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The Lockdown Lowdown

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Jul, 2020 12:02 AM

One of our Wiltshire parishes has been learning new ways of doing and being church during lockdown, and has developed a new way of publicising them.

As well as use of phone calls, Skype, Zoom, and social media, St Thomas' Trowbridge has developed a new channel for spreading the word - 'The Lockdown Lowdown', an email newsletter.

Editor Ruth Barber explains:

"I noticed in Grapevine that you were asking churches to let you know what we have been doing since lockdown, but to be honest, we've been so busy making the changes that we haven't stopped for breath until now!

"When news first came on 16th March that non-essential gatherings should stop, we immediately set up a Standing Committee meeting on 17th March to discuss our response, which we anticipated would mean stopping church services, which was confirmed later that day. That evening we met with someone in the church who is good at IT to discuss our strategy for what we should do online and how we would achieve it.

"That Friday we videoed our first sermon and uploaded it to YouTube, ready for the congregation to watch on Sunday 22nd March (or whenever they wanted to). Since then we have continued to record and upload a sermon every week, and for the past 2 weeks this has been increased to 2 sermons/talks per week, to reflect the fact that we usually hold an evening service, too.

"Easter Weekend was busy, as there was a Tenebrae Service on Thursday, an Hour at the Cross Service on Friday (involving 8 different speakers with their partners doing the reading), a Sunday morning service, and a Sunday evening Churches Together celebration (which was filmed by the usual organisers and circulated).

"Sometimes services include liturgy for people to join in with at home, which is included in the Weekly News (see later). The recordings have developed to involve more people like in a normal service, and now also include music. This week’s was organised and compiled by our Youth Worker, and involved a lot of the young people.

"From the 12th April, we introduced Zoom 'Virtual Coffee' at 12 noon, the time we would normally have coffee after church. On the first week we had 35 households join in, and we had up to 40 at one point. The people who come each week vary, so overall we think this has involved nearly 60 households, which represents a very good percentage of our congregation.

"This time is very much valued and enjoyed by those who 'attend'. The session is managed by a host, who mutes everyone except the Vicar and his wife, and the Church Administrator. It's an opportunity to see that people are alive and well, and people can share how they are, how their families are, and ask for prayer.

"We have just started to use Breakout groups as part of this, which gives the opportunity for more meaningful conversation, more similar to what would happen at church.

"The time for our young people's group has slightly moved to 12.15pm, to allow families who are involved with the Zoom groups for young people to join us too. We have a Zoom meeting for the 'Apprentices' (Years 10 to 13, 14 to 18 year olds) and a separate one - 'Pathfinders' - for years 7 to 9 (11 to 14 year olds). The 'attendance' at these groups has been far higher than is normally achieved on a Sunday, as of course there are no competing events, sports fixtures etc happening. The groups have tried various activities online to provide variety in the sessions, some have obviously worked better than others!

"Our Youth Worker has become a 'go to' person for IT issues and is now the main host for all our church Zoom activities, now that the church is paying a subscription for the service. She encourages the young people to attend a Sunday night event called Movement, and organises 'Friday night with the Wigleys', where they just catch up and play games. Some children have sorted out quizzes for them in previous weeks.

"We have had a new website under development for a long time, and this situation forced us into launching it, albeit slightly unfinished, so that people could easily access up-to-date information.

"Before lockdown, we used to send out one email a week on a Friday to the church members, with a copy of the Weekly News, and once a month, the Monthly News. This is an area which has changed enormously!

"We now send out almost daily emails, some of which are about our activities, others forwarding emails such as Grapevine and Thy Kingdom Come information, and anything which may be of interest or help to individuals or families.

"Initially we were concerned that we were overdoing it, but the vast majority of the feedback we have received is that our efforts are very much appreciated, and that people still feel connected as a result. It was particularly gratifying to have the comment “even though I haven’t been to church since February, I don’t feel like I haven’t”.

"Despite not being able to use our 3 churches and school building, we made them a focal point during the Easter period, setting up crosses or posters outside them, which were then decorated for Easter Sunday.

"The Weekly News now carries details of sermons and any liturgy being used, rather than details of forthcoming events. The prayer section continues as before. We also started producing a mostly light-hearted publication called 'The Lockdown Lowdown' to provide some pause for thought, but mostly a bit of entertainment in our shared situation. This has been much appreciated by our congregations."

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