Good neighbours in the Wroxham Benefice
Rector the Revd Liz Jump and Curate the Revd Tracy Jessop share their churches' responses and experiences from reaching out practically and pastorally in the Wroxham Benefice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We set up Operation Good Neighbour for Hoveton and Wroxham in mid-March when it became obvious that we would be following other countries into lockdown. We were fortunate that Tom, one of our parishioners, suggested this so early and he has been a superb coordinator, bringing in other community-based agencies to work alongside the churches.
We recruited 50 volunteers first, before launching our emergency food, prescription collection and phone befriending services. We’ve had a steady stream of requests that we’ve been able to meet, mainly for food. Interestingly, the initial food requests from people have enabled an ongoing telephone relationship with people who have been most isolated and alone and we hadn’t ‘met’ before. These are exactly the people all churches find it hard to reach, and we will reflect on how we could continue and develop this kind of outreach.
Keeping in touch
Who doesn’t like a list and a rota? Our small ministry team have been making sure that everyone gets a call at least once a week, sometimes more. The conversations have been rich and varied and prayerful. It’s amazing how resourceful people can be, and also how much they are concerned for other people, especially those who are unwell.
This has become a two-way ministry as many now ring the ministry team members to check on them. The week before our churches shut we were able to give out printed resources – thanks go to the North Wakefield Benefice who had prepared this and generously shared it on Twitter; social media already helping in our response! People who aren’t on-line can still take part in our corporate worship at 9 am and 5 pm each day. Two of our parishioners ring each other every day and do Evening Prayer together, taking it in turns to be the Vicar!
We initially decided not to live stream services, mainly because we thought it wouldn’t be inclusive for those who had no digital access. Our digital offering has largely been pre-recorded and uploaded onto all of our platforms: a refreshed webpage, Twitter and Facebook accounts. It’s been important for us to help people hear familiar voices from church, so using recorded audio from members of the congregation and dropping these into video and audio mixes of Morning and Evening Prayer, plus a series of things during Holy Week alongside Sunday reflections have helped us do this. “It’s like having a service in my front room”, said one of our isolated people. Every evening a simple service of Compline is said and uploaded to our Facebook page. The main thing we’ve learned is that God will honour our efforts and work with whatever we can do.
Postal, prayer and Pentecost plans
We have posted out new prayer resources from the Church of England and are planning services from Ascension to Pentecost so we can be as inclusive as possible, making sure those who not digital can share in the same experience.
We are planning on holding a quiet prayer time, simultaneously lighting a candle through Thy Kingdom Come and we’re going to try a Zoom service for Pentecost, as we have now discovered that people can telephone into that too – thank you to the Revd Catherine Dobson at Happisburgh for the information. We are learning all the time from colleagues!
Looking beyond COVID-19
We’ve already learnt so much about who we are as churches and who feels themselves to be a part of our community. The use of digital worship has included some who haven’t been able to access church for some time, or in some cases have never thought to before.
We will look at this as we come back together and reflect on what we’ve learned and what we would keep, or change. One of the comments we hear often is that people thought initially they missed the building as a place to pray, but now find prayer is all right – it’s the people they miss.
“You really are my family,” one person said, “I don’t think I ever realised it before”. If we can build on this growing together as the people of God, and the sharing of his love in our communities, we will gain much from this very different time. There will be a huge amount to reflect on as a church, and with those who we don’t normally see on a Sunday, to find ways to share and grow the love of God.