Hyderabad: Churches will live stream the services and spiritually feed their congregation members cowering with fear of the ravaging Corona virus as members observe the lockdown and social distance diktat by the Central Government.

Leveraging the advances in broadcast and mobile technologies, Churches are fully geared to live stream their services as they did during the 40-day Lent period. They will beam services live during the Passion week starting April 5 followed by Good Friday and Easter, two major occasions for Christendom and continue to do so later. April 5 is observed as Palm Sunday, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. A Good Friday service in most Protestant churches commences in the afternoon and goes on for over three hours and is attended by the unusually large congregation when the church meditates on the seven words spoken on the Cross by Jesus. On Easter day, most churches have a pre-dawn service, marking the Resurrection of Christ.

Rev Dr. A.C Solomon, Bishop at Medak, Church of South India (CSI) said that all services will be live streamed on Youtube or Facebook live. Earlier, in compliance with the Centre’s directives, in a widely circulated recorded message he had suspended church services and urged people to stay and pray at home for the safety and health of the country and the entire humanity. The CSI, Medak diocese has 113 churches under its wings.

“We are fine with live streaming as we would be fulfilling our obligation to the society and the nation. We are in communion with God even if we are watching proceedings live, though we may not be physically present. Unprecedented times, a new experience,” says M. Krupadanam, an educational consultant.

“We have heard of plague, Spanish flu, Zikah virus etc but never in my life time, a virus has confined me to follow the church services on my mobile / laptop and forced me to skip church. I feel spiritually drained if I do not attend church but there is very little we can do,” says Suvarthamma, a house wife from Mettuguda.

The Catholic Churches have received instructions from Most. Rev. Thumma Bala, D.D. Archbishop of Hyderabad, to dispense with the church services on the directions from Rome, according to Father Raju Alex, Holy Trinity Church, Begumpet. Says Father Alex, congregation members admit that they are more attentive to preachings and practice them unlike in the past. He says, “It is a one man operation in his church where he a cameramen, producer and go live on Facebook or on Youtube. One day prior to the service he circulates a voice mail to his 1,800 members on the next day’s schedule.” Symbolically, members will receive spiritual Holy Communion as per instructions of the Archbishop. Catholics have services right through the day on Good Friday followed by a midnight mass on the intervening night on Saturday. There are 44 parishes in city and 105 in the Hyderabad Arch diocese and over 1300 across the Telangana State. Churches have already circulated the schedules of live streaming.

Besides, mainstream churches under Church of South India, Wesley; Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and allied Pentecost, Hebron-there are hundreds of churches run by individuals which are not lagging behind in taking to embracing live streaming.

Early adopters of new technologies have invested hugely in technologies and one can witness vision mixers, audio mixers, HD cameras some even have 4K ones, JBL speakers, live streaming equipment in the churches.
Each church has its own team of youngsters who handle various operations and trouble shooting is also taken care of. Churches, which are late adopters of new technologies have reworked their budgets to procure equipment and also scout for manpower to execute the tasks.

“We were testing technologies when the lockdown was announced so we are continuing our live streaming with the existing cameras,” says a church elder from a church in Kukatpally.

Meeting virtually has opened up a world of possibilities for pastors, church leaders, and communicators. Video conferencing is a great, mostly free tool that is available to church leaders has helped them make ministry meetings convenient and productive. Virtual and visual collaboration has been made even easier by the recent flood of user-friendly online tools and video conferencing apps. Camera-ready laptops, smartphones, and desktop computers with added cameras further streamline the process and make convening a video conference quick and simple, says Elbert C, an official at NTPC, member Baptist church in Narayanguda but attend the New Assemblies of God Church at Kompally.

Various video conferencing apps are available for diverse needs of the church. They can include meetings, virtual bible study, and much more. With the wealth of video conferencing apps to choose from churches are not limiting to just one app. They have gone for different apps for different situations, one app for larger conference needs, another for smaller ones or for conferences that require screen-sharing or a virtual workspace. The great news is that whatever the need, there is a video conference solution for churches. Meeting in real-time to connect and learn with ministry teams and church leaders is preferred, but it is nice to know there are so many great (and free) options available when virtual conferencing is required, desired. Churches are also innovating. One small church in Peerzadiguda, which could not procure capture cards in time has gone ahead and recorded the service ahead of time and uploaded it to YouTube or Facebook. Later, the church scheduled it and invited church members join online.

On a different level, tele-evangelism has taken roots in the two Telugu speaking states. Preaching on television has become commonplace. There are a surfeit number of preachers and pastors evangelizing through over half a dozen channels. Notable among them are: JCNM run by Shyam Kishore, has branches not only in city but even in districts. Same is the case with Calvary Temple run by Satish Kumar, PJ Stephen Paul, Samuel Patta of Kings Temple who have a large following. They have robust technological infrastructure and have set up digital walls in major cities and towns addressing the spiritual needs of members whose numbers are swelling by the day.

Kotiah, who attends two Sunday services in two of the above mentioned churches along with his extended family of nine members, says at any given point in time, he can access the preachings of his favourite preachers in case of such crises.

Such indigenous preachers have adopted modern styles of preaching as they have followed the broadcasting methods of American televangelists. It is however not done in the same way, as the process has been adjusted to local contexts and Indian televangelism is focused on collectivism. This can be seen as a cultural difference, as Indian society is seen as more collectivist. As we can see, cultural differences are made visible through the way in which a global phenomenon, in this case televangelism, becomes localized according to locally specific contexts.

Is live streaming a new beginning in the life of the Church and the congregation? Will the word congregation become a virtual congregation and become the new normal? Only time will tell.

K .Stevenson

Prof. K.Stevenson, is on the Faculty, Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, Osmania University. He started his career as a journalist before switching over to academia. He is a recipient of the Telangana State Best Teacher Award-2018 and Mass Communication trainer - 2019. He worked for a couple of years in the Gulf and was Editorial consultant to a general interest magazine. He was also Senior Editor for a magazine for entrepreneurs. He also holds additional charge of Media Advisor to Osmania University and Director of the Centre for Digital Education Technology. which is tasked with the responsibility of producing digital educational content

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