Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How to Lead a Prayer Meeting over Zoom

With most of our parishioners in quarantine, it is crucial that we reach out digitally to connect our community. In my role as Pastoral Assistant for Adult Faith Formation at a Catholic parish, I have used the Zoom app to facilitate RCIA, Bible Study, Book Club, Small Church Community meetings, and lots of prayer sessions. We have prayed together the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Angelus, and the Regina Caeli. In this post, I would like to offer some suggestions for leading prayer over Zoom, on the basis of my experience.

Prepare using the following steps:

● To begin, familiarize yourself with the software. Do a practice session or two with a friend or colleague to get the hang of using the app, including the security features and the various ways that people can log in.

● Send out an invitation with detailed instructions for how to access the Zoom session. Let them know of the different ways they can participate, but emphasize that logging in through a laptop or tablet provides the best experience. Remind them that Zoom is a video conferencing software, so they and their immediate surroundings will be seen. (However, there is a way to add a digital background, for those who do not want to use their own home as a backdrop.) Also advise them that the Zoom application picks up ambient sounds, so any side conversations or background noises are likely to be heard.

● In your invitation, send out any prayer materials that you would want the participants to use during the session. Do not wait to give these out over the chat feature once the meeting has started, because some of the participants will not be able to access chat messages easily or at all given their device and their mode of logging in.

● Offer technical support. Many of your prospective participants will not be very tech-savvy. The idea of Zoom might be intimidating for them. However, luckily, Zoom is very easy to learn, even for those with very little mastery of technology. One way you can help is offer to walk people through setting up Zoom on their device. You could schedule individual practice sessions, where you guide them through the set-up over the phone, until they are able to log in to the session.

● You might run into a situation where someone has a video connection through a computer and can hear everything on their end, but might have no built in or external microphone through which they can speak to the group. In a case like this, the workaround is for them to establish the video connection, mute the audio on their computer, and then call in through one of the phone numbers associated with the session for the audio participation. In this situation, it is essential that they turn off the sound on their computer, otherwise you will get an echoing effect.

● If you are planning on repeated meetings, set up a distribution list through which you can send out the login information for your session. Even if the login information is the same as before, some participants will not be able to find your prior email and will need a new invite every time.

● Before the meeting, set up a nice, prayerful background for yourself or select an appropriate digital background. Make sure others who might be living in the same space know of your session, so they will not interrupt. Have everything near that you might need within easy reach, so you don't have to get up during the session, including, depending on the session you are leading, your Rosary, prayer guides, Bible, water, coffee, etc. I know from personal experience that it is easy to forget even the most basic and most frequently repeated prayers while leading a group, so I make sure that I have the text of all the prayers in front of me, including basic ones such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

● As far as possible, use a laptop to facilitate the meeting in order to have more options and control as you facilitate. Open any websites you might need, either on your laptop or on your phone. Open the various platforms through which people communicate with you, and have your phone in front of you. People might send you last minute messages asking for help to log in.


● Say a brief prayer before you start the session.

● Start the meeting on time.

● Welcome people by name as they log in.

● If some participants do not have video capability, read off the names of all the participants.

● Set the Zoom app to gallery view, which provides the best way to oversee the meeting. Encourage others to select gallery view as well.

● Click on the icon for managing participants, which will bring up a list of all those in the session as a sidebar on the right hand side. Having the list of participants displayed will help you later in managing the session.

● If someone has video capability but doesn't know how to turn on their video feed, you can manually send that person a video request, which can help them turn it on more easily.

● Some participants will require a certain amount of technical support as they are logging in, in order to fix some glitches or errors. Use your best judgment as to how much technical support you want to provide in the moment. On the one hand, you want to be inclusive. On the other hand, you don't want to hold the meeting up for too long to solve one person's problems. You might need to suggest politely that you can help the person in question troubleshoot the problem at a later time, after the session.

Divide Up the Prayer:

● Zoom does not lend itself to the traditional call and response style of prayer used in the Catholic Church and many other communities. For example, when praying the Rosary, we are accustomed to one person saying the first half of each prayer, and the others responding together. This will simply not work in Zoom, because the app cuts back and forth among the speakers, and if several people are speaking at once, we end up with a jumble of voices.

● The best is to divide up the prayer into sections and have each person say the words for that entire section. For example, when we pray the Rosary, the leader prays the introductory prayers, the closing prayers, and the reflection before each mystery. Then others take turns praying an entire decade, saying all of the prayers of the decade, all the way through. The rest of us either pray in silence or we mute ourselves so that we can say the response out loud, without creating a jumble of sounds.

● At this point, you can also put some prayer materials in the chat, but remember the caveat mentioned above, that not all participants will be able to access chat messages.


● As the prayer leader, it is very important for you to stay focused on everything happening in the session. Also, since most, if not all, of the participants can see your face, you should appear attentive.

● One way to manage audio as the prayer starts is to mute the whole group, and then those who are about to pray can unmute themselves. This approach is especially helpful if you have a lot of participants, with a lot of background noise. However, some people dislike being muted, but they are very good about remaining silent, so it's not an issue if they are not muted. Use your best judgment for each meeting as to whether or not you need to mute the whole group, except for the speaker.

● In any case, if not everyone is muted, be ready to mute people individually if their background suddenly becomes noisy, if they start having a side conversation with someone off screen at their location, or if they start saying the prayers out loud when someone else is leading. They can always unmute later.

● Some people might keep unmuting themselves, but you can block this by using the setting that prevents participants from unmuting. Once you mute someone, you, as the host, cannot unmute them. However, you can send them a request to unmute, which will override the other settings.

● Make sure people are unmuted when they start their section. You can remind them gently to unmute and can also send them an unmute request.

● During the session, keep an eye on the channels of communication through which people usually get in touch with you. Someone who has not yet logged in might send you a message five minutes in, asking for the link to the session. Or someone might text you to say they cannot participate but would like the group to pray for a specific intention.

● As mentioned above, sometimes people forget even the most basic prayers when praying in front of others. As people are praying, be prepared to help someone out if they forget how to say a given prayer. Don't embarrass them. Let them know that it has happened to you too.

● Sometimes the person leading at the moment develops technical difficulties or has to leave because of a problem they need to deal with on their end. Be prepared to jump in to finish off the section.

● If someone has to leave before the session is over, thank them for participating for as long as they could. If they just disappear suddenly, try to message them later to check in with them, just to see if everything is okay.

● If an emergency happens on your end, and you need to step away for a moment, ask someone familiar with the group process to take over for you for a minute. Just remember that they won't have the same controls over the Zoom application as you in your role as the host. If for some reaosn, you need to leave altogether, you can make someone else the host, so they will have full control over the session.


● I used to start my meetings with a check-in, but eventually we realized that it is better to do the check-in toward the end. That way, those who have just enough time to stay for the prayer can do so, and the rest of the group can take its time sharing at the end. I ask the participants the following questions: How are you doing spiritually, psychologically, and physically? What would you like us to pray for? Depending on the situation, I will add other questions, like: What did you do to celebrate Easter in your home? Many people are very lonely during this time of quarantine, and they need a forum to talk about themselves, especially their spiritual life. Do not begrudge participants the time it takes for everyone to check in. For many of them these few minutes might be the highlight of their whole day.

● I start the check-in by asking if anyone has to leave quickly, and I invite them to go first. For the rest of the participants present, I find it best to call on each participant according to the the order in which everyone appears on my screen. However, sometimes the order can shift a little, because Zoom puts people with a video feed first, then those with audio but no video turned on, and last those who are calling in through a phone connection, so if someone turns off their video even for a brief time, their position in the order of participants will change. To make sure that I didn't miss anyone, I ask at the end of the sharing if everyone has had a chance to share. I always share last myself.


Before you end the meeting, take a moment to make announcements about upcoming opportunities that might be relevant to your group. Invite others to make similar announcements too.


Thank everyone for participating and say good-bye. I usually say something along the lines of: "Thank you all for coming. God bless you. See you next time!" I give people some time to say good-bye. In these last moments, everyone is talking at the same time, with the inevitable jumble of sounds, but it is okay. After waiting a few moments, I click the option for ending the meeting, and we are done.


After the meeting, follow-up with any participants you offered to help with technical difficulties. If you promised to send out some information or certain resources, make sure you do so. If someone had to leave abruptly, reach out to them. If someone seemed especially distressed, get in touch to see if they need any help. Continue your prayer by praying for all the participants in your session.

Photo Credit: Our Lady over the Earth. Source unknown. This image has circulated widely on the Internet.

1 comment:

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