Being Church in a pandemic context
From the perspective of Church, would the present situation be best described as a crisis or an opportunity?
A satisfactory definition of ‘crisis’ is that it is a turning point. For at least the last three decades the Church has been in a turning point. Old ways do not suit the modern demographic. Church on Sunday morning has been in gradual decline.
The present context could make this decline terminal, or it could set new patterns, ways of behaviour, new cultures of being Church that are more appealing, and appropriate, especially to families and young people. What is obvious is that if Parishes and Dioceses have no strategy to lead the Church through at least the next 6 months, the result might see the demise of many. With appropriate strategies this may prove to be a God given opportunity for new life and direction.
Some immediate Strategies
Longstanding research shows that if contact is lost for six weeks or more it can be very difficult to restore, especially with those on the periphery of the Church.
The Parish roll should be carefully examined to determine the best way of maintaining pastoral care of each parishioner. For many, this contact may be satisfactorily maintained electronically, but care should be taken to ensure that none are taken for granted. Some/many will require more personal care, by phone or perhaps even in person. There will be far too many for the Rector to shoulder on her/his own. These names should be allocated to others who are known to have the skills for pastoral contact.
If any members of the Parish should contract the virus, it will be necessary to have a developed plan of care.
Those who have self-isolated, particularly the elderly, information should be sought as to how such persons are receiving essential supplies.
The Parish doors should be known to be open to parishioners and the wider community for people to pop in say from 9.00.am – 3.00.pm. each day. The Church should feel open and welcoming. Perhaps background music might be playing. There might be a place where folk can go and light a candle. It may well be necessary for two shifts of three hours each to provide a listening ear. (Time will tell if this is necessary).
Sanitiser must be available at the door of the Church and the pews wiped down regularly.
Regular caring programmes should be maintained, or adjusted, wherever possible
Demands on communication and administration will increase and not decrease. Once a pattern emerges more volunteers may be required to carry the load. It will not necessarily be the case that volunteers need to go to an office, much of this work could be done from a home computer.
It will be necessary for Parishes to have a clear strategy about financial sustainability. Parishioners should be encouraged to invest in the long-term life of the Parish. If finances drop substantially it may well prove impossible to start again when the pandemic is over. A well drafted letter should go to all parishioners. Those who are not giving electronically should be encouraged to do so. For those whose giving is in cash, the parish could provide money boxes to be taken home and the weekly giving deposited therein.
The above are thoughts for the immediate future, as time goes by longer term strategy should be developed.