Rev. Joyce Borger looked into the webcam in her office in Grand Rapids, Mich., and began to preach a sermon on 1 Peter 2 for members of Sonlight Christian Reformed Church, hundreds of miles away in Regina, Sask.
Wearing a pastoral stole over her shoulders, she began preaching on the subject of “Who You Are” by saying she believed the Holy Spirit was with her as she spoke from the CRC’s office in Grand Rapids. And the Spirit was certainly with members of Sonlight as they worshipped on a Sunday morning last October.
In her opening prayer, she said: “This is a new experience, dealing with all of the technology. But even in the midst of this newness, preaching to a screen, listening to the Word proclaimed via video, Lord, we know that the Holy Spirit is transcending it all, that it transcends time and space. We are grateful for the assurance you are here with us.”
Borger, who is director of Worship Ministries for the CRC, recorded five sermons dealing with the subject of baptismal remembrance for members of the remote church in Canada that is currently without a pastor. In her sermons, she was engaging, personal, self-effacing, and passionate about passing on the message of ways in which being baptized means we belong to God—and that should shape our identity.
The church in Regina called her, she said, because they were interested in using the 5-part worship series she had written on baptism for the June 2019 issue of Reformed Worship, a quarterly journal filled with practical resources for planning and leading worship in the Reformed tradition.
Sonlight asked if, besides the order of worship and its prayers and responses, she would be willing to share her sermons, assuming the sermon notes included with the series were based on completed sermons.
“I didn’t have full sermons written out that I could send to them,” said Borger. “I thought it might be easier for me to do more preparation and preach them myself, rather than create a manuscript that someone else could read.”
When the people in Regina seemed to like this idea, Borger decided to do an experiment. “I wondered if I could preach and record them and then they could show them on Sunday.”
It took some doing to determine the best way to do this. Finding the right technology was a bit tricky. What kind of microphone should she use? Using a split screen for various images to help support what she was preaching took some time to figure out. “There was a learning curve; the sound would go in and out, but it got better,” said Borger.
Finally, she worked out the bugs and started the series, sending each sermon to the church for them to download and use on a Sunday.
For her sermons, she did a little research on Regina and the church itself and incorporated things she learned in her sermons. But, as hard as she tried, she knew something important was missing.
“Preaching is an incarnational activity. You need to be present in the congregation to bring the Word to a specific time and place. When churches have no pastor for a long time, this is hard to do.”
So as she worked on the series of sermons, she thought of all those churches, especially ones located in isolated areas, that are without pastors. And she wondered if her experiment could have a wider application; what if some way could be found to help a pastor record a sermon for a farflung church?
Her sermon series itself came out of her desire to help make people aware of the significance of their own baptism and the importance of remembering it.
“Every single pastoral care issue we face has something to do with baptism,” she said.
Our identity is tied up in our baptism; it reminds us that we belong not only to God, but to each other; there is forgiveness in baptism; we receive a calling and purpose to live as God's child in the world, to be missional, to bring the light of Christ wherever life's journey brings us; baptism reminds us that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection so we too can have hope in the resurrection and do not need to fear death.
Melanie Schipper, a member of Sonlight, said they appreciated watching and listening to the sermons that helped unfold the meaning, purpose, and power of baptism for them.
“Joyce worked very hard to make the sermons applicable to our members and everyone felt included,” said Schipper. “It was also encouraging to have a whole sermon series, which often doesn't happen when a church is vacant.
“Joyce is an excellent preacher. ... We would definitely do this again, as it gives us great preaching and connects our church with other CRCs which we otherwise would not have had.”