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Reform Magazine | October 27, 2020

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Six months in

Six months in

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Reform asked four ministers how churches were responding. After half a year in lockdown, and with restrictions easing for now, we return for an update

Jenny Mills

I am back leading worship in person. It has been a long journey of online, phone and paper worship. Initially we had many, many more ‘views’ of worship than we would ever have had people in our building. Then, gradually, it tailed off and left us with a faithful bunch (still more than we would see on a Sunday morning). We see the numbers but never really know all the people behind them.

My son (a sound, lighting and video engineer) came home without a job, and, thanks to him, services changed. They became more inclusive (worship is now shared with people all over the country) and church folk of all ages have offered their parts for worship.

Then things began again… Slowly creeping forward, little changes and new guidelines. We started to talk ‘worship in person’ again. This required risk assessments, decisions about livestreaming (so we don’t lose the people who have become part of our online church family), PPE, the realistic challenge of who will do what, an understanding of the ever-changing guidance, and the weighing up of local risk…

Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire

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Fiona Bennett

In Scotland, we received permission to host safely distanced worship services in our buildings from mid-July, so, at Augustine United, we surveyed our church community to see what they would like to happen. The vast majority were very happy with our online worship services and activities, and expressed a hope that these would continue after we were back in the building. Our worship team therefore (like many others) are now trying to work out how to offer good quality worship experiences for both people in the church building under restrictions and those online. Through September, we are streaming from the church building. From October, we hope to welcome a limited congregation. We have agreed we are going to follow the online shape of services until the end of the liturgical year (even for those who are in the building) and we shall see what we can imagine from the new start of Advent!

A big bonus of the online format (with some live and some pre-recorded elements) is that we have been able to involve even more people in leading worship. People who might not want to stand up in church and do a reading, lead prayers or perform a piece of music are happy to pre-record in the safety of their own home, including some of our children, who have contributed with pre-recorded music and readings. Not to mention those who helped with a fantastic collated video of members passing bread around. These are part of the creativity in worship which lockdown and the online format has released…

Fiona Bennett is Minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh

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Mark Robinson

Some in our churches are beginning to see some light, but not all. The recent ‘rule of six’ has brought frustrations that the disease is still causing havoc. In lockdown, we continued to meet as church with prerecorded services, telephone services, coffee mornings via Zoom, printed service sheets delivered by post and online meetings. Some have been unable to join online and felt left out; some may not return to in-person worship.

But there is good news. Even gathered over the internet, it is evident that we are still church. We have a new online audience hearing the word of God, some for the first time.

During our time at home, we witnessed the murder of George Floyd. Questions about race hate in the UK have become part of our discussions. The church was challenged as its old bones surfaced. God’s challenge resounds in God’s words to Ezekiel: ‘Can these bones live?’ The likely answer is a resounding: ‘No Lord!’…

Mark Robinson is Minister for the South West Hants Group of United Reformed churches

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Andy Braunston

In May’s Reform, I noted the resonances between Covid-19 and the Aids crisis. Those continue as we yearn for a vaccine, learn how to be with each other safely and deal with a complexity of emotions.

There has been tragedy. I have taken many more funerals than usual. Each person was treasured by family and friends, yet denied the rituals of grief. One of my churches was broken into during Holy Week, and suffered £11,000 worth of damage. My congregations yearn for contact with each other. But there has also been joy. Hundreds of ribbons tied to the railings of churches which usually only see a handful of people in worship; signs of love and prayer shining in the gloom. An outpouring of love moved the church that was ransacked. People who have believed themselves useless at technology have become proficient at the ubiquitous Zoom.

There has been exhaustion. Lockdown meant it was not possible to take my leave. Somehow, limiting the time out of the manse meant I was working more intensely than normal. The steady stream of helpful information from the denomination was tiring, as was not being able to do the things that normally bring me energy. It seems self-care in a pandemic is difficult. But there has also been rest. Phase three here meant I could take an extended break with my husband and dog, catch up on sleep and reading, walk and explore again the beautiful Orkney islands. Rest gave space to think about new ways of managing a demanding ministry…

Andy Braunston ministers with four United Reformed Church congregations in and around Glasgow

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This is an extract from an article published in the October 2020 edition of Reform

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