Presbytery Response to Disruption at Called Meeting

To the Members of the Presbytery and its churches -

Grace and Peace to you all, in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Planning Team, which has been charged with the planning of virtual meetings of the Presbytery, wishes to report to you about the disruption to the recent Called Meeting. With this letter we’ll let you know what we figured out about the occurrence, and to let you know of possible changes for any future virtual Presbytery meetings. We know that even virtual spaces such as a Zoom meeting are still spaces we share together, and maintaining the safety of the spaces in which we gather, whether virtual or in person, remains paramount to the Planning Team.

The Planning Team meets a few days after each virtual meeting, to generally debrief, review problems, and discuss possible solutions. Such a meeting was held on Tuesday, November 24, to fully discuss the problem that occurred, analyze our response, and make notes for future meetings.

As you may have figured out, the Called Meeting was ‘Zoom bombed,’ which means that unauthorized attendees joined the meeting and began annotating the shared screens when the ordination candidate’s recorded sermon began playing. Once the problem started (messages and scribbling appearing on the screens) and was noticed, it was difficult to stop this activity. It was somewhat difficult to identify the intruders (we think there were as many as thirteen such people) and then to block and/or force them to leave the meeting. It became very apparent very quickly that the best course of action was to stop the existing meeting, and set up a completely new meeting, with everyone attending the first meeting being re-invited to the subsequent meeting.

We believe that there were two probable ways that the intruders were able to attend and disrupt the meeting. First, when we updated Zoom the week prior to the Called Meeting, two Zoom preferences were reset to their default settings. The two changed settings disabled the ‘waiting room’ feature (where a meeting leader allows entrance to the meeting on a person-by-person basis) and allowed attendees to ‘annotate’ the shared screens and virtual white boards (which is how they were able to write on the screen when it was shared). Second, such bad behavior can be started by experienced hackers who randomly seek out such events. Because the URL to register for the meeting was public, the intruders were able to register after our 9:30 start time, and, because the waiting room had unknowingly been disabled, they were connected directly into the meeting without going through a waiting room. Once we ended the first meeting, we downloaded the registration list from Zoom and were able to identify the unwanted guests and fix the issues with the waiting room and the annotate feature.

We have already begun discussing various changes in the logistics for future virtual meetings of the Presbytery and will continue these discussions in the event that the February meeting is held via Zoom. Should that be necessary, there will be several changes that affect the registration process (certain and earlier cut off of registration, sending out the link for the registration process, asking attendees to arrive at least 10 minutes early, limiting video presentations, etc.), as well as other ‘behind the scenes’ logistical improvements.

If your church uses Zoom for its services or activities, and you want assistance in evaluating your risk of such occurrences, contact Barbara Espigh in the POJ office.

We are sincerely sorry that the meeting was so badly disrupted, and hope that this message provides a brief explanation of what happened at the Called Meeting, how it’s been evaluated, and what we’ve learned from it. Please contact any of us if you have any questions that we can address.

Wishing you a blessed Advent and Christmas season –

Kenna Payne, C&C Team Moderator
Leigh Anne Ring, POJ Moderator
Fred Holbrook, Interim General Presbyter