Churches find ways to connect digitally during COVID-19

April 2, 2020

With new social distancing measure being written into law, churches are turning to technology to the hold sermons and reach parishioners.

Reverend Jean Bell of the Uniting Church in Inverell has been adapting her services to the new social distancing and self-isolation rules, using technology where possible to still connect with her parishioners.  Using conference calls, livestreaming, and Facebook groups, the reverend is determined to stay as connected as much as possible.

On the morning of this interview, Reverend Bell was due to attend a funeral…that was being livestreamed, because right now “It’s the closet you can get to honouring their life”.

Reverend Bell, who also holds the services for Bingara, has admitted it’s a challenge for some members of the community, especially older members of her congregation, and especially in these uncertain times.  “For them, our services are life-giving, and life-connecting.”

“We had our service in Bingara over the phone,” Reverend Bell said, “And our Inverell service was live-streamed.  We’ll use Zoom, once more people get the app. A lot little groups, like Bible Study, will happen over Zoom.”

It’s been particularly difficult for one Inverell parishioner suffering from dementia, who walks in every Sunday to church, and simply doesn’t know anything else.  “We could never not open the door to her – she needs the routine. That’s all she’s known, The only way she could join in on a livestream is if someone came over and used their own phone to show her.  She doesn’t know how to operate technology, and with a conference call, too many people on the phone would be confusing to her.”

Reverend Bell states that it’s those at the edges of society who will be the most vulnerable in this period of extreme social distancing and self-isolation, and that it’s important not to forget them.

“I think the mental health people are really going to need to step up after this,” she says.  But, despite the times, Reverend Bell has found a silver lining in all this.  For one, overall, she’s found that more and more people are communicating and checking up on one another, more than they were in the days before the pandemic.

People are learning, she says, that’s it’s not about “me looking after me, and you looking after you – it’s about pulling together.”  And she admits it’s making her and her flock “be more creative.  If we’re going to be loving one another in the name of Jesus, then we’ve got to find ways to do it so no one is left behind.”

With Easter, the highlight of the Church’s calendar, rapidly approaching, Reverend Bell is reminded of one Easter’s key messages.  “Easter is about bringing peace in the time of turmoil, and about loving your neighbour.”

And with social distancing, self-isolation, and the closure of in-church services for the foreseeable future, Reverend Bell adds: “And loving your neighbour is all about keeping them safe – and that includes making sure they don’t get the virus.”