With the implications of the coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts at present, local parishes are faced with new challenges daily. Every parish will have different ways of staying connected with its members and with the communities in which it is located. Every day we are seeing on Facebook, and other social media channels, new initiatives implemented by parishes, both locally and far away, to keep people engaged as members of Christ’s Body, the universal church.
Here are some simple ways through which Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Kawana Waters on the Sunshine Coast is seeking to remain in touch and connected.
We have started live streaming worship on Sundays at 10am. In week one we had around 50 members ‘attend’, which is something to grow from.
For those parishioners who do not have internet or computer skills to attend online services, a weekly newsletter is sent out by post (and also by email for those who can access it) with words of encouragement from our Rector, Fr Steve Wockner; prayer points; local celebrations (birthdays and anniversaries); the collect for the week; and, the readings for the forthcoming week. A copy of the sermon for the previous Sunday is also sent. Close to 40 of these were posted out in the first mail-out, which were received with gladness.
Study and fellowship groups are continuing, amidst some hilarity, via Zoom. This is an engaging way of seeing others safely and sharing concerns and needs, as well as praying together and studying the scriptures.
The Parish Roll has been divided up among Parish Council members who make contact intentionally with ‘their people’ each week to check in, see how they are going and identify if they have any specific needs, be it a few groceries or concerns with physical distancing, as well as to pray together.
In addition, small group leaders are maintaining regular contact with their usual groups, and our Pastoral Care team is actively supporting older church members and others in high-risk groups. It is anticipated that, in addition to contact with their special friends which would happen anyway, every parishioner will speak to someone on the leadership team twice weekly. Fr Steve is also phoning folk on their birthdays or anniversaries, which we would normally acknowledge in public worship.
The Parish Roll has been sent to every member by email or by post. In the back of the booklet is a really lovely photo, across two pages, taken at our most recent combined service. Just about everyone is there! It is great to be able to see the faces of our friends when we cannot visit or catch up for a chat in person.
Sunday Kids’ Church at home has been supported by sending out a ‘goodie pack’ by email, including puzzles, colouring sheets, Bible readings and commentary, as well as activities that families can engage with over the week. Feedback in the form of emailed photos is encouraged.
As Easter approached we were encouraged to ‘shine our light’ in our neighbourhoods by giving a pack of hot cross buns to neighbours on Good Friday and explaining that we would usually be worshipping God at this time, but that acts of love are worship, too. Similarly, a gift of Easter eggs on Sunday to neighbours spreads the story of God’s amazing love and the hope he gives us. Photo feedback of tangible Holy Week symbols, such as palms on front doors or letterboxes, Easter wreaths or chalk crosses on driveways were encouraged.
Future developments include a refurb of the parish website, as part of our existing Strategic Plan. The new website will be a platform for displaying all of the emailed pictures we are receiving, which are currently being shared on our parish Facebook page.
There is a sign on the door to our church building indicating places where community members can to go for support, emergency food, or a chat for those who are feeling confused or lonely. Attached to the sign is a wonderful graphic from the Anglican Communion, which says that, “The church does not close, only the building. Because we are the church, the living body of our Lord Jesus and we are everywhere.”
We would be really interested if this reflection starts a conversation about the little or big things that different parishes are doing to help keep people engaged and connected from their homes. It is good to share and grow and then share and grow some more, as we set about our mission of being Kingdom builders!
Top 10 tips for keeping parishioners and community members connected
- Engage your parishioners as appropriate for their specific demographic and needs by using digital and the more traditional offline communication channels.
- Take advantage of the help on offer, such as ACSQ grants for parish communications.
- Exploring online ministry options and resources.
- Be systematic in the way you divide up contact lists, such as by using the Parish Roll or creating ‘phone trees’ to ensure that everyone is included.
- Find alternative ways for study and fellowship groups to meet, such as by Zoom or Skype.
- Create a parish Facebook, or other online, group.
- Encourage people to share images of family/household members via email and social media.
- Support young families by emailing resources for children to explore at home.
- Celebrate liturgical seasons and special days via at-home solidarity initiatives and sharing gifts (hygienically) with neighbours.
- Put up signs outside your church letting the community know that church is still happening, where people can go for support/help and whom people can contact to connect as new parishioners.