Dean Letter: Zoom Security

Dear St. Paul’s family,

In Easter season we rejoice to know that we are a people forgiven and deeply loved. For that reason, the general confession that we routinely say in our daily prayers at in Sunday services is optional. But it’s painfully evident that sin still abounds in our world, and one way that sin manifests itself is through the mischievous and offensive actions of those who send scam emails, hack into websites, and interrupt online gatherings through practices such as Zoom bombing. I can see why a criminal would send an email purporting to be from a clergy person and asking for money (that has happened several times, and I beg you to be extremely suspicious if you see such an email), but I am baffled by the Zoom bombing: what on earth does someone have to gain from interrupting a meeting or prayer service?

Sadly, St. Paul’s has been the target of Zoom bombing during one of our online prayer services. It was upsetting, offensive, and startling for everyone involved. We have had conversations among staff and lay leaders about how to reduce the chances of this happening again. As you all know, our mission statement is to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All. We perpetually walk a line between welcoming all comers and keeping our community safe. In normal times, when we can gather in person, it’s not unusual for people who are unable to behave appropriately to come to the cathedral. We have taken various measures to protect our people, including security cameras and guards and a corps of wonderful volunteer watchers, who help the ushers monitor those who seem unstable.

The Zoom bombing incident has made it necessary for us to implement procedures online mirroring what we do on the cathedral campus. While we don’t want to put anyone off attending a service or class, we are now using the Waiting Room feature on Zoom. The hosts of a Zoom meeting admit participants one by one, screening out any names that seem suspicious. We try to do this within a few moments so that you don’t have to wait long. We don’t want to screen out people who are visiting for the first time , so we can’t simply exclude unfamiliar names; however, it would be very helpful for us to know if you invite a family member or friend to join us so that we can immediately welcome them. Similarly, it’s helpful if you can ensure in advance that your Zoom identifier is your name. We are not using the feature that allows you to rename yourself during a meeting, because Zoom bombers sometimes take on the name of someone else in the meeting, to confuse us.

It is very challenging for the person leading a meeting or officiating at a service to also serve as the “virtual usher”, watching the screen for people in the waiting room or participants starting to act inappropriately. So I am asking you to consider volunteering to be a virtual usher, in order to free us to lead worship and teach with full concentration. Jeff is offering training for those who sign up for this ministry. Please let one of the clergy know if you are willing to help in this way.

We continue to learn new ways of offering church online: I am grateful to all of you for your patience and grace as we find our way in this new online world.

Your sister in Christ,


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