What is happening in your parish or context during the Covid-19 pandemic

2nd September 2020

At the Bishop’s Council meeting in June, we received four short presentations on new and different things that people are seeing happening in their parish or context during the Covid-19 pandemic and where they are being inspired. The summaries of these are:

Fr Douglas Machiridza reported as Area Dean of Handsworth & Central. He is seeing a more consolidated effort of working together by both clergy and congregations, as well as greater engagement with issues that affect us more than at any other time. Colleagues feel very comforted by hearing one another and sharing their experiences of ministry at this time and in this period of uncertainty. Fr Douglas has been impressed by the way the lay and clergy in the deanery have embraced social media, and particularly by how each church has worked out the most appropriate medium for their context within a short period of time. Some churches are using online tools such as YouTube and Zoom, while others are using a telephone system and others feel online services are not appropriate for their context. It is wonderful to see how a mixed ecology of church is being utilised within and around the deanery by both lay and ordained leaders during this time. 

Sarah Hayes is vicar of St Germain’s church, Edgbaston, an urban area with a high level of other faith communities. The church has been focussed on what is God doing and how can the church join in especially on what is happening within its own local community. Living outside of the church walls without the burden of a building has brought some wonderful opportunities. Resourcing is critical and over-planning can dissipate energy in the wrong directions.  The Black Lives Matter weekend has been very important and has changed conversations within the church and community, enabling people to be more honest and articulate. More church members have come forward to participate in different types of activity. The Black Lives Matter conversations came within the context of a food distribution programme that had been started for about 20 isolated members of congregation. The church now provides around 3,000 days’ worth of food to the local community per week. This programme has highlighted the depth of deprivation and need within the local community.

Fr Barrie Scott, vicar of St John’s Perry Barr reported that a key question for their church has been “how to be church when not using the building?”. It has been a wonderful revelation for many people to discover that they are just as much church, connected and in communion with one another despite not being able to meet together. This is a hugely sacramental parish centred on the Eucharist, so not being able to receive Communion was a spiritual dilemma. The parish has learnt together that the effect and efficacy of the Eucharist does not depend on the frequency with which it is received, nor by the immediacy of the last time it was received. Being in lockdown has made the church more aware of the eternal. It has also made the church aware of what it misses in terms of the physicality of being together but there is an awareness that this is a temporary period. There is a sense of excitement that beyond this time there will be more rather than less and a knowledge that things which the church has done have enhanced what it already did prior to Covid-19.

Fred Rattley, Director of Community Regeneration reported that the majority of his time is spent outside of church buildings, out in the community. His question throughout this period has been what will be the story that people outside of the church tell about Christians during Covid-19?. He has visited a number of churches offering emergency food provision, and it should be celebrated that churches were kept open for food provision as it has meant that churches are still visible. Fred suggested that Covid-19 has been a time where the ‘big’ no longer works. Rather than one big ship, a flotilla of little boats has helped people to keep going at a local level. While these smaller initiatives are often very fragile the CofE Birmingham should celebrate that our churches have played a part in the small and the local. This response helped to generate the Feed Birmingham campaign which has connected the CofE Birmingham into the citywide strategic responses around Covid-19 for those most impacted by the pandemic.  It’s expected that there will be a huge rise in unemployment and the n umber of people in need of support will continue to grow. Seeing the work done by people around the diocese in terms of mental health support, feeding those in need and enabling people has been very encouraging. Fred reported one story of a large church that stopped worship services and set up a food response in their neighbourhood which has been fantastically effective and brought new relationships. This church has said that they will not go back to the way things were before and they are now inextricably linked with the community that they are based within. This type of work is celebrating being part of a parish, with local relationships and parishes being there to serve the local community. It has been very encouraging to see the small actions by people across the diocese that are making a huge difference.