It is truly inspiring to see the many ways URC ministers and members in the East Midlands have responded to the challenges of worshipping God during a lockdown, with almost as many solutions as there are churches. From shared prayer sheets to pre-recorded services and even live telerooms, the approaches are myriad. Here are just a few examples.
Worship direct to homes
Even during the shutdown, continuing in fellowship does not have to involve the cutting edge of technology. Ministers, elders and leadership teams have widely turned to phone and email to reach out to members, particularly those who may be most feeling the effects of isolation.
In the South Leicestershire Group of churches, the Revd Richard Eastman has circulated a Bible reading plan compiled from the Revised Common Lectionary. At Gainsborough URC, the Revd Gillian Poucher has sent out reflections for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday and also reports an upsurge in requests to receive the weekly Prayer Chain email.
Similarly, several churches are using email or Royal Mail to share a weekly service sheet, so that members can conduct worship in their own homes. These include the South Lincolnshire Group, Sutton in Ashfield URC, Christchurch LEP, Grantham and Stamford URC. The latter, for example, can be found at https://www.stamfordurc.org.uk/sundayworship.htm
Recorded services and more
Stamford URC’s weekly service is backed up by a podcast, recorded by the Revd Peter Stevenson and available via the same link. At the Riverside Church, Sleaford, too, the Revd Robert Bushby offers worship as a podcast which, along with daily prayers and reflections, can be played on its website: https://www.riversidesleaford.org.uk/index.php/worship/podcast-audio?jjj=1585706745346 . In the Derby West pastorate, the Revd Judith Tatton-Schiff has sent out Sunday services in advance as an audio file, emailed to church members or posted on CD for those who prefer to receive it that way, and broadcasts via Facebook Live each Sunday at 10.45am and 3.45pm: https://www.facebook.com/DerbyCentralURC/
Other churches have turned to video recording to prepare a service which can be viewed at regular worship times. One such is St Andrew’s with Castle Gate URC, Nottingham, whose services remain available to watch on its YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzlVuJnykyPfZPuNWzrUYIA) or website: https://standrewswithcastlegate.org.uk/worship/recordings/
Just like the new Sunday service offered through the URC’s Daily Devotions, such recorded worship can be shared by anyone with internet access, at a time of their own choosing.
However, services are not the only way to use YouTube, as URC Newport Pagnell demonstrates: its channel includes not only Sunday worship but Toddler Praise with storytelling, both conducted by the Revd Jenny Mills: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJgyPTQUXZ_OFtFl7KfPfXQ
A number of churches have also made use of video conferencing facilities (such as Zoom and WhatsApp) so that members can meet online to maintain regular meetings, pray, or simply share a chat with familiar faces.
Setting up a teleroom
Meanwhile St Stephen’s URC, Leicester has made innovative use of a “teleroom” model, allowing up to 50 phones to be connected at the same time so everyone can take part in a live act of worship led by the Revd Lynn Fowkes. The same system is used for twice-weekly sessions of prayer and conversation, with daily reflections and services planned for Holy Week.
This approach may appeal to congregations who do not have widespread access to technology. As long as one or two people are able to invest some time and thought in setting the tele-room up, other members need only dial a phone number to join in – and an ordinary landline will do. It is fully interactive, with the voices of everyone on the call audibly shared in hymn singing or responsive prayer, while the audio-only format raises none of the safeguarding concerns that may arise when broadcasting live video from private homes.
Edited recordings of previous services can be heard on the St Stephen’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StStephensURC/
We can help
If this or any of the other approaches above may help in your church, we will gladly arrange appropriate training or sharing of expertise: in the first instance, please email Derek Graham (Training & Development Officer) via firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no one solution that will fit every congregation and those listed here are just a few examples. Whether your church has adopted any of these, has taken a different approach again or is still exploring the options, we would love to share your story in future posts.
Please email email@example.com to let us know how your own church has responded to the prohibition of public gatherings currently forced upon us Covid-19.