The shake-up to churches during COVID-19 lockdown has thrown ministers and leaders into a spin, as well as causing anxiety and distress to both church members, let alone the general public!
What has this meant for us as a presbytery team? Well, it’s meant a team effort.
1. Lots of team conversation
Whereas our team of three would normally connect with each other a few times a week, now we’re in constant communication on Facebook Messenger. It has kept us more in touch with each other and also in sharing information across the presbytery and wider.
2. Communicating about communicating
Our presbytery communications team is now meeting weekly to plan. We’ve co-ordinated weekly email updates to congregations, putting fresh information on our website, organising ministers’ inductions to take place over Zoom, focusing our monthly presbytery newsletter (Newsbeat) on COVID matters, discussed our Facebook page, and are now redeveloping our Presbytery website. We also set up a presbytery Youtube Channel. I also set up a national Facebook group for regional workers to discuss the situation and share thoughts and ideas and about 100 people have joined up. This has kept us in touch with the wider church.
3. Telephone Calls
We’ve made and received lots of phone calls to/from ministry agents and other leaders. Lots. The well-being and support of leaders has been a top priority.
4. Website Advice
We decided that the presbytery website needed to be the ‘go to’ place for helpful information, since there is SO MUCH out there. So we set up a dedicated section so that people could easily find official information from the Assembly, Synod and Presbytery, as well as helpful tips about worship, finance, technology, etc and a directory of online worship services in our presbytery. We’ve linked to useful stuff that we can found online but have also tried to keep things simple. Both verbal feedback from leaders and the volume of website traffic have confirmed the value of this strategy.
5. Tech and Design Advice
We’ve given a lot of advice to ministers and leaders who have wanted to start some form of online worship. This has involved phone and online chat, recommending and occasionally lending gear, helping with production tips and the aesthetics of presentation. And copyright.
6. Bi-weekly Zoom conversations
We’ve been having presbytery Zoom conversations twice a week for 5 weeks now. We started with 4 questions:
– How has your week been?
– What are you learning?
– What issues or concerns do you have?
– How can we support you?
These last three weeks we’ve changed the Friday conversation to a themed conversation. The first was on finance, the second was on running church council meetings online. This week’s topic is the don’ts and dos of the easing of restrictions on gathering, as churches are keen to gather! The regular Zoom chats have had 10 to 20 people, the treasurers’ chat about 40 people, the Church Council chat and this week’s chat about 50 each. Today’s topic is being offered again tomorrow. There has been a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces. People have found it easy to connect up without having to travel, and we’ve become more adept at managing larger groups. Most importantly, we’re gaining regular insights into what is happening and people say they feel connected to and supported by the presbytery.
We have had a very low participation rate from our CALD ministers and leaders, so we’re setting up a chat specifically to talk with them about whether this kind of support can be helpful for them too.
7. Online Learning
Due to travel restrictions, we had to cancel a couple of events with Dr Bex Lewis from Manchester, England. So instead we ran an online seminar on Digital Discipleship. Bex was fantastic. About 90 people turned up and the video has since been viewed nearly 1000 times. Because we had to scrap a bunch of face to face events, we’re moving some to online and creating some new ones.
Mental Health Awareness Training – this is a three presbytery co-operative venture that will now be done online
Sacraments for Lay Presiders (and other interested people) – this was planned but now seems particularly timely
Spirited Generosity – four online seminars on church finances based on Carolyn Kitto’s excellent resource from Mediacom
Learning to be Blended Church – an invitation to become part of a community of practice exploring what it means to be church face to face and online
There are a few other possibilities in the mix, including how we might help resource congregations for digital discipleship.
Let me say again that this has been a team effort for Anneke, Duncan and myself. We’ve been required to work together more closely and differently, and that’s been good.