TUPELO • Before COVID-19, the Parish Hall at All Saints Episcopal Church on Jefferson Street in Tupelo would be bustling with life every Sunday morning.
Twenty-five to 30 adults would gather, pour themselves a cup of coffee, and settle in for the Sunday Lectionary Class, led by local attorney Les Alvis and Daily Journal writer Caleb Bedillion.
The lectionary, as described in a class brochure produced by All Saints, is “a three-year cycle of Bible readings selected to coincide with major themes of the seasons of the liturgical year – Advent, Christmas, the Season after Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost.”
Each week, the group would enjoy a lively discussion of these texts. But now the Parish Hall is empty, and the Rev. Phillip Parker, rector at All Saints, said he and the class leaders have figured out a way to keep the class together: a podcast.
“We tossed ideas around,” Parker said. “Caleb thought of the podcast because it’s the easiest way for our congregation to access the content without having to worry about bandwidth. We have one listener who’s been in the Bahamas since before all this started. The podcast is great for people who might not be able to watch a live-streamed video.”
Parker said his role in the weekly production is modest.
“All I do is show up,” he said. “I introduce Caleb and Les at the beginning and I’ll jump in once in a while, but it’s their baby. We’re blessed to have Les and Caleb. It’s an impressive class, and people love it.”
Parker said the weekly Saturday broadcasts, usually around 45 minutes long, center around an in-depth study of the same biblical texts from which he will preach on the following Sunday.
“Sermons in the Episcopal church are usually only around 10-12 minutes long,” he said. “You can only pack in so much content. Les and Caleb go deeper. They’ll bring out stuff and I’ll say, ‘Wow! That’s good. I’m going to work that into my sermon.’ They really do their homework.”
Parker said while he appreciates the role of technology, there are some things a podcast just can’t do.
“It doesn’t replace what happens on Sunday mornings,” he said. “When you have a roomful of people talking and asking questions back and forth, that’s when Scripture comes to life. People are eager to get back to face-to-face.”
Parker said like other denominations, the Episcopal Church is trying to adapt to and improve its use of technology as an aid to worship.
“We’ve had conversations with our bishop about it,” he said. “Our diocese is putting together a task force to help churches manage technology. Some are better with it than others.”
Parker, who in addition to the podcast also records weekly sermon videos, said his own relationship to technology is less than cozy.
“Preaching to a camera is the worst,” he said. “I’m getting better, I think. But I refuse to go back and watch it.”
Parker said after a post-sermon conversation with one of his parishioners, he might reconsider his policy.
“I filmed my sermon from my backyard a couple of weeks ago,” he said with a chuckle. “My dogs were running around in the background. I didn’t watch it, and I was happy with it until a parishioner told me later that one of my dogs ‘did what dogs do’ in the background while I was preaching. Oh well.”
Parker said while technology is a helpful tool, it is a poor substitute for the human element in worship.
“The more our lives have been controlled by technology, the more distant we are from each other,” he said. “People are eager and hungry to be together and to hug. Especially for some of our older members, the church is their whole social life. They’re missing it.”