The Rev. Josh Kerr (pictured) and the congregation of First Presbyterian in Claremore, Okla., have strengthened the ties that bind through worship, bible study, prayer, children’s education and two weekly fellowship gatherings via Zoom after worship and choir rehearsal nights.
(Photo courtesy of Josh Kerr)
Good News Stories:
Live Worship Broadcast
The Synod of the Sun is publishing Good News Stories ahead of Synod Sunday on August 23rd. These are inspirational stories of churches reaching out to their communities in extraordinary times via innovative means.
Our theme for Synod Sunday 2020: I Thessalonians 1:3 - (We) remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Find more information about Synod Sunday : https://www.synodsun.org/synod-sunday
First Presbyterian Church, Claremore, OK
Theological Thinking Guides Pastor's Move to Live Worship Broadcast
by Shane Whistler

CLAREMORE, Okla. – Social media is an engaging tool for talented extroverts like the Rev. Josh Kerr who you can see making viral dance moves on TikTok or advising, “Don’t burp in your mask. Trust me,” on Facebook.
 
Kerr, 37, amuses, educates and inspires people of all ages, even those who seek pastoral care and discernment. However, what is not fit for a stage, says Kerr, is worship.
 
“Worship in our (denomination) is not a show that you consume,” he said from his office at First Presbyterian in Claremore, Okla. “I think that’s why a lot of churches in our tradition have been hesitant to go online.”
 
A deep-thinking theologian is as much a part of Kerr’s identity as preacher, pastor, father and husband. He credits wife Tara for making possible his new pandemic work schedule. Tara Kerr is a school counselor. Their son Kellan is 9. Both are excellent foils and partners to his antics and earnestness.
 
“This (online worship) is a whole new thing to me,” Kerr confided to the computer on his desk on March 20, two days before the first live broadcast of a worship service. He noted that some churches have all that figured out. “But for us it’s going to be a big change.”
 
In the first two months of the pandemic, that video, originally seen live by a few church members, has been viewed nearly 700 times on Facebook.
 
Big changes indeed.
This behind-the-scenes photo show the initial setup for streaming live worship services from the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Claremore, Okla., in March 2020 (Photo courtesy First Presbyterian Church, Claremore, Okla.). INSET: Remembering a full sanctuary in a photo taken July 2019 during the Rev. Josh Kerr’s installation at First Presbyterian, Claremore, Okla (Photo courtesy First Presbyterian Church, Claremore, Okla.).
The unconnected shall be first
 
Even while technical details buzzed, Kerr and the session turned their attention to those in the 160-member congregation who are less connected. They divvied out 14 unconnected households for regular phone contact. Kerr occasionally makes porch or garage visits with his own lawn chair.
 
Social distancing, nor rain has dampened those outdoor visits. Once, an older couple under the edge of their garage urged their pastor to head home when a downpour interrupted the conversation, but Kerr grabbed his umbrella, sat back down and continued visiting.
“No, we don’t feel left out,” said Andy Hogan, 80, about not participating in the new online community. “It’s more of a time out.”
 
He and his wife Jan are content to use their phones for calls, text and email, not going live on video. Hogan, who aims to be a member well into his 90s, says he is very cautious about venturing into public arena.
 
Dave Ashbaugh said he and other session members call members such as the Hogans each week to stay in touch. He and his wife Sherry “attend” worship every week. They download the bulletin and afterwards log onto the video meeting service, Zoom, for fellowship time with up to 25 households.
From 0 to 55 in two months is the speed at which Josh Kerr broadcast live videos for worship, daily prayer, bible study and children’s education during the coronavirus shutdown (Image capture of YouTube video library).
The Worship is for participants, not spectators
 
“We are more than ready to go back to church,” said Sherry Ashbaugh. “But Josh has provided a more than wonderful worship setting.”
 
That setting was hard-earned theologically and practically.
 
“I’ve been somewhat critical of online worship, as a primary means of worship,” Kerr said. “My concern has been (congregational) context in preaching.”
 
As the body of Christ, incarnational theology is a guide to being and doing “church” live if not in person, he said. Since March, First Presbyterian in Claremore has sprouted so many new and renewed connections. Even after the pandemic subsides, Kerr is a big fan of continuing live worship broadcasts for people unable, hesitant or shy about attending in person.

The Rev. Shane Whistler is search of Good News from ministries throughout the Synod of the Sun that are making connections with their congregations and their community. Do you have an idea to share? Call send him an email at shaneedward@icloud.com.