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Lutheran Center Director explores virtual experiences of faith on WCCO Radio

How are congregations finding community together amid COVID-19 closures? They’re going online.

“For many different communities this is literally the only way they can gather … because it’s too dangerous to get together in person,” says Lutheran Center Director Deanna Thompson ’89, the Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy.

Thompson leads the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community. Founded in 2018 with a gift from St. Olaf Regent Tim Maudlin ’73 and his wife, Jan Maudlin ’72, the center encourages the interreligious exploration of faith, values, and vocation in ways that enrich relationships within and beyond the St. Olaf community.

She was a guest on the WCCO Radio program Steele Talkin’ with Jearlyn Steele on Sunday, June 28. Together, she and Steele discussed how worshipers are adjusting to a new fully-online experience.


“I think it’s actually a really important mission for the church right now to offer virtual worship for people at this time when we can’t gather in person,” Thompson says.

She discussed overall trends emerging in online worship services, as well as the perceived value of live Zoom sessions over services available on demand through YouTube.

“When you’re gathering, even if it’s been pre-recorded, it can still be meaningful,” Thompson says. “I’ve had people tell me that they’ve found themselves on their knees in their living room during the prayers. And people have been crying during hymns or listening to people sing as part of worship. So I’m not sure if it has to be actually live.”

When you’re gathering, even if it’s been pre-recorded, it can still be meaningful.Lutheran Center Director Deanna Thompson ’89

While discussing the difficulties churches face right now to maintain parishioner attendance under normal circumstances, Thompson shared that a new member had joined her church by attending the online services only — someone who had not yet set foot in the physical church.

Still others, she says, are tuning in from all over the United States. People are able to worship together online, from everywhere, when normally that would be impossible.

“The big question is, how long is this going to last?” says Thompson. “The people who aren’t going to be able to go back to in-person worship very quickly are going to be many of the most vulnerable people … and if the church is going to be the church and minister to those who are suffering, it’s going to need to think about how to use these virtual tools to still continue to offer worship and programming to people who aren’t going to — maybe ever — be able to come back to church in person.”