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Answering the media

by Michael Ford last modified 15 May, 2020 01:33 PM

Recently we were asked some interesting questions by a local journalist, we thought we would share them and our answers with you.

What was the message during this year's Easter?

The message was that of Renewing Hope.
While Church may be changing, it is certainly not closed.
We had virtual processions on Palm Sunday, some with donkeys.
Holy week saw Easter Gardens, normally found in church appearing in gardens and open spaces. While Easter Day saw our Easter message that ‘Christ is risen!’ proclaimed everywhere- we were even on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph.
From our traditional Easter fires bringing light into the darkness that this year happened in gardens instead of churchyards, to a whole range of online services streamed from sitting rooms and gardens into people’s homes. Church attendance at Easter is good, but we saw numbers double and at times triple as people tuned in from lockdown. (See our Grapevine publications for examples)

Are there any positives to be taken out of the coronavirus pandemic for the church?

Our numbers are growing, we are reaching out to more people as we are now a Church without walls. This present crisis has opened a new space where we can engage with people. Sometimes the church door can be a barrier to the curious, but they have been joining us online.
As a sign outside one church said, “We are open on Zoom”. Through our online presence and the engagement with it, we have been able to show that the church is still very relevant and is speaking to people during this unprecedented time.
We are rooted in the local and this is now very apparent. There has been a huge uptake in those who have watched and shared their local priest’s daily prayer or reflection streamed via social media and this means our clergy are alongside their communities, joining them in their homes every day.

What is the atmosphere among parishes across the diocese at the moment?

People in good heart. Those able to serve are serving and people unable to get out are being cared for. Like everyone else we are affected by the lockdown and always deeply saddened by news of deaths. We offer constant prayers and join with others every Thursday to clap for our NHS. And we like everyone else look for a time when we may return to a safe and healthy world and a new “normal”.

Have you found that more or less pastoral care is being given? If so, how is this given?

Clergy are on the front line, continuing a vital funeral ministry and offering bereavement support. Chaplaincy teams in hospitals are also doing a fabulous job.
Obviously we can no longer visit people in their homes, but throughout the Diocese we have examples of phone trees where members of our congregations are regularly calling the isolated, lonely and vulnerable. Our clergy are also carrying out their pastoral visits by phone or - for the more internet-savvy – online.
The Diocese has set up a Diocesan Pastoral Care Helpline for use by crematoria and as a backup for chaplains at our local hospitals. It is aimed at supporting families during the current crisis.
A large number of retired clergy, experienced LLMs and other clergy self-isolating, have also volunteered to offer bereavement and pastoral support.

In what ways has the church been supporting its communities?

Church was already well placed to respond. We have very good relationships in our counties as well as locally with schools and community groups. We have continued to serve and to link in with a countywide and a neighbourhood response. One of our priorities is to transform lives and communities and coronavirus hasn’t stopped that. We haven’t stopped doing a lot of the work we had been doing before lockdown, so for example we are still supporting foodbanks and in some cases setting up new ones. (See Grapevine for examples)

I imagine a few people might be asking where God in all of this is - can you answer this?

God is always with us and we can connect with him through prayer, through our joy in his creation which so many are now seeing while taking their daily exercise... The image of an isolated, suffering Jesus on the Cross had a huge resonance with many this year, but the promise of salvation that comes with his resurrection gives us all hope for the future.

What have been the toughest challenges the church has had to face during this pandemic?

For our clergy, it has been the fact they cannot be with people in person and the guidance around funerals has been particularly hard. For some, not being able to worship or socialise together as a church family has been very hard.

Has the church had to quickly become digital? And how effective has this been? And is this something the church will be continuing in the future?

Many of our churches were already on social media, but the streaming of services and daily reflections is something new for most of our ministry teams. For some this has been a sharp learning curve, but the content that is being produced across the Diocese is amazing in its depth and variety, with each parish responding to their local context and need. It has been very effective and for many this will be a new way of reaching out alongside the more traditional church services and pastoral care than will return after lockdown.

Have you seen more people come to the church over this period perhaps for the first time?

More people are certainly joining us online for the first time and for those who do not have access to the internet we are offering phone church.

Perhaps it has reaffirmed the role of churches in people's communities?

The Church is often physically at the centre of its community, but through lockdown we have certainly continued to be virtually and pastorally at the centre. The increase in the numbers of those joining us online shows that Church is very much relevant and speaks to people. We are not buildings, we are a movement of God’s people and this present unprecedented situation has confirmed this.

Does the church have any plans for when this is all over?

Like everyone else we are looking ahead, but with the future and any timelines to take us out of lockdown uncertain, we are learning and reviewing.

What are the biggest lessons to be learned from this?

Bishop Karen the Bishop of Sherborne offers this reflection:

“There is much for all of us to reflect upon at this time. The local church, made up of Christians in every neighbourhood, are playing a significant part in serving their local communities alongside many others. The Easter message is one of hope. It reassures me that the risen Christ stands with us now, whatever we are going through, and will go with us into what is currently an unknown future.”

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