By Wyatt Parks
MARCH – 2020
When the COVID-19 lockdown went into full effect in early 2020, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church found itself like most parishes across America trying to figure out how to bring its congregation together.
This was a challenge that the historic church in St. Augustine’s Lincolnville neighborhood was ready to take on.
There was only one problem: They weren’t exactly sure what to do.
According to a Pew Research Center study, only 3% of Americans who regularly attend church attended an Easter service in person in 2020, with 35% not attending at all.
Mary Beth Martin is a retired speech and language therapist who began attending St. Cyprian’s a little more than five years ago. She also writes and edits the church’s newsletter, “The Voice.” As the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut gatherings down, Martin was asked by Fr. Ted Voorhees if she would help record the church’s services and post them to the St. Cyprian’s YouTube channel which she had recently created.
“Having a cell phone was my other qualification. That, and wanting to help,” Martin said.
From the Sunday of the lockdown, and for three months to follow, Martin and the St. Cyprian’s “skeleton crew conducted service…on my iPhone 7.”
Though, it wasn’t always as easy as just pressing record.
They would shoot on Saturday afternoons and upload the video to YouTube afterwards but, “given the size of the file, this was seldom easy, and twice it took all night. I’m not complaining – Not having the video available on Sunday morning wasn’t an option for me.”
There was also a time, when recording, where Martin says, “I ran out of memory and Fr. Ted had to re-start the sermon after I set up a backup phone…Imagine if I’d had to run home for my husband’s phone.”
Through rough beginnings with getting St. Cyprian’s online, Martin and her team were getting better.
“I started to use the zoom and pan functions on the phone. Every step of the learning curve was a success for me.”
Getting the videos online was only the first challenge. Making sure everyone remained connected was another.
As we’ve all learned from online classes, watching a pre-recorded lecture is completely different from a Zoom lesson or an in-person class, and there is a real learning curve. Martin said that the transition to online, even though it was difficult, was rewarding. According to Martin, the seniors at St. Cyprian’s are very active and “they want to be active.”
Many of them, several of them in their late 80s, took the initiative to learn the ins and outs of Zoom all by themselves.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. There were difficulties and Martin would often need to help people through the process of learning what buttons to press and how to mute and unmute their audio and video. Martin was happy about this, though. “I’m proud of them. Asking, just knocking on that door was a big deal.”
Through all of this adversity, St. Cyprian’s was able to provide a special Easter service in April of 2020.
While the congregation was stuck at home, not able to worship together in person, Fr. Voorhees and Martin’s “skeleton crew” were able to bring in Jacksonville based singer, Mama Blue, to perform in the St. Cyprian’s chapel. Laid out on the pews were photos of the members of the church, and Mama Blue was able to sing to them and show just how connected the people of St. Cyprian’s were even though they weren’t physically together.
St. Cyprian’s has a growing congregation and they continue to attract people from across the country with their online services and programs such as the racial justice group.
On the corner of Lovett and MLK, St. Cyprian’s holds services Sunday morning at 10 a.m. in person and online. All those attending in person are expected to be fully vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.