Zoom outage snarls Sunday worship services

By Egan Millard
Posted May 18, 2020

[Episcopal News Service] With churches unable to meet in person for services and other gatherings, the Zoom videoconferencing app has been a lifeline. And just as many congregations had finally gotten the hang of it, it went down in the U.S. for several hours at the worst possible time: Sunday morning.

The outage, which has since been resolved, appeared to hit users on the East Coast particularly hard. Many were unable to host or join livestreams, while some could see the other participants but not hear them.

Although many churches stream their services on Facebook Live or YouTube instead of (or in addition to) Zoom, it is commonly used for virtual coffee hours, Sunday school and Bible studies because of its interactive capabilities. Some Episcopal churches improvised based on the level of functionality they had, holding audio-only coffee hours or call-in services, or catching up in the chat section of Facebook Live instead of Zoom.

“This was my first Sunday leading online worship via Zoom as a supply priest for members of three congregations who have not been doing any worship together since the church buildings closed,” said the Rev. Sharon Hausman, a priest in the Diocese of Newark, via email. “The worship leaders and I even did a test run yesterday, so everything would go smoothly. What is it they say about the best-laid plans?”

While some congregations were forced to give up and try again next Sunday, Hausman’s service went on against all odds – in a truncated, stripped-down form.

“Amazingly, we had about 23 people, including a visitor from Florida, participate in what amounted to a conference-call worship via Zoom, once some of us found out we could get audio by dialing in by phone,” Hausman told Episcopal News Service. “On the plus side, we already have two unused recorded hymns and an anthem we can use for next Sunday!”

The last-minute glitch had diocesan workers once again jumping into their new roles as tech troubleshooters, trying to warn parish leaders of the outage and give them alternatives to Zoom. Some churches were able to redirect parishioners to Facebook or their own websites, while others abandoned live worship and recorded services that parishioners could watch later.

“How the world has changed,” said David Dreisbach, director of communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. “Six months ago, none of us could have comprehended that we’d be emailing about Zoom problems on a Sunday morning. Today it feels natural.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.