Loving our digitally excluded neighbour
In another of our series of blogs “Loving our neighbours in a time of Coronavirus”, Rev Liz Clutterbuck explains how she and her church have been ensuring that those who are not online are not excluded.
When public worship was suspended on March 17th, clergy had to step up and find ways of enabling their congregations to worship from their homes.
For many, part of the answer was live-streaming services using a range of websites and apps.
However, like many others, I lead a congregation where around 40% of regular worshippers do not have access to the internet. (It’s a small congregation, with a significant number of elderly people, who are the least likely demographic to be online.)
There are three particular things that we have done in our parish to ensure that those who are not online are still able to worship….
On our last Sunday together, we organised both a WhatsApp group and a “buddy” system. I usually wouldn’t go down this route (there are potential safeguarding issues) but I was dealing with small numbers. We worked out who was not on WhatsApp and buddied them up with someone who was – this was pretty organic as there’s already a great pastoral structure that supports our older members. The WhatsApp group is now an easy place to share information and have it disseminated wider.
Creating resources that people could use at home was also essential in the absence of streaming. Using the prayers on the Church of England website , I compiled a booklet of prayers and Bible readings, that also included suggestions of where to find worship on TV and Radio.
Within three days of worship being suspended, we were able to distribute ‘Church at Home’ packs to our offline congregation – it included the prayer booklet, a copy of the midweek prayer liturgy from the Church of England website, and some sermon notes for that Sunday, as well as a tealight and a packet of biscuits. After all, you can’t have church without biscuits!
An additional issue with older congregation members was the fact that several of them have poor eyesight – so sending out text documents wasn’t necessarily the right solution either. Thanks to a tip shared in our Zoom Chapter meeting, I discovered that there was a way of sharing an audio file via a local phone number. When you ring the number, it plays a selected mp3 file to you – ideal for many of my offline congregation. An added bonus of this is that I can circulate the Dropbox link for the audio around via email and WhatsApp, so everyone gets a sermon!
We’ve included a prayer booklet, a copy of the midweek prayer liturgy from the Church of England website, and some sermon notes for that Sunday, as well as a tealight and a packet of biscuits. After all, you can’t have church without biscuits!
Finally, conscious of the new guidance around distributing paper, we sent out a Holy Week mailing – which will be our last for some time. But this is really the only way I can get such things to them. I made use of Royal Mail’s Click & Drop service (which enables you to print postage at home) and the envelopes will have been sealed at least 36 hours before they actually arrive anywhere. This way everyone received a palm cross, plus some additional resources for Holy Week meditations.
None of this is perfect, but it does mean that we have found at least one way that everyone can share in some form of worship together, but physically apart.
Who knows how long that will be for: but in the meantime we’re making sure not being online doesn’t mean being excluded.
For technical details of how to set up a “Dial a Sermon” this is a very useful blog from Bryony Taylor, a priest serving the the Derby Diocese.
Thanks to Bryony for sharing this knowledge!