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9000 new church services

by Michael Ford last modified 01 Oct, 2021 06:11 PM

Thousands of churches adapted ‘at a moment’s notice’ to providing worship at home from the start of the first lockdown, according to a new report published today.

9000 new church services

Church members outside St Mary's Broughton Gifford

Across the country, more than 9,000 churches (78%) offered ‘Church at Home’ online, via email, post and telephone during the March to July 2020 lockdown when collective worship was suspended because of the coronavirus restrictions. 

More than 8,000 (69%) offered livestreamed or pre-recorded services, while more than 5,000 (44%) offered services downloadable from a website or emailed. More than 4,000 (33%) offered printed and posted services and more than 2,000 (21%) provided telephone or dial-in services.

The majority were continuing to offer these services in October last year, even though most were also open for in-person collective worship.

The findings, from data gathered from 12,700 Church of England churches, show that rural churches were as successful as urban churches in providing remote worship once the size of parishes’ pre-pandemic congregations was taken into account.

The rise in ‘Church at Home’ services and remote worship came as the Church of England stepped up its programme of training in digital communication for congregations and clergy to help churches provide remote worship during the pandemic.

A total of 7,000 people were trained in digital communications, live streaming and running online communities in 2020 - seven times the figure for the previous year.

Hymns were downloaded more than a million times as part of a resource provided by St Martin-in-the-Fields church, working with the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) and the Church of England. The facility was launched during the lockdown through the ‘A Church Near You’ Resource Hub website.

Writing in the report, Dr Ken Eames, from the Church of England’s Research and Statistics Unit, said:

“It would have been fascinating to have asked people early in 2020 whether they thought the Church of England would be able to switch at a moment’s notice to worshipping online and in other innovative ways; my guess is that the Church of England massively exceeded expectations.”

Welcoming the findings, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said:

“I thank God for the work of the churches over the pandemic including the huge effort that was made to provide worship at home. This has been a source of comfort and strength to so many people during a very difficult and challenging time.

“It has also meant that many have been able to discover the Christian faith and hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. Online services and videos have become part of a toolkit for how churches can offer worship. It is inspiring to see the life of our parishes sustained and revitalised in this way. ”

Those providing worship at home include the benefice of Broughton Gifford, Great Chalfield and Holt in Wiltshire, which attracted thousands of viewers to YouTube explanatory ‘Faith in the Village’ videos on Christianity during the lockdown.

Online services broadcast by the group had an ‘attendance’ of up to 400 viewers compared to a maximum congregation size in person of around 120 before the pandemic.

Rector Canon Andrew Evans said:

“We had never thought of broadcasting online before the pandemic. We have been thrilled by the results!”  

As early as Palm Sunday 2020, there was already a wide variety of approaches, including the Chalke Valley’s virtual procession on YouTube, and crowd-sourced congregational singing in living rooms in Lychett Matravers, with the Vicar appearing as an avatar in his own church via ‘green screen’ technology (story here).

Bishop Karen said:

“We can be immensely proud of how our parishes adapted during Covid and I am most grateful to all our clergy and ministry teams for enabling everyone to continue to worship meaningfully.  

“Here in the Diocese, we have certainly offered ‘Church at Home’ in a myriad of inventive and engaging ways. For some of our parishes, going “online” saw them engaging many more people in their wider communities for worship; for others prayers by telephone and a weekly delivery of service materials kept people close to one another and close to God.

“As well as providing regular and familiar worship to our congregations, one to one support was often given to those in need, as pastoral care continued.”

As well as online services, offline initiatives in this Diocese have included WhatsApp phone groups, Covid-safe door to door visits and deliveries, and even a Ministry of Cake.

The ‘Church at Home’ figures detail those services offered online, by phone, post, email, and other means.

The figures do not include the Church of England’s weekly national online service, led by churches across the country, or remote worship provided by cathedrals.

They also do not include the Daily Hope phone line, a free service with music, prayers and reflections as well as full worship services from the Church of England. The phone line has received more than 500,000 calls since it was launched in the first lockdown, with more than seven million minutes of listening.

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