Resources for the Church in different times…

There is a certain irony to the fact that, having spent much of the last decade thinking about the way church can embrace digital (and vice-versa), I find myself leading a congregation where around 40% of regular worshippers don’t have access to the internet. (It’s a small congregation, with a significant number of elderly people.)

When churches first started closing across the US – a week before the same thing happened in the UK – I realised I needed a plan for how my congregation could continue to worship while in their own homes, because streaming was definitely not the answer. What I have come up with, I’m sharing below, in case it’s helpful to anyone else.

  • A Booklet of prayers & readings to use at home, plus suggestions for where to find worship on radio/TV. Compiling this was my distraction while waiting for the Archbishops to suspend public worship on March 17th. Virtually all the prayers come from the Church of England’s Coronavirus prayers and liturgy webpage. It feels like this has already made its way around half the Church of England, after I offered it up on Twitter! There are highlighted sections that should be amended for your own context…
  • Creating a piece of code that enables people to ring a number (local – you can choose it) and listen to a sermon (or any other mp3 file you’d want to share). I used this brilliant step-by-step guide, and had it up and running for last Sunday. I’d been concerned that some of my non-online people also had poor eyesight, so sending them text documents wasn’t necessarily helpful. An added bonus of this is that I can circulate the dropbox link for the audio around via email and WhatsApp, so everyone gets a sermon!
  • On the ‘Final Sunday’ we created a WhatsApp group for the congregation. I usually wouldn’t go down this route (I have a love/hate relationship with WhatsApp groups at the best of times, and there are potential safeguarding issues) but again, my congregation is small. We worked out who was not on WhatsApp and buddied them up with someone who was – this was pretty organic and there’s already a great pastoral structure that supports the older members. The WhatsApp group is now an easy place to share info and have it disseminated wider. We also get to hear updates on whoever has recently been phoned up – so it very much feels as though the pastoral burden is shared.
  • As my vicarage is connected to the church, I go in on Sunday morning and preside at communion. The congregation know that this is happening – they’re invited to send prayer requests in and we’ve shared the peace via WhatsApp. This week, as part of a Holy Week/Easter mailout, I’ve also shared the Church of England’s guidance on spiritual communion, in case that’s helpful to them. [There is a PDF on the CofE website, but frustratingly it goes onto 3 pages by just 3 lines, so I copied & edited it until I got it down to just two sides of A4!]

My other thought on March 17th, was that this was obviously going to affect Holy Week and Easter. In packs that I sent out yesterday (with palm crosses enclosed), I included two Holy Week/Easter specific things:

  • A booklet of Bible readings & meditations for each day of Holy Week (up to and including Holy Saturday). The meditations all have a sensory element to them – it’s basically a slightly adapted version of something I created for Good Friday two years ago, but I felt like it had the capacity to work in people’s homes too, and felt like it could work for families.
  • A liturgy for Maundy Thursday that could be used around an evening meal. My church was meant to be hosting a Maundy Thursday supper as part of our contribution to our Group Ministry Holy Week. Again, streaming didn’t feel right (although the Group’s Good Friday services will be done online), but I felt like something people could use in their homes would be apt. It’s drawn from a couple of different places and has several Bible readings in it (which could be cut down depending on time/attention spans), and although it mentions bread and wine, is definitely not sacramental!

While some may prefer not to send physical materials to their congregation (it is thought that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on paper), this is really the only way I can get such things to them. I made use of Royal Mail’s Click & Drop service, and the envelopes will have been sealed at least 36 hours before they actually arrive anywhere. I don’t imagine I will do anything quite like this again until we get to Pentecost.

I have quite a bit more to say about the church in its current season, but I’m going to leave that for another day. Certainly we are in unprecedented times, and if I can save someone a bit of time or mental energy with what I’ve managed to get done, I’m glad!

Communing with film

One of the things in life I wish I did more of (of which there are several!), is watch films at the cinema. Going alone, in the middle of the day, preferably to the Curzon Soho [which deserves saving from Crossrail 2], with a sneaky G&T in a can in my handbag, is quite frankly my idea of an excellent afternoon off.

Yet, it’s something I managed just once in 2014 – for the exceptionally wonderful Boyhood. [It was available on the plane on my way home from Texas and I watched all 3 hours of it all over again; wanted tell everyone around me to watch it too; and applaud those I spotted watching it while waiting for the bathroom. It’s awesome – watch it!] Instead, I remain loyal to a steady stream of DVD rentals to my door – old school, but the best way of getting new releases without having to pay through the nose for London cinema tickets.

Being an introvert, solo film watching is the epitome of a re-vitalising activity, but even I have to admit that cinema benefits from being viewed within community. I’m lucky, in that I have a number of cine-literate friends who can be relied upon for a good discussion after the event, or for the odd group trip. For a little while, we even had a monthly film club going. Being a member of the Church of Wittertainment also helps – a weekly dose of film recommendations (or warnings); regular rants; plenty of opportunities for listener contributions; and enough knowledge to make it sound as though I have watched every film released since September 2010 (the day I first entered the church).

Ultimately, cinema works best in community. Everyone reacts differently to films (just like books) and the range of subjects covered by the cinema in a year is huge – but, it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why I was rather pleased to discover an organisation that does the hard work for you – by which I mean they get the discussion going – you still have to watch the actual film!!

Damaris Logo

I discovered the work of the Damaris Trust thanks to a friend offering me her +1 for a screening they had organised for a preview of Unbroken – a film chronicling the real-life WW2 experiences of Olympian Louis Zamperini. I love the Olympics and have a long-standing interest in Japanese POW and intern camps (I’d love to say this was a result of my modern history degree, but it’s actually thanks to Tenko), so I was definitely up for it. Also, free film? No brainer!

Damaris have two elements to their work:
(i) Film Clubs where communities can come together, watch a film, eat food that connects with its theme, then engage in discussion and activities that relate to the film too.
(ii) Providing stand-alone discussion and activity guides for many of the biggest films.

Having watched Unbroken, I had to wait a week or two before the resources came online (it wasn’t released till Boxing Day), and I have to say, I was impressed. Unbroken was a hard watch – as most WW2 films are – featuring Zamperini’s 47 days in a life raft after being shot down over the Pacific, followed by his brutal treatment in POW camps. It took me a while to process what I’d watched – its first 30 minutes is not dissimilar in its intensity to the opening of Saving Private Ryan.

Unbroken-poster_1-1024x557

It’s a story that deserves being committed to film, but as my friend and I reflected as the credits rolled, the film could almost be said to have told the wrong story. Having not been broken by the persecution he received at the hands of a Japanese camp commander [you can see where the title came from], after the war Zamperini’s life was transformed by a Billy Graham rally he attended in 1950. Having dedicated his life to God, he decided to set about forgiving all those who had persecuted him – an embodiment of “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. And that’s the story I would have liked to have seen on film!

Maybe the war could have been the first third, and the rest his transformation and subsequent journey through forgiveness? 2013’s The Railway Man is similar in theme (POW, mistreated, traumatised, goes in search of his persecutors…) but that real-life story went in different direction at the war’s end. It’s a shame that the film about a lack of forgiveness got made, and the one with it did not.

However, the story is there before the credits – albeit in subtitles – and it packs a punch. And this is where the Damaris resources come in. Forgiveness is something that it’s easy to talk about, but hard to enact. We mean well, but ultimately it’s one of the hardest things we mere mortals can do. Therefore, it makes for a great discussion starter. How would you have coped in his position? Who might we need to forgive? Although there is a Christian slant, it’s by no means the primary focus – forgiveness is a concept that’s relevant to everyone. (And if that fails, there’s also a sport section in the resource!)

To be honest, discovering Damaris is something of an answer to prayer. I’m always keen to legitimise fun activities as ‘work’ and in a church context, community film watching and discussion would be a valuable tool! In fact, come the first day back at college after Christmas, I found myself recommending Damaris to a friend, after they’d mentioned a trip to see Exodus. And, having spent a sizeable chunk of the last few months writing a mammoth resource full of activities, I appreciate it when someone else does it for me!

Universal Screening

NB: I was under no obligation to write this post – I got to see a film for free in Universal’s private screening room, with wine and popcorn, but a blogpost wasn’t required in return. As usual, I only write about stuff that I think is worthy of it!