NEW Forest churches across the area have been reaching their communities in new ways after services were stopped to limit the transmission of Covid-19.
Last week the Church of England announced the immediate closure of all its churches, except those operating food banks, prompting ministers of various denominations to begin transmitting services to congregations using social media and YouTube.
Ashley Baptist minister the Rev. David John live-streamed a Sunday service from home with support from his wife Alison, and has also introduced a daily podcast for his church congregation and the wider community.
Along with other members of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, David has been offered advice on creating digital broadcasts for his congregation.
He said: “It has been a bit of a learning curve and to be honest I’m not a technology whizz but in these unusual times virtual services are a great way for the congregation to feel connected with each other.
“It has also been really wonderful to find out that people were logging in and joining the service from other parts of the UK so it was not just our normal congregation getting involved.”
David has also produced written bulletins for church members without the internet and kept in touch with older isolated members of the congregation with regular phone calls.
Ashley Baptist member Judith Adderley (83), who is self-isolating, says virtual church services can play an important part in connecting people with others and dispelling feelings of despair and loneliness.
She said: “People need to feel like they have somewhere to turn, and for many – even those who don’t attend church regularly – these virtual services can offer fellowship, hope and friendship. It is wonderful that so many churches are actively looking at ways to continue reaching out to their communities at this difficult time.”
Online services have also been bringing together the community of Hordle, says the Rev. Paul Taylor, vicar of All Saints Church.
He told the A&T: “We have received WhatsApp messages and emails from people who don’t regularly attend church on a Sunday morning to say they logged into our service and really enjoyed it.
“We have also found that it can be a great source of comfort and bring a sense of community to members of our congregation who are away with family isolating in other parts of the country.”
At Hordle a core team of church staff have been involved in contributing to the virtual services with individuals and family groups contributing prayers, bible reading and hymns.
The Rev. Paul said: “I’m not terribly techie so it has been a learning curve for me but luckily there are others in the church who are brilliant at these sort of things.
“It does feel very strange being unable to use the church – but it is also a good healthy reminder that the church is not a building, it is the people.”
Hordle has joined forces with Tiptoe Church and will broadcast a service every Sunday morning at 10am. He continued: “We have small groups within the church who meet up during the week and they have been having a great time holding Zoom meetings.
“We are also very aware that there are members of the congregation who are alone so the pastoral team have divided them up and have been phoning around regularly to check in.”
Meanwhile the Rev. Rachel Noel, vicar of St Mark’s Church in Pennington, was ahead of the curve after broadcasting her first virtual service a fortnight ago before the Church of England’s decision to shut all church buildings.
She said: “We started live streaming services whilst we were still worshipping in church so I was very pleased that I was able to test out the technology before we really needed it.”
Last Sunday around 120 people watched the live stream of the morning service which represents a four-fold increase on the usual congregation. Since then a further 350 have watched the service on YouTube.
“There are certainly people who are watching our services who, for whatever reason, are not normally with us at church on Sunday,” said the Rev. Rachel.
“If it is something that people enjoy and are benefiting from, there is no reason why we shouldn’t go on recording our services in the future.”
Those who do not have access to the internet are also able to listen to them by contacting the church for a special code.
Other local churches live streaming services include the New Life Church and Evangelical Free Church in New Milton.
The Church of England has posted further details of local live streaming churches on the website www.achurchnearyou.com/live-stream and individual churches have also posted information and links on their websites and social media channels.