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Adapting to this new Covid world

by Michael Ford last modified 18 Feb, 2021 07:17 PM

'Church Life in Covid' and what still renews our hope was discussed at length during Saturday’s Diocesan Synod meeting on Zoom.

Bishop Nicholas noted that we are in our third lockdown, people generally are tired, and it feels more difficult now that it did in the long warm days of Spring and early Summer.

Over 100,000 have died from Covid-related illnesses. The success of the vaccination programme is giving hope but there is widespread concern for our young people. Mental health is a concern across all our communities. Conflicts are harder to resolve on Zoom than in person.

Churches have adapted creatively, with some open for worship but many online, and all are at the heart of their local community’s care of neighbours, especially the most vulnerable.

He said:

“The Cathedral being used as a vaccination centre has been one of the enduring images of Covid. It is typical of the varied responses by churches across the diocese to care for people in our communities.”

We have responded to the immediate crisis but the Bishop thought we the impact of the pandemic is likely to be generational. It is part of a series of major changes across our world:

“We are unlikely ever return to the normal of pre-Covid. Although we can see some of the change that is coming towards us we cannot yet see the implications of this clearly”.

He said some of what had happened since March 2020 were a strong cause for hope as well as a source of learning for our parishes and their communities. Synod was an opportunity to check in with one another and help build an overview and greater understanding.

Tony Gilbert, Rector of the Three Valleys Benefice, commented that that the biggest thing that had struck him was that Zoom meetings were much shorter than in-person meetings:

“We are, now down to essentials, we had barnacles growing on the side of the ship and these have been stripped away, I see this as a sign of hope”.

Bishop Nicholas reflected that while the content of Zoom meetings can be a bit limited, there are indeed benefits and a saving of time, including travel. It is unlikely that we will continue to use this way of meeting at least as a ‘mixed economy’ of meetings.

General Synod representative Keith Leslie commented that he had lost 2 good friends to Covid and commented that these deaths had caused people to reflect on God and to try to understand why this happened:

“It made me believe we are all so close to our God whether we know it or not. Continued faith has renewed my faith.”

Bishop Nicholas added, “Death isn’t the last word, and it is something we can witness to in this time.”

The Revd Jo Haine, from Weymouth and Portland Deanery, commented:

“Online is certainly opening the doors to a wider mission field. I do also think this time has highlighted the importance of hospitality.”

The Revd Rachma Abbott, from the Calne Deanery, commented that:

“Almost all my crematorium funeral services are being webcast now and I can see that not being able to offer that will be a disincentive for people in the future - many people will want to continue to offer this for those who are unable to physically attend.”

She added that, “Hope for me has been renewed where it is clear that church members have been able to deepen their faith by a practice of prayer at home, it has made me think carefully about how to support this especially for those who don't use technology.”

The Revd Maria Shepherdson, from Marlborough Deanery, commented that her hope had been renewed by the fact that:

“Zoom enabled those housebound isolated and elderly to have several online prayer and music festivals around Christmas, Harvest etc.”

She added that Facebook advertising enabled families to get some very isolated people to join them:

“They now click onto anything we are doing, and we can drop things into them to cheer them up- The oldest is 94 actively joining Lent groups, the oldest joining worship is 102 - This is important work to be taken forward”.

Clarissa Reilly, representing the Devizes Laity, said that she believed that all churches needed to look at online as the way forward, and she suggested that the national church should be asked to help fund the installation of broadband in all our churches, include kit, training and licences:

“This is the income stream of the future, but parishes and clergy may be nervous, so everyone needs help.”

Clarissa said her MP has already raised the suggestion on her behalf to the Second Church Estate Commissioner in the House of Commons:

“Let the powers that be pay the costs and individual churches keep the income from their broadcasts.”

Bishop Nicholas said he would be happy to feed the suggestion of funding back to the National Church, but he reflected that who funds this work wasn’t the key question: “The key question is how this is done.”

Bishop Karen also suggested that, in this Diocese, the Aldhelm Mission Fund might be willing to respond to providing some seed corn funding for benefices who needed some basic kit to assist in mission and ministry:

“We do not have much money but even £200 can go a long way. We need to share good practice and spread IT expertise.” She said in the chat, adding she could see a time when we had Deanery tech teams as well as church maintenance teams in the future.

Mike Dyer, Milton and Blandford Laity, agreed adding:

“Let’s use the expertise that exists within our churches many of whom will have the experience or knowledge to offer good advice to churches who may not have it regarding the installation of broadband. Locally we came up with a cheap simple solution - fitting separate broadband in every church may not be essential and can be expensive.”

Nicholas Barsby, representing the Chalke Deanery Laity, pointed out that “Our own church in Wilton broadcast live through a phone, so not every church needs to be a broadband hub.”

He added that as many churches had moved to recorded or live services, he had his hope renewed because “we are reaching out to more and more people, people who don’t or find it difficult to come to church.”

As many people only communicate via social media and the internet, he felt churches could do “so much more if we take advantage of this opportunity.”

He suggested that equipping Lay Pastoral Assistants with inexpensive tablets could see them distributed to residents of care homes and the housebound allowing them to join in online.

Commenting in the chat, Bishop Karen suggested that Licensed Pastoral Assistants' ministry in the future could include setting the housebound up online.

Peter Fancy, representing the laity in Poole Deanery, said that online services that had proved ideal during lockdown had opened up the debate “is church a building or all of us?”. He added:

“The buildings are beautiful structures but a living room, school hall or Teams/ Zoom/ telephone can host our church too”.

But Synod was reminded that not everyone wanted an online relationship with the local Church.

The Revd Andy Muckle, from the Wimborne Deanery, commented: “Online church has to kept in balance with pastoral care”.

While the Revd Sarah Hillman, from Dorchester Deanery, added:

“Many of our elderly congregations live alone (as I do) - online does not and cannot provide the same quality of relationship that many are missing at this time.”

Clarissa Reilly added that “nothing should replace pastoral care and caring for those who have worshipped in person and sustained our church thus far.”

Concluding the debate, Bishop Nicholas thanked everyone for their contributions and said there was much to be hopeful for and to learn from:

“This change has happened so fast that the adaption to this new Covid world is both impressive and challenging.”

He invited members to send their thoughts to him as he was keen to achieve “a real overview of what is happening across the Diocese” because “none of this should be considered in isolation.”

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