A “RESOURCE for exhausted churches” has been launched by a group of clergy to help parishes to deal with the impact of Covid-19 during Advent.
Advent Online is a set of resources to be used each day by individuals and clergy. There are five topics: music, scripture, tradition, art, and literature.
“This season is very different to anything any of us have experienced,” said one of the project co-ordinators, the Revd Arwen Folkes, Rector of East Blatchington and Bishopstone, in Chichester diocese. “Advent is going to be a vacant space for many people due to the lack of plays or parties or being able to see family, and especially with there being no singing.
“We therefore wanted to create a library of resources relevant to our times. Churches are venturing into new territory in a new way, and we don’t want people to feel they have to arrange 27 days of online content by themselves.”
Ms Folkes said that Advent Online was just as much for individuals who are seeking harmony and solace during the pandemic. “The website has a whole load of sharable content. The hope is that for each day of Advent, an individual Christian could go to each page and find something that will help them reflect,” she said.
Resources on the website range from pop-up icons of the Virgin Mary and Jesus made from plasticine, and videos of artists creating “doodle meditations” on the themes of hope, joy, and peace, to antiphons.
“You wouldn’t normally put such a diverse range of things together,” said the Revd Dr Sara Batts-Neale, Chaplain to the University of Essex, who has overseen the project’s social-media activity. “Certain ideas are feasible online that wouldn’t be in person, which is a slightly less-awful aspect of life being so hard at the moment.”
The team started work on the project at the end of September. The launch, on Friday, is to allow clergy a good week to go through the resources before Advent Sunday.
The resources were collated on a Facebook group, which now has 3100 members. The Revd Emma Hopegood Jones, an Assistant Curate of Hanborough with Freeland in Oxford diocese, who compiled the music section, highlighted how the popularity of the project had encouraged people to contribute a lot of new ideas about how to meet the needs of churches in 2020 and beyond.
“My plan for the music was to find the best Advent pieces on YouTube and then provide links to them; but the contributors I gathered had bigger and better dreams and expectations. Every day will be covered by a new performance that’s specifically for Advent Online, or it has been used for something before but is an original performance. The copyright will then be released for churches to use,” she said.
“Just for the music section we now have over 1000 contributors. It’s been really exciting to feel so supported on something like this.”
Mrs Folkes, who put together the literature section, added: “The parochial boundaries have melted away, as we have lay and clergy contributors from across the world and across denominations. It’s become the sort of church you always hoped you would be a part of.”
Dr Batts-Neale said that it had also encouraged people to showcase their work who might not have done so otherwise. “It gives a sense of legitimacy to people’s work — people who haven’t published things before but have a range of things to offer as submissions,” she said. “It means they can take their first steps in sharing their own content, with a warm welcome and sense of gratitude. There will be ripples as a result for a long time.”
The Revd Dr Nicola Bown, Rector of Cottingham, in York diocese, who has compiled the art section, said that the project was not just about finding positivity but was designed to reflect the sadness felt by many people.
“We’re not just rolling stuff out with no connection to how things are now. Some of the contributions will reflect a sense of loneliness and isolation and lament, so that people will feel like we are meeting them where they are now,” she said.
Also in the team are the Revd Richard Lamey, Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, in Oxford diocese (tradition); the Revd Erin Clark, Rector of St Matthew with St James the Great, Bethnal Green (scripture); and the website is designed by the Revd Simon Douglas, Team Vicar in the Tettenhall Regis Team Ministry, in Lichfield diocese.