Celebrating Pentecost in a Pandemic

By Neva Rae Fox

Pentecost is normally celebrated with blissful music, inspirational worship, and rejoicing in our churches. This year, church buildings will not be open in most locations, and services will be held virtually.

But despite the shelter-in-place restrictions, Episcopalians are planning festive celebrations for May 31.  Readings in multiple languages, virtual choirs, and wearing red will be the order of the day.

In keeping with the theme of many tongues, St. John the Baptist in Seattle, Washington, is prerecording congregants, all wearing red, reading verses in different languages. The Rev. Kate Wesch added, “Parishioners have also been asked to send in photos of themselves wearing red that we can show during the prelude and postlude.”

The Diocese of Fort Worth will also feature lessons in different languages, and has also “invited people to create processions-at-home and to make doves to decorate the church in which we will be recording the online worship service,” said Communications Director Katie Sherrod.

In the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, the Youth Commission is sponsoring Pentecost Project 2020, calling for videos, drawings, Claymation, Legos, origami, papier-mâché, and anything else that will illustrate the feast. Suggestions include tongues of fire, rushing wind, and different languages to tell the story of Pentecost.  The invitation says “Dress up your little siblings, pets, or your parents… but ask permission first!”

At Holy Innocents in Beach Haven, New Jersey, the Rev. Dr. Caroline Carson is “collecting alleluias and things for which our folks are grateful and for which they rejoice. I’m asking them to send me their alleluias — selfies that either say alleluia or what they’re thankful for. I’ll make a big collage for an online image, an in-person wall poster for when we return, and I’ll make a two- to three-minute iMovie for our weekly online services so they can see it.”

The Rev. Jim Friedrich at St. Barnabas, Bainbridge Island, Washington, is pre-recording the Pentecost liturgy “to allow more creativity in the construction of visuals (different angles, close-ups, overlay of art and other imagery). We will begin with a virtual choir singing ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ (Taizé) over a montage of submitted photos of parishioners’ hands expressing ‘Come Holy Spirit’ in their own particular way. This will segue into a fugal arrangement of Acts 2:1-11 for three voices, recorded by the readers and edited together with an ambient soundtrack. And there will be multiple languages for ‘Peace be with you’ in the Gospel.”

In some areas, diocesan-wide celebrations are being organized. The Dioceses of Milwaukee and Southern Ohio are organizing virtual choirs.

In Maine , Director of Communications Katie Clark said, “Our diocese is planning a diocese-wide virtual service with clergy and lay leaders from across the state. We currently have 17 or so volunteers, and we’ll do readings in multiple languages.”

Online diocesan worship in Vermont will feature participants wearing red or orange and holding a candle. The service will include a video montage of submitted images depicting places or things of joy.

Jennifer Leclercq at St. Mary’s, Cypress, Texas, has a different kind of video in the works.  “I’m going to make a birthday of the church video featuring smiling faces of parishioners!”


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