Advice and inspiration in uncertain times

Following lockdown, we’re asking churches to share their stories of hope in our uncertain times.

“It’s easy to be paralysed by the unceasing news reports,” says Bishop Steven. “Thank you for all you are doing to lead in what are uncharted waters. I am hearing many good stories of practical and pastoral help being offered.”

We’ll keep updating this blog with tips for keeping ourselves and our communities physically, spiritually and mentally nourished over the coming days, weeks and months. What’s your church doing and what are your top tips for others? Email us with your stories.

In a fast-moving pandemic the guidance is changing rapidly.

The stories below show how our amazing churches are adapting to those changes and our aim is to inspire you with ideas. However, this is a live blog and some of the earlier stories won’t be based on the latest guidance. Please do check current guidelines before trying out some of the older initiatives described on this page.

Introduction

In uncertain times, we’ve been encouraged by the stories and top tips our churches have sent in. Below is a running blog of those stories. Here, is a summary of the key themes and ideas for keeping yourself and others healthy, connected and safe.

Social media is often dubbed ‘anti-social’ due to fake news, trolling and online bullying. But right now our digital connections are coming into their own. In fact, for many, especially those who live alone, they could be a life-saver. Whether it’s ‘virtual coffee’ with a friend over Whatsapp or Messenger, or Sunday worship, people are using a variety of platforms to carry on connecting over the web.

But, remember, not everyone is online. Some of our older, and more vulnerable people, don’t use the internet. Many churches are keeping a list of those they know of, connecting by telephone and ensuring these people have the medical and food supplies they need. Some are joining neighbourhood and community groups that are forming across the UK to support the vulnerable.

Some have food available in the church porch for those who are really in need. Others have made daffodils available in the run-up to Mothering Sunday.

And it’s not all about escaping the doom and gloom. Could this be an opportunity? With more time on people’s hands, some churches are recommending ways of going deeper with God, spending more time in prayer and dwelling in scripture.

Princes Risborough Food Cupboard – August 2020

People in the Risborough area who are finding it hard to make ends meet during the Covid-19 crisis are receiving regular emergency supplies of essentials from a team of church volunteers.

Volunteers for the Food Cupbard at St Mary's, Princes Risborough.

Volunteers for the Food Cupboard at St Mary’s, Princes Risborough.

The Princes Risborough Food Cupboard, based at St Mary’s Church, started in May in conjunction with Churches Together in Risborough, the Town Council and the Parochial Charity.

Since May they have delivered approximately 200 parcels to up to 700 people. Each parcel contains supplies worth up to £50, depending on the size of the family. About 20 deliveries are made each week. Tinned food, dried food, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and pastries, eggs, plus treats like biscuits and toiletries are in the parcels.

The team worked with organisations in the area already providing similar services, including St. Laurence Food Cupboard in Winslow and Aylesbury Vineyard Storehouse. Through them, they learned how much to include in each package and how to take referrals.

The cupboard has been advertised with posters around the town, notices on social media and leafleting in key streets.

Local charities are making generous funding donations, and people are donating directly to a Just Giving page.

A list of the items needed is published every week on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PRfoodcupboard) for delivery to St Mary’s Church. There is also a trolley for donations at Tesco’s, which is collected regularly.

If you are in Princes Risborough and in need emergency supplies or know of someone who does, please email prfoodcupboard@gmail.com or call 07841 344127 between 10am and 1pm on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

A new Stanford Job Support Group set up in response to the Covid-19 crisis is helping people in an Oxfordshire parish who are hunting for work.

The Revd Paul Eddy, the Vicar of Stanford with Goosey and Hatford, set up the club, with 12 volunteers from the village, to offer CV and interview preparation support and advice on the pros and cons of setting up a business from home.

In a social media post, Paul writes: “Just a reminder that I’m setting up a Stanford Job Support Group, made up of villagers able to offer confidential help to anyone unemployed/facing unemployment as a result of Covid-19.

“The idea is to link someone in need with a support who can assist with things like identifying key skills, writing a CV, applying for jobs, preparing for an interview or, considering working from home.

“This is NOT professional, paid for advice, merely support and encouragement through a difficult time.

“I’ve had several offers of help to date, and I’m keen to hear from others who can offer a few hours occasionally to help a fellow villager in need.

“Please email me vicar@denys.org if you can help. I hope to set up a Zoom chat with volunteer helpers soon so we can map out what support we can offer.

“On the other side, if you’ve been made redundant, or think you may be and would like this type of one to one, free, confidential help, please email me. Your situation will remain totally confidential under the usual vicar/parishioner basis.”

St John’s Church in Lockdown: a hush, a whisper, a memory, a hope

Lockdown may be easing, but we have a long way to go before we know what our new ‘normal’ will look down.

But, our churches aim to bring you hope and inspiration and that’s why we wanted to share the beautiful photo essay, produced by the Revd Gary Collins, the curate at St John the Evangelist, Newbury.

Gary says: “During a required visit a few weeks ago, I was struck by the light in the church. There was a strong sense of, not so much absence, more of waiting, longing and yearning within the bricks and chairs and candles. But there was more…”

Here are a few of Gary’s images. To see the whole essay click here. 

St Mary’s Chipping Norton leads the way

Emma Kennedy and a team of volunteers from St Mary’s Chipping Norton had action plan to help their local community from the start of lockdown. They’re delivering meals and prescriptions, making calls to the elderly and delivering 250 craft bags for local families each week. Read their inspirational story here.

The Diocese of Oxford has three diocesan links: Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa (part of the Anglican Province of Southern Africa), Nandyal in the Church of South India, and Växjö, a diocese in the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

We also have five links through the Mothers’ Union Wave of Prayer – Ahoada and Warri in Nigeria, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, and Victoria Nyanza in Tanzania.

How are they being affected by coronavirus and the lockdown? What does it mean for them as followers of Jesus and their life together as a church? Find out here. 

Helen Carmody, a community worker at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Widmer End, shares how her experiences with Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) has affected her response to Covid-19.

Partnership for Missional Church is a three-year process of spiritual reflection, transformation and engagement. It encourages groups of churches into a fresh engagement with a God ‘who is active and present and working for good in the world’.

Helen says: “Rather than being gripped by fear and uncertainty, I am continually uplifted as I see the light, life and power of God at work among us during this season of lockdown.

“Our church is at the point in PMC journey when we’re experimenting by partnering with others in our community.”

Prompt response

“When the government announced the lockdown, I sensed a prompting from God that I was to coordinate a neighbourhood support group to assist those who were elderly, vulnerable or isolated within our community.
I was initially reluctant due to the amount of work that would be involved, but after further prompting, I responded to the call.

“It started with a simple post on my personal Facebook page, asking if anyone would be interested in helping their vulnerable neighbours, by running errands, providing dog walking services and providing a friendly phone call every week.

“PMC has opened our eyes to notice the character of God in others. The response was phenomenal! I observed so clearly God’s heart of love and sacrifice in the words and actions of those who replied to my post.

Community character

“I was correct in that setting up the Neighbourhood Support Group was a lot of work! Within a week, we had a new Facebook group with 240 members. We had between two and four Street Reps for every road in our village, who had personally contacted, by letter, every resident on their street to let them know that they were there to serve.

“As a Christian, I felt it was important that our culture as a community remained positive, life-giving and encouraging for everyone. It shouldn’t be a village grievance forum! Christ’s values of loving our neighbour and each other are central to our mission.

“We now have around 100 people actively serving our community, Christians and others working side by side.

“The PMC journey has opened our eyes to notice the character of God in others, welcoming them and valuing the gifts that God has placed within them.

“Through this difficult lockdown process, God has highlighted so many people of peace, those with a heart of love, service and sacrifice, who may not know God personally yet. It is wonderful to be partnering with them.

“Many people have come up to me and said: “I think it’s great that the church is doing this.” I haven’t intentionally mentioned the church or God in this work over the past couple of months.
Several of our Street Reps asked me for prayer for their families, as I have been in conversation with them about other community matters. People have called me for advice about upsetting family circumstances. And several of our Street Reps have popped into our Facebook Live Sunday services which is wonderful.”

Do you feel the need to pep up your prayer life, but are struggling as you are short on time?

If so, Licensed Lay Minister Anne Curtis, and the team at St John the Baptist, Kingston Bagpuize have put together the perfect solution. They have recorded a series of prayers on different subjects and uploaded them to the parish website. These prayers are no longer than five minutes in length, and the aim is to help the listener connect with God.

There is an audio-only and video version of each prayer. They are arranged in categories; the world, ourselves, the virus, famous prayers and how to pray. The collection is growing as more recordings are made.

Bill Salmon,  pub landlord, with Revd Gemma Beasley, curate, and her husband, Jason.

Bill Salmon, pub landlord, with Revd Gemma Beasley, curate, and her husband, Jason.

The Cornerhouse pub in Oxford would usually be heaving with locals, workers from the mini plant, students, and NHS staff from the nearby hospitals.

But, like all restaurants, bars and cafes during the Covid-19 crisis, it’s been forced to shut its doors to customers.

So, landlord, Bill Salmon, decided to team up with the nearby St Francis’ Church to help keep Cowley’s community spirit alive during lockdown.

He got in touch with the Revd Gemma Beasley, curate in the Cowley Parish, to ask if they could do something together.

The result is a prayer/reflection tree outside the pub. A sign invites anyone walking past to post a reflection, prayer or prayer request on a Christmas tree.

A note in the window, written by Gemma, reads: “We are sad that we can’t gather together at the moment. But the Corner House and Cowley Parish communities are still here for you.

“Life for the moment has changed and people from our community are ill, or concerned about work, money, family, loneliness and other things.

“Please use this space to leave a prayer/thought/refelction for anything that is on your mind today.

“The ministers from the parish will include your prayers each day during morning prayer. For confidential prayer requests, email us: prayer@cowleyteamministry.co.uk.”

Bill says: “I just wanted to give something back. It’s allowing people to reflect. So many people in the community are suffering with loved ones in hospital. We are trying to give them a bit of hope and solace. We did something similar in the pub at Christmas, and it went down really well.”

The tree is surrounded by chalk pictures, including rainbows, thanking NHS workers for all their hard work.

Bill and Gemma hope that when the crisis is over, the reflections and prayers will be presented during a church service. They may then be placed in a time capsule to be buried for future generations to discover.

Members of the clergy team in Abingdon, Oxfordshire are recording Thought for the Day pieces for a popular town blog.

The pieces are published every Monday through to Friday, and feedback has so far been good.

They are published here, are just a few minutes long and are well worth a listen.

Lockdown is no barrier to holding an Alpha Course to help inquirers find out more about the Christian faith.

At St Michael and All Angels, Hughenden, an online Alpha starts on Monday (May 4th) at 7.30pm. It’s for those who may know that Christmas and Easter are about more than presents and chocolate eggs, and would like to know what attracts two billion people globally to follow Jesus.

Over the last 40 years, 24 million people have completed Alpha courses, usually in churches, church halls, or people’s homes. On the Hughenden course, the 11 sessions will be held over Zoom – the online conferencing platform. And those who are worried about they aren’t tech-savvy enough needn’t fear. St Michael’s has a friendly tech guy at hand to help make sure they can join in.

For more information, contact Frank Hawkins on frankwhawkins@aol.com or call 07850 150562.

At the Aylesbury Vale Academy, a huge effort has gone into gathering Personal Protective Equipment for health workers. Caroline Baughan, head of the primary school, explains how.

The last few weeks have seen us all placed into a unique and challenging situation. Schools got very little notice to close our doors and change how we work.

At Aylesbury Vale Academy, we pride ourselves in serving a large community and educating children from the age of two, through to young adults of 18. Our first priority was to ensure a level of support for all of our families and school work that was accessible for all. We then focused on providing safe provision within the school for our children of Key Workers and the most vulnerable.

It quickly became clear that we could help our wider community and the people in it working so hard to keep us all safe.

We decided to see what equipment we had in school to help our front line health workers and were elated when we gathered all of the potential PPE together. We collected equipment from our Science, Art and DT departments.

We contacted the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and our GP surgery as both needed help.
We provided over 700 sets of goggles, 300 face masks and 400 pairs of gloves to those two services and Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

Our Design Technology department is now using a 3D printer to produce PPE face shields for the NHS.

Our staff remain in school supporting our community in any way they can. In such difficult times, it is important for us to be able to show solidarity, compassion and strength to all.

The doors are closed, but hearts in St Peter’s Burnham are open.

Pastoral Teams are in place to pray and communicate by telephone, and the vicar sent out letters and Easter Cards.

There’s an online meditation group led by a Licensed Lay Minister which has grown from four members to 12 and they meet once a week online.

St Peter’s has got involved with Burnham Council, Burnham Health Trust and Neighbourhood Watch. Through the church, Burnham Resilience Group has set up a charity to help those who cannot afford the basics. So far it’s raised £5,500 for the community.

The church has donated money to Woodstock Café, which is cooking meals for those who are isolating. So far, they have made more than 250 dinners.

A Pewsheet Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles, reflecting on being a church when our buildings are closed is taking place. The church is also organising Covid-19 emergency medi-sos information packs and getting the Holy Stitches group to make clothing bags for Wexham Park Hospital.

Sunflowers will be brightening up Arborfield Green in Reading this summer as 12,000 seeds are distributed to over 1,000 houses.

The idea came from St Eligius Church, where instructions for growing the popular, tall plants are on the parish website.

Tonia Elliott, Community Minister, sent the following instructions to volunteers who are delivering the seeds in a socially distanced way.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to help with the packaging of the sunflower seeds around Arborfield Green.

“We have 12,000 seeds altogether, so lots of potential of a bright sunny place to walk around if people do plant them and they grow!

“Enclosed in this envelope you will find:

1. Labels for the front of the small brown envelopes.
2. A note to go into each envelope (I hope you don’t mind but I’ve left them for you to cut to size)
3. Gloves for yourself and your children if you have requested them.
4. The seeds.
5. Brown envelopes.
6. If you are delivering them, I have also put the street list for where they are to be delivered.

The latest guidelines on the Post Office website are to make sure you take the necessary precautions.
Before you package anything can you make sure you and your children have washed their hands thoroughly.

While I know you will do anyway, I felt I needed to write it down to just make sure anyone who ask knows we have taken the necessary precautions.

As long as your hands are washed you do not need to wear gloves but if you want to then I have provided them.

This was the latest information on the Post office website with regards to how they are advising their staff to work.

This includes promoting regular handwashing with soap and water. We have good supplies of soap and paper towels. We are also providing disposable latex gloves, available to anyone who wants to use them’.

If you can put about 10 seeds into each package with the note then that should be ample for each household.
If you are delivering the seeds you may find it easier to take a wooden spoon to put the envelopes into the letter box. Nothing to do with Covid is just the letterboxes around our estate take the skin off the back of your hands after you have done a few! I have learnt from past experience!

Once again thank you for your help and I look forward to having a sunflower party after this is all over.”

Did you listen to the amazing Allelujah Chorus,  put together by the team at St Nicholas, Taplow?

Well, they have shared their expertise with us, to help other parishes make the most of their talented choirs during lockdown. We’ve included it in our livestreaming FAQs here. 

St Michael and All Angels Summertown Rainbow Clusters

By the Revd Alyson Perbedy, associate priest

Writing to parishioners toward the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis Summertown Vicar, Gavin Knight, put forward a plan to ensure church members would keep ‘in touch’ when they could no longer gather together in Church. Already many were looking out for neighbours, strangers and the isolated and vulnerable, and here was a way in which church members could oversee one another in prayer, support and practical aid. As he put it ‘any of us could become ill and therefore require support and prayer’, little knowing that he and his family would be among the first to experience symptoms!

Each cluster is based on a neighbourhood and has approximately twelve members all invited to keep one another in mind in a spirit of mutual love and trust. There are seven such clusters named after the colours of the Rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, plus another called the ‘outliers’ made up of friends who live outside the parish.

Care has been taken to ensure no one falls through the net. As soon as Sue Smith discovered who else was in her cluster, she realised that four members do not use email so hopped on her bike to deliver copies of the invitation, as well as the Sunday readings and reflection. Sue says it’s a great reason for a weekly cycle around her neighbourhood, adding: “Sometimes I ring a bell when I deliver and seeing someone look round their front door is a real joy and pleasure.”

When asked what she values about her cluster, Juliet Field replied: “Feeling part of the Church community and knowing that if questions come up for me at a deeper level at this time, there will be others with whom I can share them.”

Each cluster is developing a bit differently. In my own we have shared poetry, paintings and prayers and learnt more of the God-given gifts we each have that are not always visible on a Sunday. Relationships have been strengthened and our understanding of what it means to belong together has deepened. Most importantly everyone is actively included regardless of their access or ability to use digital media. And Gavin, now almost recovered, will undoubtedly catch up with us before too long!

As homeschooling takes a backseat for the Easter holidays, are you looking for fun family activities to keep your children entertained?

Assorted eggs. Photo: Pexels.

Assorted eggs. Photo: Pexels.

Well, look no further. Nikhilesh Haval, the architectural photographer who put together Oxfordshire Churches in 360 Degrees  has created a virtual Easter egg hunt.

We have featured Nikhilesh and his work on this website before, describing how his work allows people to enjoy Oxfordshire’s beautiful churches from the comfort of their sofas.

The new egg hunt invites participants to solve clues, find eggs and reveal the name of the church in which the game is based. It’s an egg-cellent way of learning about a church while having fun during these tedious times.

There’s nothing more uplifting than the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

So, organist and choirmaster at St Nicolas’ Church, Taplow, created a virtual performance, to be used in a virtual Easter Sunday service.

Need cheering up? This wonderful performance promises to please:

And, the morning celebrations included the virtual choir singing new words written for the lockdown to the hymn tune Aurelia.

At St Nicolas in Rotherfield Greys, the Brass and Flower Guild were not able to decorate the inside of the church this Easter.

So, to mark the season, they got creative and decorated the outside instead. Below are photographs of their handiwork, with people chatting while observing the important social distancing rules.

A new parish Facebook account has gone from zero followers to 332 in a matter of days and is still growing.

Online services are uploaded to YouTube and linked to the new Claydons and Swan Team Ministry Facebook page. The online Sunday worship launched on 5 April.

The Revd Ricky Simpson Gray has also been recording daily reflections. These are circulated on three Facebook forums and a community page with a combined audience of 4,200 people.

“Currently we are getting an average of 55 viewings for the reflections, which is a fair start from nothing,” says Ricky. “Our parish is steadily increasing it’s digital visibility (and active engagement) among the villages, which is an encouragement for our parishioners.”

#Together is the one word that sums up the vision of St Michael’s CE School in Stewkley, Buckinghamshire.

“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other…” Ecclesiastes 4, vs 9-10, is the verse that inspires that vision.

“The vision’s been in place for nearly a year. We obviously didn’t realise then what the significance was going to be now. Several parents have pointed out how relevant it is right now,” says the headteacher, David Morley.

“Being a Church of England school, there is a significance in the font we use, with the T being in the shape of a crucifix. Jesus is at the front of everything we do in our school.”

Every day David is doing a message for the children on YouTube, wearing a different silly hat. As the church is in an interregnum, he didn’t have a vicar who could join in, so he recently asked Bishop Alan to record a message.

“It was a nice thing to do. The parents were positive about it,” says David, who is proud his school has a positive presence on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

So, as David continues to record his videos and wear his hats, the children are displaying rainbows and the school vision in their windows. Here is some of their work:

In discombobulating times, routine and familiarity are essential.

That’s why Lesley Dentry, the Youth and Children’s Worker at St Andrew’s, Oxford, is continuing to provide the regular activities for the 150 families in the congregation.

“There are thousands of activities on the internet, but I realised the missing link was seeing familiar faces,” said Lesley.

So, using Zoom, she is adapting her usual activities for the virtual world.

“When the lockdown was looking likely I dashed to the church for the CD player I use for singing time with the baby and toddler group. I also play the piano and do the songs I do every week. I’ve done that live, rather than recording it, with 18 families all Zoomed in.”

Lesley is going to be continuing to do Trekkers and Explorers online as well as the other children’s groups she runs. These are on rotation every Thursday night, to not overload the diary.

One activity was a scavenger hunt that children could do in their own homes. “They would disappear from their screens and reappear with an item, maybe a Bible, book, teddy bear or toy. Something easy to find at home.

“The feedback we got was amazing. People said they were getting to the end of a long week of homeschooling and were beginning to feel a bit sad. One mum said it had cheered her daughter up.”

Lesley has also had a birthday card printed, with a photo of Gruffy, the puppet she uses for children’s worship. And she is writing to the 80 volunteers that support her work. “Some of them are older, living alone and in the vulnerable category,” says Lesley. “I write and let them know I’ve made bread, done the garden and include my phone number. I encourage them to give me a ring.”

Lesley is also busy providing worship resources for Sundays. She’s even planning to continue with the regular Easter garden competition for Easter Saturday. “Children make an Easter garden with real flowers and moss, and usually they bring them to the church, but this year I’m asking people to Whatsapp them to me. We’ll be doing the same with our Easter bonnet competition.

“We are taking what we normally do and adapting it to the internet, but we are continuing to give people familiar activities.”

Not everyone is on the internet, especially some of the older members of our churches. So in Denham, Buckinghamshire, a telephone alternative has been set up, as well as regular live-streamed services.

The Revd Christoph Lindner, the Rector, got the idea from his brother-in-law who runs an internet business in Germany. “He set this up for a local church there and asked if I would be interested. The company gave me the phone number. I record the BCP service that would normally take place at 8am on a Sunday.”

Cumnor parish, near Oxford, have set up a similar telephone number, which allows the person calling to listen to a pre-recorded version of their 10.30am Sunday service.

In this heartwarming video, the Revd Dave Bull, Area Dean of Wycombe in Buckinghamshire affirms the hard work of the churches in his patch.

Dave is one of 29 Area Deans in our diocese, who, along with a Lay Chair, look after a particular deanery. They work with the Archdeacon and Area Bishop to support the parishes in their geographical area. Like our parishes, they are finding new ways to communicate and encourage the church. Is this something you could do in your deanery or benefice?

“The first thing I want to say is thank you so much for the amazing amounts of energy and time and sacrificial efforts you have put into reimagining how we do church in just a couple of weeks.”

“We are seeing significantly higher numbers of people engaging with the Church through this process. Thousands, and I’m not exaggerating, are engaging with the Church,” he said.

Dave urged the churches to continue to encourage congregation members to give online as there is no longer a weekly physical collection plate. He also urged them to contact the Lay Chair if they need support in their ministry.

“I’m praying for you all. Thank you for the way you are rising to this challenge, and I look forward to all that God has in store for us in the weeks and months ahead.”

To keep up to date with  our responses to the coronavirus crisis why not sign up to e:news. 

One of the toughest decisions foodbank managers can face is whether to stay open during the lockdown.

Places of worship have been ordered to shut by the Government. One of the few exceptions is for a regular foodbank, provided all volunteers and recipients observe strict social distancing and hygiene rules. The central Church of England has followed the Government advice.

The Trussell Trust, which runs a national network of foodbank says its priority is people’s safety. Whether to keep going is the decision of each local foodbank’s team, and if they do, they need to ensure they follow the rules.

This is what the Community Matters Foodbank is doing at Holy Trinity, Lane End. The foodbank supports 15 families. “These families struggle at the best of times with the provision of food, other household items and need financial help for electricity/gas. As you can imagine, this has been greatly exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, says the Revd Mark Ackford, Team Rector.

In those families, those who had jobs are no longer working, meaning a limited income has become even more limited.

“It is imperative therefore that the Community Matters Foodbank can step up to the mark to support these families and any additional referrals that we may get during this period of isolation and social distancing,” he added.

So, donated items will be collected from a local Tesco store, with the rules of social distancing applied.

Mark has issued the following guidelines to enable the food bank to continue to run:

• I have given my permission for volunteers only to access the Holy Trinity church building for the storage of said items, observing the rules of social distancing when in the building.

• When giving out food from the food bank, the following procedures will be followed:

1: Volunteers will make phone contact with the families they support asking if they need any help and agree what items will be provided.

2: Volunteers only will access the foodbank at Holy Trinity Church and take requested items from foodbank stores, observing the rules of social distancing when in the building.

• Only the volunteer will deliver the requested items to the door of the family and immediately leave. There will be no face to face contact.

• If money is requested for gas/electricity, then it would be better for the volunteer to seek an arrangement with the proprietors of the Londis store in the village to enable families to top-up their meters there. Cash should only be handed out as a last resort with no face to face contact.

• Volunteers will at all times follow current Government and NHS advice and guidance regarding coronavirus, especially regarding cross-infection, social distancing and keeping themselves safe.

By the rivers of Babylon…

By this point, some of us of a certain age will be singing along.

These words are taken from Psalm 137, and a later sentence in this Psalm reads “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

And we are in a strange land. The Revd Anthony Buckley, from Oxford’s City Rector, has used this has his introduction to a first-person Oxford Mail piece on how churches are connecting with those who need them, in what can feel like a very strange land.

Without WiFi in every church, not everyone can live stream. So many of them have improvised.

This is a particular issue in rural parishes and in places where, with everyone off work and school, the internet is running slowly.

Many rural church-goers are older and may have old equipment if any computer at all so can’t receive. And of course, the thought of streaming sends panic through some clergy.

The Revd Margot Hodson,  Associate Minister, in the Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice says the team is recording on YouTube and uploading at a time when the internet is less busy. The link is posted on Saturday night, ready for Sunday.

“This is much less daunting for clergy to do and also means that viewers can watch it at any time during Sunday onwards. We had double the number of views to our normal Sunday attendance this week, and I heard of another benefice who almost tripled their congregation,” says Margot.

Similarly, St Peter’s, Wootton, recorded a Mothering Sunday service on the Friday, with the minimal amount of people in the church. The service was broadcast via YouTube on Sunday, March 22nd and is still available.

St Micheal’s, Summertown, Oxford is similarly doing the recording on a Saturday evening, and posting on YouTube the following morning. St Micheal’s has also purchased a votive candle, set up a prayer tree for prayer requests and is opening its doors on weekday mornings for ‘socially distanced’ private prayer.

Holy Trinity, Headington Quarry in Oxford pre-recorded an audio version of their Mothering Sunday service on Saturday night. The gave the IT volunteers the time to get it online for the usual 10am service slot. It includes an order of service, sermon recording and an activity sheet for children and families.

Holy Trinity also made up some community daffodil posies while observing hand hygiene and social distancing. These were left in the church porch for people to collect and deliver.

Holy Trinity has also set up a fund to buy parish iPads for those not connected to the web during this time of isolation.

While worship is vital to Christians, so if fellowship and fun.

So the Witney Benefice has responded to lockdown by hosting an online drinks party to raise people’s spirit and keep them connected.

More than 100 people attended, pouring drinks in the comfort of their own homes. “We were entertained by six different acts, ranging from poetry to music. Some people dressed up in glamourous outfits while others kept things a little simpler.”

The 45-minute event will be continuing every Wednesday.

Light relief is vital to keeping our spirits up in these increasingly surreal times.

Which is why the team at St Catherine’s Tilehurst are producing ‘Something Silly’ on Saturdays. The Revd Gill Rowell, the Vicar and the curate, the Revd Phil Price play ‘Just a Minute’, ‘(10) 20 Questions’, and ‘Would I lie to You’. They were recorded in advance when Gill and Phil knew we were heading for lockdown.

Another fun session is the Mini Tots praise – published to Facebook every Friday at 9am. “We recorded three sessions last week and planned to alternate these with ones recorded at home. Last week was well received, and we were sent photos of the tots dancing and listening to the story.”

The videos are posted on the church Facebook page. One challenge was that very few congregation members used Facebook. “However, we have had 36 new Facebook likes this last week, and one lady has even been given a tablet so she could join in with our Morning Prayer at home.

“We did publish a service leaflet the Sunday before the over 70s were told to self-isolate, so folks without Facebook could join in with us too, albeit without seeing us. They are comforted by the fact that we are all saying it at the same time. The service is also downloadable from the website.

An activities pack has been produced for people with no internet. It has been sent to the Virtual Lifegroup leaders too. (The church has been split into two groups with a leader appointed to oversee the people in their group.)

The pack includes:

1. Blob Garden. This is a picture of blob people in a garden that people can colour in while considering questions on the second page.
2. A Meditation on Luke 5: 27-32,
3. Instructions for Lectio Divina – a form of meditative, personal Bible reading.
4. A colouring page
5. A photograph reflection
6. A silly quiz.

“It has been heartwarming to me that the videos are reaching more people in a day than I ever would normally, although it is quite scary too,” says Gill. “It is quite striking that the tots’ praise video and the vicars playing games together are the most popular.”

AN Easter initiative with a difference will help keep spirits up in Stanford in the Vale.

Eggs at St Denys, Stanford in the Vale

Last year for the first time, St Deyns Church got its Messy Church families to create an Easter egg to hang from a tree at the church entrance.

“It went down a bomb,” says the Vicar, the Revd Paul Eddy. “With most primary children off school, I have widened the scope this year and sent this out to villagers on the various FB groups we have.”

In a note to families, Paul says: “It will be one way we can celebrate Easter this year, brighten up walks around the village and have something creative to do whilst schools are off. Please keep social distance rules around the tree and no touching other eggs.”

It’s a very simple idea but will hopefully create fun and family time and also raise spirits, and as we post pictures of the tree filling up, I will comment on the link between eggs, new life and resurrection.”

Storytelling, crafts and Godly Play activities are now live on YouTube thanks to the Revd Nicola Hulks of St Barnabas Church in Thatcham.

Nicola would normally go into school a few times a week to lead those types of activities.
“It’s lovely to hear from the parents how excited the children are to still be able to see the faces of people who are part of their lives and to continue with the stories we were sharing, particularly as we approach Easter.”

For the congregation, a podcast has been st up. “We have quite a young congregation so this seems to have gone down well,” Nicola added.

Daffodils and candles were hand-delivered to homes in the parish of St Luke’s, Maidenhead.

The Revd Sally Lynch and a colleague recorded a service and put it on the church website. Links to hymns and the order of service had been emailed to the congregation the previous day. Afterwards, a small team delivered the daffodils,  candles and even some spare copies of Pathways to the congregation. For those with no email, a hymn book and hard copies of the resources that were emailed were also delivered.

At the Redland Parish Church, in Reading, before the lockdown, a small group of congregation members delivered contact information, a service booklet of daily prayer and a flower or posy to people in their community.

Flower bombing has taken place in Padbury, Buckinghamshire. Posies of Mothering Sunday daffodils were made by the flower ladies and delivered, with a ‘hello’ postcard to everyone in the villages.

“We have already had so man positive comments and thanks,” says the Revd Ros Roberts, Vicar of Padbury and Rector of the Lenborough Benefice. Ros has also made her first two Facebook videos.

“We have set up three Covid 19 village support and co-ordinators groups and are involved with the group in another village. We have no wifi in our churches, so we are trying to film the service and post them online.”

Coffee and Conversation at St Mary’s, Wheatley has been changed to Coffee and Conversation online.  The church is hoping to hold this event daily.

Sunday’s service will be done over the online Zoom platform.  “This means we can join together in real-time and share the words, rather than ‘watching’ a live stream from some distant church, isolated from our community. We plan to manage music by muting all except the Director of Music and her husband, and encouraging people to sing along at home – the time lag makes it impossible to sing together online. It won’t be as slick as a live stream, but we hope it will feel more like home,” says Alexandra Hewitt, LLM and Director of Music.

At St Denys’ Church, Stanford in the Vale, the Revd Paul Eddy says: “…can we use these months where we don’t spend time and energy on ourselves as ‘church’ in giving, loving, serving, caring, praying and sharing our faith in these new and unprecedented times?”

The church is not offering a separate neighbourhood care scheme but is joining in the Stanford 20 Helpers initiative. Residents will have received a card with a telephone number of a person who can help with shopping and collecting medications for those who are self-isolating.

St Denys will be open from 10am – 5pm for private prayer, stillness and reflection. A Friday Fellowship News will be sent out each week, and homegroups will continue to meet where possible using Whatsapp, Zoom or Skype.

Contact groups for those not in a homegroup are being offered. These are groups of around eight people who share contact details so they can pray, share and care for each other to alleviate isolation.

The church has set up a separate prayer@stdenys.org which we’d like to make available to the whole parish so they can email prayer requests.  Paul will be praying through the list at noon everyday.

As there will not be a physical cash collection the PCC is suggesting people set up standing orders for to ensure a continued income for the church.

In a letter to parishioners, Paul said: “In future weeks, we shall be providing you with a series of links and resources to all sorts of churches and Christian media outlets which you may wish to access over the coming months from home  You are very much in my thoughts and prayers every day. Do pray for me, as I pray for you, and the rest of the parish.”

Online reflections on the Morning Prayer lectionary readings are being produced by the team at St Nicholas Church in Marston, Oxford.

Curate, the Revd Andy Gosler and LLM, Joel Denno are producing audio and pdf versions which will be posted on the church website.

“They are a way of keeping in touch with our congregations while we cannot meet with them, and they are designed to be an encouragement to those people in the community who are feeling lonely during this enforced period of isolation,” says Joel.

At St Peter’s, Earley, the Revds Philip and Hannah Hobday have contacted the 344 people in their database by email, phone or letter.

They will be sending a weekly email with links to sermons and ways people can help. Trained pastoral visitors will be offering a weekly phone call to everyone on the electoral roll. The Hobday’s have opened a Youtube channel and are sharing their videos on the parish Facebook page. One of the videos has had more than 1,200 views. These include a regular thought for the day, a Sunday sermon and in due course longer talks/Bible studies.

They are also working with Earley St Peter’s CofE School to produce a thought for the day for the staff briefing and a weekly YouTube school assembly that children can watch at home.

The first-ever live stream Eucharist from St Mary’s, Kidlington took place this week.

The services will now be streamed every Sunday and Wednesday. The Revd Canon Felicity Scroggie and the Revd Martin Davis will conduct the services. The only other person in the church will be the camera operator.

Felicity says: “We have started a daily practice of stopping what we are doing as close to 10am as we can and saying the Lord’s Prayer. I will live stream my 10am simple prayer as much as I can and use hopeful images, perhaps from the church, or the stunning magnolia tree outside the church, which is bursting into life more and more each day.”

“We are organising a team of phone callers who will each keep contact with five people, and I have a load of volunteers willing to do shopping.”

But Felicity says people in the parish are organised. “I am encouraging people to write reflections, sermons, anything they like really, we can put that on the website. It doesn’t have to be clergy writing thoughts, or indeed clergy live streaming their prayers. Let’s be more creative and encourage lots of people to write, paint, photograph, live stream etc,” she added.

We are having to re-learn how to share the “love and light of Christ in Micklefield and Marsh” in new ways,” say the team at St Peter and St Anne’s in High Wycombe.

“Our website is now updated – it may not be beautiful and slick, but it’s our expression of how we offer love, prayer, help and hope, says the Revd Wendy Bull.

Curate, the Revd Natalie Worsfold, had her first go at live-streaming on Facebook as a way of reaching the community.

“Parish visiting is very different now,” says Natalie. Yesterday I visited one of our congregation who is self-isolating, as am I, so we stood two metres away chatting and praying. It was a lovely time and very poignant.”

The historic St Michael at the Northgate in Central Oxford has a poster stating ‘We are open’.

For light relief, it goes on to say: “As we were during the Black Death of 1348, the Great Plague of 1665 and various other crises.”

Like many other parishes, the church will be open from 10.30am – 5pm daily, with people invited in to pray, read, rest and reflect. (While respecting the ‘social distancing’ guidance.)

In Burchett’s Green, PCC member Jane Smith is exploring how technology can help the parish keep going.

“We are exploring the set up of Video conferencing – so that our churchwardens can stay connected, says Jane.

“If this proves successful, we will broaden this out across the PCC and Maybe into providing support and ministry to parishioners. This will help address loneliness and isolation – especially for our older members.

“Our aim – to stay relevant and keep going,”

In the Witney Benefice, ten members of the ministry team have a daily meeting using the Zoom video conferencing tool.

They are also using Teams in Office 365 for remote working. A Deanery Chapter meeting will take place next week through Zoom, as will worship at 10.30am on Sunday. One of the organists has an organ at home and will be leading a hymn and piece a reflective piece of Bach’s music.

The ministry team have divided up the people on their contact base, so they can be in touch with everyone, wherever possible using a screen.

“We are offering a daily thought for the day with familiar voices from the ministry team, and our regular bulletin will become weekly with a message from me,” says the Revd Canon Toby Wright, the Team Rector. “We are planning to develop online teaching resources which people can come together in a virtual house group, but that is a bit slower.”

The team is hoping to provide children’s/family resources and post regular sermons.

“Our Twitter presence has leapt exponentially, and we have done more in the last 36 hours to develop our online presence than in my last ten years,” added Toby.

In Steventon, the church has set up a Facebook page.

The pages has been initiated by church members, to offer help and support to everyone .”It’s good to reach out to one another,” says Hilary Otterburn, church warden.

“People who don’t normally come to church are keen to work with us,” says the Revd Andrew Lightbown, Rector of the Winslow Benefice.

“We don’t need to come up with each and every idea ourselves, but we do need to pay heed to where God is already ahead of us in mission,” he says.

Individuals and organisations have approached the church to offer to help upscale its small food cupboard scheme. And Andrew says the church team are committed to maintaining a prayerful and pastoral presence.

“The fact that the church is being kept open and that we will be saying morning and afternoon prayer every day is deeply appreciated.

“So although its tough – and I feel so sad for the bereaved and wedding couples in particular – we can serve through acts of loving service with, and alongside, other people of goodwill.”

At Buckingham Parish Church the mid-week communion, which usually has a congregation of around 25 people, was streamed.

It was a ‘clergy only’ service in church, with around 14 people watching online.

A new Worship at Home section has been added to the St Mary’s, Banbury website.

It includes a home service and a short reflection on the gospel reading.

“We have taken off the current calendar of events and services just to make it feel a bit better.  I wanted to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t,” says Stephen Birch, the churchwarden.

An organist, who was feeling flat about not being able to play during services, has been asked to play gentle, reflective music when the church is open for prayer.

“It keeps his hand in, keeps the organ in use, plus hopefully will be a little bit of normal for those that do come in, says Stephen. He added that other organists may want to do something similar during the hours their churches are open.

Other measures at St Mary’s are:

  1. Keep doors open while the church is open, weather permitting.
  2. Direct people to wash their hands on arrival into the church.
  3. Use a dedicated toilet for handwashing only. Keep the doors open to these toilets, so people don’t have to touch them.
  4. Maintain social distance.
  5. For those volunteering the same person should switch the lights off as switched them on. If making drinks while volunteering the same person should do this.
  6. Consider how many lights to put on. Lowering the light levels might make the church feel calmer.  We need to consider where we can save money too.
  7.  Open alternate pew doors and leave them open, so people don’t have to touch them, or pews, but alternate which ones are used on different days.
  8. Consider the volunteers that are opening the church – keep people in the same teams.  Mixing teams can exacerbate the spread of the virus.

All Saints’ High Wycombe is open from 10am to noon for prayer and to allow people to light a candle.

The church is also:

  • Establishing phone/online groups for mutual support
  • Working with community organisations to establish what the need is and co-ordinate volunteers
  • Streaming online Evening Prayer each day at 5pm on our Facebook page. They hope to stream a private service from the church on Sunday.

A ‘Keep in Touch’ letter is being sent to parishioners in the Cumnor parish, near Oxford.

It states: “This has been written to help you find a spiritual rhythm to your day, and to explore your home as a sacred place where you can meet with God.

“Home can also become a place that strengthens your links with friends, family and community. Self-isolation does not have to mean solitude. There are many ways to keep in touch; such as phone calls, letters, emails, text messages, or online chat. Prayer also links us together in the deeper fellowship of Christ.”

The note includes making meals a spiritual experience, praying before eating and reflecting on the times Jesus ate with his disciples.

Other suggestions are:

  • Watch or listen to online, television or radio church services.
  • Get into a daily rhythm of prayer, possibly using the Church of England’s app.
  • Use a pinboard as an aid to prayer with photos, letters and request
  • Pray with friends via online chat
  • Create a pilgrimage trail in your home
  • Each day put aside time for more in-depth reading and exploring – someone’s testimony, poetry or thoughts on a spiritual subject. Study and dwell on the Bible
  • Keep a spiritual journal – or possibly an online blog
  • If you have a garden or houseplants, spend time tending them.

Make a hot drink and enjoy a ‘virtual’ coffee. Photo: Shutterstock

Fr Richard Lamey at St Paul’s, Wokingham, shared these top tips:

  1. Deliver a box of chocolates to your local GP Surgery to thank the staff for their commitment and to offer prayers.
  2. Hand in a poster or leaflet to every nursing home to say that, even though you can’t come in, you are thinking of them.
  3. Talk to your schools and tell the headteacher you are praying for them. Schools are under massive pressure at the moment and it is going to get harder and harder to stay open as more and more staff and pupils fall ill.
  4. Ring the bell every time you open or lock your church and pray for the parish. And tell the world that that is what the bell means.
  5. For Mothering Sunday, leave the daffodils or flowers in a bucket outside church and invite everyone coming past to take one and either take it home, or put it on their family grave.
  6. For those who are at home, remember that structure and routine are going to be essential to wellbeing. On a sheet of paper write down the main things you would normally be doing. Then find a way of doing something as similar to that as you can at the same time:
  • If you would normally have coffee with people then make a coffee and call one of them.
  • If you normally do a weekly walk then get out of the house for that hour, even if is only onto your own doorstep or garden, or further if you can.
  • If you would normally be at choir then all of the choir could listen to the same piece of music at the same time and then talk to each other afterwards. Something like Zoom might facilitate that conversation as long as no one is left out.

Could you hand out daffodils to passers-by, or leave some in a prominent place for people to take home? Photo: Shutterstock

It’s traditional for churches to hand out daffodils to mums on Mothering Sunday.

So, without a traditional public gathering this year, volunteers in the Watling Valley will be handing out the yellow flowers to passers-by as the church is on a busy walking route.

People are also about to be invited to tie a ribbon or other decorative item on a designated tree in the churchyard as a symbol of hope in difficult times. They are also using digital tech to stream reflections and are making plans for practical help for people in need.

A ‘virtual church’ has already delivered two e-services at St Michael’s, Horton and St Andrew’s, Wraysbury.

Worshippers go online via the two churches’ Facebook pages or the Whatsapp group. The Revd Colin Gibson shares reflections from his study, reads a Bible passage and leads brief prayers. He recommends worship music to complement the reflections.

As not everyone is on the internet, the churches are setting up a Corona Telephone Support System. “We have some volunteers to each ring a small number of our more vulnerable members on a regular basis and are seeking to identify more: and especially to make sure that no-one who is isolated or at risk gets missed out,” says Colin Some people are also committing to pray every day at noon.

“In itself the act of joining together in prayer reminds us that we are one body even when we are separated physically.

“We are encouraging more people to join us in this way,” added Colin.

St Aldate’s live-streamed two services last Sunday and had a good response.

Another service will be streamed this Sunday from behind closed doors. The church team will be sending out a podcast/thought for the day from Friday.

In a pastoral letter, The Revd Canon Charlie Cleverly, the Rector, and his wife, Anita, encouraged the congregation to get ready.

“I think this readiness is an urgent, loving Lenten calling to living clean and clearly before God… and helping others also to do so,” they said.

They called on people to ‘get set’ through regular prayer. “If public gatherings were not being curtailed, we would be calling you together. As it is let us at home seek the face of God at this time.

“In this season when many routines are interrupted, we encourage you all to adopt the practice of Morning, Noon and Night Prayer – as a kind of trellis or lattice to grow in this season where many old structures and work habits have been lost. We will speak more of this in our daily ‘Thought for the Day’.”

Finally, they encouraged people to ‘Go!’ “I believe this is a call to us all to go with the bread of life, food for the housebound and spiritual food, comfort and care for others in this extremely significant moment of history. Oxford at the time of writing has the most densely grouped cases of Corona. Many are anxious. It has been said that we live among the ‘worried well’ of Oxford. But it is sadly likely that more will suffer and some may die. At this time, we hold on to the word of life.”

St Nicholas and St Mary’s Church, Littlemore. Photo Benjamin H Johnson

Sunday services and other social activities including a regular Community Breakfast are suspended.

But the team in Littlemore are still available for their community.

In a Facebook post, curate, the Revd Hannah Cartwright urged people to get in touch if they were aware of anyone who is struggling or lonely. They encouraged people to support those needing practical help by joining the Oxford Hub.

And everyone is encouraged to say morning prayer at around 8am every day by clicking here.

“Social distancing”, while entirely necessary, isn’t good for us in the long-term and isn’t very easy for many Christians to do,” say the leadership team at Holy Trinity Prestwood.

They are urging everyone not to take risks and have devised a community response, a pastoral response and worship and prayer resources to help their congregation through these uncertain times.

The community response aims to encourage Christians to use their resources to support others in the village. It suggests joining a group if one is operating in your street via the Covid Mutual Aid website.
It calls on people to be clear about who and how you are helping to ensure consistent grocery and medical supplies for the vulnerable. It’s also essential to check how shopping is going to be paid for and to stay safe. They have included safeguarding advice. 
They have noted the importance of being aware of who may be slipping through the net, especially if they are not online. And of course, they encourage everyone to stay social, and keep communicating, maybe by setting up a Whatsapp or Facebook group.
The pastoral response is being continually updated. A dedicated team will be phoning everyone to assess the level of need and raise awareness of how the church is supporting people. It will receive prayer requests and keep an ‘at risk’ register of people in need of practical support.
Specific prayers for those who are unwell, for those in isolation, for those who are worried and for medics and medical researchers are on the website.

In the United Benfice of Steeple Aston with North Aston and Tackley, in Oxfordshire, the Revd Marcus Green is providing Worship at Home, via YouTube.

In Wytham, on the outskirts of Oxford the decision has been made not to run services.

But the church will be open during normal service times. “People will be able to come in and pray,” says the Revd Charles Draper.

“We are not using the language of being closed. We are open – just being quiet.”

After reading the letter from Bishop Steven, Fr Jeremy Harris, from All Saints’ Boyne Hill, Maidenhead has shared what his church is doing to respond to the coronavirus.

1. We sent all members of the electoral roll a newsletter explaining the situation and what we would be doing. This included excellent advice from a parish in France, the archbishops of the Church of England and our own Bishop Olivia to stay calm. For this letter, please look at All Saints Church website in Maidenhead.
2. At our Eucharist, we challenged people to notice who was missing. We encouraged them to phone absentees to support them.
3. We asked people to shop responsibly so that shop staff can manage, that people delivering food can cope and that the vulnerable and needy get the chance to have food and resources too.
4. Our Pastoral Care team have listed our vulnerable people and allocated someone to be responsible for two to eight people to keep in contact socially via the phone, to check they are okay for food and medical supplies. We have realised that some of our helpers are 70 plus or have underlying health issues, so we are seeking younger members of our church community to help with this. Even if these people are not regular church members they are keen to help. Note the warning from the police not to use people that you do not know.
5. We have contacted our wider community such as the nuns at Burnham Abbey and our Royal British Legion members to make sure that they are okay and should they need help to contact us.
6. We are going to start sending out a weekly newsletter to update people with news and to give prayer material and links to helpful insights.
7. I am going to put sermons on our website to help people sleep!
8. If we can’t hold public services, I am intending to open All Saints for private prayer at least on Sundays from 9am- 12noon. We hope to do this during the week too.

The hOME community, an Anglican fresh expression based in East Oxford, is aware of how this rapid change to our way of life can be unsettling.

Following a meeting of the Guardians and Trustees of the hOME charitable foundation, Graham Conway-Doel, hOME’s pastor, said:

“For many people, a rapid and sudden change to our way of life can be unsettling.

“However, just like Lent, this change is going to be temporary and will challenge the way we think and the way we act. For hOME, as a group, it challenges us to think about how we can be uniquely hOME and express our creativity in new ways.”

Instead of meeting in St Alban’s Church, the hOME services are now held over Zoom each Sunday.  The community is also meeting on Zoom for Morning Prayer from the Northumbria Community at 8am every weekday.

The regular prayer list is updated weekly with everyone being encouraged to share how they are doing and to ask for support if they need to connect with others.

The hOME Guardians and Trustees have also suggested playing online games, like Scrabble, arrange a virtual coffee with friends and help one another to maintain a daily routine.

The St Michael’s Church Community Food Cupboard

Another simple idea that might help as supermarkets struggle to re-stock their shelves might be an accessible food cupboard.

It may help people in need without them having to make contact with others. Last month we ran a story of how St Michael’s, Horton, has done just that.