Doing and being church in Heacham – in a time of COVID
Vicar of Heacham Parish Church, the Revd Veronica Wilson and administrator Penny Taylor write about 100 days since lockdown began, reflecting on what has opened up as the church building closed up.
We began by setting up COVID-19 community support for Heacham with the vicarage phone number as a contact and immediately, the phone began to ring! Looking back, this opened up the opportunity for many conversations with people, as we signposted them to local shops that delivered food, and essential supplies as well as organised, in conjunction with the surgery and village pharmacy to collect and deliver prescriptions. A team of both village and church volunteers have and will continue to deliver prescriptions. With good relationships being formed between the people, some will of these will continue. One volunteer visits her link-person each week now for a socially-distanced chat, even if there is no medication to deliver.
“I am so grateful that I have not had to worry about collecting my medication, thank for you doing this for me.”
“It’s been good to talk to you; thank you for listening.”
“Hello Vicar, I was given your number by the surgery, as I need some hearing aid batteries collecting from them. They said someone from the Church would do it, have I got that right?’”
We have also offered thanks and support in many different ways: cakes to the hospital critical care team regularly, thank you cards to local business, shops, care homes and the like, as well as video messages to the school.
Messy Church activity packs have been distributed to children in the village, some of whom are part of of our Messy Church, others whom we have baptised or had other contacts with.
We began by setting up a telephone care system, where church members (very loosely defined) have been telephoned each week to see how they are, new relationships have been opened up and existing ones deepened.
“I have really enjoyed my weekly phone calls and felt loved and cared for. I look forward to having a cup of tea together with when we can”
On Mothering Sunday, over 100 primulas, prayer at home packs, an updated church directory and the first of our ‘on paper’ services were delivered. We have continued to deliver to those who “don’t do technology” and have signposted to the national Church of England Daily Hope phone service and the Diocese of Norwich Sunday Hope podcast .
“I am very happy with the paper version of Sunday services – read and re-read many times the reflections, particularly, and prayers each week.”
It has been important that however our services are accessed, the content is the same, so whether, it’s delivered on paper, by email or watched online, we are worshipping together but apart in the same, yet different ways. We are trying to work out how to continue with this as we open the church building for services again.
Our online presence has opened up over the weeks, beginning with Veronica nervously recording a short reflection and prayer from her garden for the first few weeks onto Facebook, to now services on YouTube (Heacham Parish Church online) with music, singing, a Bible reading and prayers led by church people. We have managed to include over 60 people, filmed in their homes or gardens. It has been so good that so many people have been able to participate: the body of Christ in action. The steep learning curve of technology has been huge but greatly appreciated.
“Online services have been a ‘Godsend’ for me; without them, I would have felt far more isolated and alone. They felt more intimate, as though the words were aimed directly at you. I love being able to pause, think and possibly go back and listen again! It’s been great seeing and hearing all the familiar faces.”
“What I have appreciated about online church is seeing people get involved, especially where they are out of their comfort zone, being able to engage with the material more than once and when we were ready to do so. Being community together albeit a virtual one – realising how important it is to belong.”
Someone with chronic health issues, who often can’t get to church and participate said:
“I feel fully part of the church… able to access everything the same as others and even take part from home.”
Morning Prayer has been opened up as we now meet by Zoom at 9 am on weekdays to pray together. The rhythm of prayer has been good, with up to 18 of us meeting virtually at any one time. We have prayed for our village community its keyworkers, individuals who we know or who have asked for prayer, for each road and those who live and work on them.
“The zoom morning prayer has been a great start to the day, good to be part of shared worship.”
As we begin to open up the church building again, we are keen that what has been opened up during lockdown is not lost but developed. The links with the more vulnerable and older members of the village need developing further. We want to build on the shared church and village working together. We want to see what God has planned for us,
Online worship will continue and hopefully develop further too. Short sermons have been appreciated, online services with themes have been enjoyed, as have shorter services. We plan to continue these as we begin building-based worship again.
We have always been a ‘busy’ church with the forced stopping of activities and the simplifying of worship has been good for us. We are going to slowly and prayerfully consider what restarts, and what does not. Many of us have found value in a quieter Sunday, with more opportunity for prayer and reflection, so we are considering how we can make Sunday less frantic.
But we have missed meeting together to worship, we have missed the fellowship, we have missed singing together, we have missed coffee and cake, we have missed sharing communion, we have missed have the church building open every day.
“I have missed seeing people regularly; the feeling of “live” fellowship; the feeling of corporate worship together, congregational singing, live music, catching up with people, sharing and just being more aware of what’s going on in the lives of our church family; physical contact… being physically close to other people.”
So our challenge and our joy in this next season is how to both “do” and “be” the church in Heacham now and in the future, We are looking forward to it!