does that leave the local pastor? Earlier, while the pastor used to lead a couple of prayer meetings a day, with the weekends being the busiest, the case has changed now. The pastor’s schedule is now a busy one with back-to-back online prayer meetings or Bible studies on most days. With most people not stirring out of their homes, there is no question of being caught up in a traffic jam or waiting for people to turn up. With the possibility of at least some members of the church attending many meetings at which he speaks, the pastor or speaker must also make sure the message is different at every meeting.
Some have complained that while one gets to hear the best speakers while seated at home, it cannot make up for the fellowship that is built and nurtured every week when people meet together for worship. The time spent after church enquiring about the family and the workplace cannot be replicated online.
So, will these online sessions continue even after restrictions are eased and places of worship open? My guess is that while congregational worship will take place in churches around the world, technology has opened up a whole new avenue for prayer meetings which will likely stay on as the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.