Pictured Above: Pinellas Community Church Connections Pastor Simone Seymour (center) performs on stage with other members of PCC’s worship team during Sunday service on May 2. (USF/Julia Gennocro)
By Annalise Anderson and Julia Gennocro
When asked how the worship team at Pinellas Community Church has remained resilient through the challenges brought on by COVID-19, PCC Connections Pastor Simone Seymor said plainly, “Music touches people. Music communicates things that, sometimes, words can’t.”
Music has long served as a vehicle for worship in the church and, despite the pandemic, the musicians of PCC did not back down from their role in elevating the worship experience.
Fueled by a devoted congregation and through modified means, the worship team continued to bring vocals, keys, strings and drum beats to PCC’s Sunday services.
After taking a hiatus at the start of the pandemic, worship team member Rich Priebe was ready to get back to leading the PCC community through music – even if it meant forgoing friendly hugs and wearing a mask.
Priebe experienced an adjustment period between returning to the worship team and learning how to be an active participant under the newly mandated safety restrictions.
Held in a small room behind the church’s sanctuary, the team’s ritual meeting before hitting the stage for 9 a.m. service looked and felt much different for Priebe.
“I remember standing back there doing our morning prayer and no one was holding hands,” Priebe said. “We always had masks on when in close proximity with each other.”
Priebe rejoined the worship team about eight months ago as an instrumentalist, but has recently transitioned into performing strictly as a vocalist during Sunday services. While he admits that being in the spotlight is intimidating, Priebe said he loves playing a significant role in the PCC community and getting to know more people along the way.
“I feel like I belong here,” Priebe said.
Through powerful verses, lively chords and illuminating visuals, the worship team encourages members of the church to feel receptive to prayer.
Seymour describes the emotional impact of PCC’s music as a feeling that is relatable to everyone.
“When you think of a song that you love, sometimes that brings back a whole memory for you, right? I think that’s part of the resilience, people being able to connect to that,” Seymour said.
“For us, our prayer and our hope is that it forever connects (our congregation) with the Lord and what God may want for them in their life and in that season. I think that as long as people are able to identify, to connect with the music, that opens up your heart to receive even more because you feel good.”
Creating an inclusive, inviting environment in the church is a priority for the worship team.
“Our goal is to create a worship experience, no matter who’s coming in or what your church history background looks like, where you can come in and connect with God in a way that’s personal to you and whatever that looks like for you; that you feel included in the worship service,” Seymour said.
For churchgoer Cassandra Holt, religion and worship is relatively new. Having not grown up in the church, Holt found it challenging to worship on her own. However, she credits PCC’s worship team with helping to guide her into the practice.
Exiting the outside world and entering PCC’s auditorium for Sunday service is “a transition” for Holt.
“You bring in an awful lot when you walk in the doors,” Holt said. “It can be a difficult shift.”
But as she listens to the sounds and messages of the worship team, Holt eases herself into the healing that devotion can offer.
During the church’s May 2 service, among the songs performed by the worship team were “Grace to Grace” and “Another in the Fire” by contemporary Christian band Hillsong Worship.
Like most of her experiences at PCC, Holt resonated with the acoustic-backed verses.
“Every time I come at least one nugget of the music they choose speaks to exactly what I brought in,” Holt said. “It opens my ears and softens my heart to the music itself and the message to follow.”
However, for several weeks in 2020, PCC members like Holt were forced to participate in Sunday services from home. Thankfully, the church quickly adapted to the challenge.
In February 2020, before the pandemic posed a threat to PCC’s operations, the church was already in the process of making significant changes to its production equipment. Newly installed high-tech cameras became essential to helping the church serve its members by allowing for the recording and live streaming of its worship services.
“We were preparing to get better equipment so we could start streaming online, and it just so happened that March just threw us right into that,” Seymour said. “It really was just the Lord looking out for us.”
Now, PCC offers in-person services, as well as live streaming for those who do not feel safe attending inside the church.
“We really are just so blessed and so fortunate to have a team of musicians who are so dedicated to serving the Lord,” Seymour said. “That’s the reason why they continue to serve, and to sing, and to create music specifically for our Sunday worship experiences.”
For Priebe, the increasing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine has given him hope about more people feeling comfortable and safe returning to the church. A larger congregation helps him to feel more spirited while on stage with the worship team.
“I like when more people come in person,” Priebe said. “There’s so much more energy when people are here.”
Though the worship team has endured virtual services, masked rehearsals and small audiences, it shows no signs of slowing down.
According to Seymour, the resiliency of PCC’s worship team is a result of the synergy between members’ passions for music and prayer.
“It’s really because of the team, there isn’t one person responsible for all of it,” Seymour said. “It’s the people that come together that love what they do, that love the Lord, and love the gift that they have and want to be used by God. And I think that’s what makes us really special.”