Rev. Gerry Stanton, minister at Union Church, talks about connecting a more elderly, non-technical, church in lockdown
When lockdown was first announced we found It was difficult to know what to do, knowing that so few of our church people had access to technology. Many do not use mobile phones let alone Zoom, Facebook or YouTube.
There then came a sense of failure, feeling bad because other churches were so apparently active and engaged online. We did manage to get a service together on Zoom for Easter Sunday. This was lovely but some of our more stalwart worshippers could not be there just because they did not have access to the technology. While there was a little pressure from one or two of the 'Zoom-ers' to continue that way, I felt this was not acceptable if it excluded those faithful members.
Personally, lockdown gave me no excuse not to spend more time in prayer for church people and with God. This helped me to reflect on oneBible passage in particular, Luke 10.38-42 Jesus visits Martha and Mary. We often approach this passage as an either-or decision: be busy or be still with Jesus? It occurred to me in conversation with a friend that it is either at the appropriate time. There is a risk of being too busy with Zoom etc for the sake of appearances but the opposite risk is to be disengaged.
One of the benefits of a small church is it is possible to contact all the church in a day or two each week. I started doing this either on the phone or with safe doorstep visits. Some of our older (over 90) friends wanted to draw closer on the doorstep so I found myself having to back off while talking. The changes to our behaviour because of the pandemic do sometimes have a funny side.
To help keep track of contacts, I developed an Excel spreadsheet. The column headings were: name, member or friend, weekly/monthly attendance, support (family, neighbours), date of last contact, type of contact(phone, email, visit), situation and next steps. Excel will colour code a column from red to green which helps to see at a glance how long it has been since last contact. Phoning people did lead in some cases to some better, deeper conversations finishing with prayer over the phone.
Church has now returned to the building on the first and third Sundays of the month. As we can't sing, hug, share refreshments etc we have gone to a half hour, reflective service using YouTube. This seems more helpful for us, possibly because of the strangeness of our pandemic situation.
Thankfully, we only lost one member to Covid-19 and we will have to celebrate his life properly next year. I think many of our people now appreciate our church a little more having felt despondent as numbers have declined. We are seeing this reset as an opportunity to relaunch the church in our pandemic world.
Gerry Stanton is minister of Union Church & Community Centre in Crouch End, North London. This was shared in the Small Church Connexion zoom webinar in September