Elizabeth Mangham Lott has turned to webcasting to counter the tedium imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lott, the senior pastor at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, this month launched “God Squad” on YouTube. The sessions provide an opportunity for her to connect with friends and fellow ministers on just about anything.
All others, including family and church members, are welcome to eavesdrop, she said.
“We laugh, we cry, we talk COVID, we get a little nerdy, I fumble my way through trying to riff on systemic racism,” Lott said in an April 8 Facebook post announcing the first episode. In it she converses with a rabbi and a United Methodist pastor.
“It’s basically like sitting down at the table next to us when we’d go to breakfast,” she said in the post.
The series now consists of two episodes and with more expected in May and part of June, Lott told Baptist News Global.
Lott said the conversations are not scripted, but she is interested in exploring what her friends do to keep an emotional balance during the era of quarantine.
“I ask what they’re doing to stay sane because anxiety and depression are real,” Lott said. “The next wave of this shelter-in-place experience is going to be about mental health.”
Lott spoke with BNG about her new webcast series and about how she, her congregation and loved ones are coping in the age of virtual fellowship. Her comments are presented here, edited for length and clarity.
Is this about maintaining your own sanity during social isolation?
That’s 100 percent right.
It also satisfies a personal itch that I would like to see some people and talk with them – people I miss. I need to do something that feels creative and fresh and I want these three or four months to stretch us in some meaningful ways.
How did the webcast title come about?
The God Squad started in the late 1990s as a lunch group. It was a priest, a couple of pastors and a rabbi, so they called themselves the God Squad and met once a month. Most of that original group has either retired or died and now there is another generation of the God Squad emerging.
We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Do the sessions provide a genuine sense of connection?
Yes, they do. Like any other technology in the world, it depends on how you use it. That’s the case for Zoom, too. Zoom for worship has ended up being really, really meaningful. It’s great to see each other and to engage. We are doing a happy hour on Wednesdays by Zoom. I have people in their 90s who have figured out how to work this. For those of us who love congregational singing, though, it doesn’t work. We haven’t figured that out yet.
Does the fellowship feel real via Zoom?
Does it feel real? During our coffee time on Easter morning one of our members had on a huge Easter hat because that’s what she would normally do. People kept leaving the room and getting hats and putting them on and being ridiculous with each other.
It has strengthened our sense of community. Most of our people were separated by (Hurricane) Katrina and they didn’t have ways to even find each other much less see each other during that time. So, it’s not lost on them how fortunate they are to interact and see each other in this situation.
How does the Wednesday happy hour work?
It’s purely social. There are moments where it pivots into what we can do that’s really radical and big, or it can be ‘I don’t know how to do my hair at home. Am I going to have to use pin curls?’ It’s a time to re-energize.
But are you getting sick of looking at screens?
It can get really old. It’s not normal to sit in a chair and stare at a screen all day. And we are doing a lot of that. We have all been on 5 million Zoom calls and we’ve gotten to where we’re ready for this just to end. And there have been some dark days. Saturday (April 11) was awful for me – the thought of having to preach an Easter message into a camera from my house when we don’t know when we are going to see each other again. We don’t like the indefinite nature of all of this.
How is “God Squad” helping with that?
It’s partly about my own sanity and it’s a check-in, if you will. It’s turned out to be a platform that provides some real emotion and some real humor and some powerful insight.