A SON’s online plea for prayer as his father, a priest, lay critically ill on a Covid-19 ward has been viewed more than 10,000 times.
Tom Holmes’s Easter message about his father, the Revd Peter Holmes, the Vicar of St Peter’s, Norbiton, in south London, for 27 years, was picked up by the national press. Less than a fortnight later, on 25 April, Mr Holmes died (News, 1 May). An appeal launched in his memory for restoration work at the church, from which he was to retire later this year, hit its £5000 target within hours.
In his message, Tom Holmes recalled how his father would normally have led Easter services, then hosted the family for celebrations, with a roast meal and an egg hunt in the garden. “This year, he is on a ventilator in intensive care. Our family is physically separated; NHS staff across the country are pulling out all the stops to fight the virus.
“If you believe that God listens to our prayer, or even if you don’t, do what you can and pray. Pray for the lonely, pray for those who have lost loved ones, pray for those who are struggling to make ends meet, pray for resilience for NHS staff, and pray for us — my Dad and our family.”
He then quoted Romans 5: “We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out ”
After Mr Holmes’s death, a close family friend, the Revd Robert Stanier, Vicar of Surbiton, and Area Dean of Kingston, the deanery of which Norbiton is a part, urged people to fulfil Mr Holmes’s vision for his church and complete its restoration. The next day, more than 150 people had pledged £6000. “He had a remarkable ministry, especially working with homeless people,” Mr Stanier said.
In Liverpool, the community of All Saints’, Kensington, are mourning the death from Covid-19 of their churchwarden Bob Corrin, who was 68. He was a school-attendance officer and governor, a Sunday-school teacher, and a Boys’ Brigade captain. His offer to pray for others is still on the church noticeboard.
The Vicar of All Saints’, the Revd Michael Coates, said: “He was such a lovely, gentle man . . . someone I called a friend, and he was a friend to many in this community. It’s a loss that I’m trying to wrestle with. It’s essential throughout this journey that we relate this to individual people, because Bob’s story will be mirrored across the country where people are quite viciously dragged out of their communities by Covid-19, and will be hugely missed by families who will be devastated.”
One Covid-19 survivor returned home on Thursday of last week, after spending 34 days in hospital. Clare Trueman, whose son, Charlie, aged 13, is a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, spent 26 days in intensive care; for six of these days, she was in an induced coma, and had to have a tracheotomy.
Charlie and his father, Brian, charted her progress daily on Facebook, gathering support around the world, including a link with Charlie’s hero, the singer and presenter Aled Jones.
Clare Trueman said; “He’s a huge Aled Jones fan; so I know that will have helped him a lot. It’s overwhelming to hear about the love and support my family have received during my time in hospital. It will have really helped them during this scary time.”
Daniel SmithChichester Cathedral turned blue for the first time on Thursday of last week, thanks to the support of the Chichester Festival Theatre. The Dean, the Very Revd Stephen Waine, looks on
A website launched by a priest to help people to connect with the Christian faith and to find hope during the pandemic has received more than 16,000 individual page-views from almost 6000 visitors in just two weeks. The Assistant Curate of Winklebury and Worting, in Basingstoke, the Revd Tim Dennis, recruited clergy and lay people from different church backgrounds to write for the site lookforhope.org.
“The website offers thoughtful blogs and videos which offer hope and wisdom to everyone finding this period difficult,” he said. “I’ve been astounded by the response. It shows that people are desperate for a message of hope that’s relevant to the struggles they are going through.”
In a similar move, the charities World Vision and Alpha International have launched Church Leaders Café, hosted on Zoom, to enable them to talk about their experiences of the crisis, to provide support, and to suggest resilience strategies for their churches.
World Vision’s UK CEO, Mark Sheard, said: “Church leaders are typically the go-to person for the congregation in times of crisis. Most would not have received any training on how to lead through a pandemic such as Covid-19, and so having an opportunity to share experiences, listen, and learn from one another is hugely valuable.”
Quakers in Britain have called on the Prime Minister to ensure that no one is left without enough income to live on during the pandemic. In an open letter, they back the New Economics Foundation’s proposal for a temporary minimum income guarantee, which would be unconditional and not means-tested at the point of access.
The head of witness and worship for Quakers in Britain, Oliver Robertson, said: “The State must use its resources to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met, particularly in such a time of crisis. The money already pledged by the Government during the pandemic shows that this can be done; so we must speak up for the people who are still falling through the gaps in the safety net.”
Ecclesiastical Insurance has joined more than 250 firms globally to sign the Covid-19 Business Pledge. Launched by the former Cabinet Minister Justine Greening, and the entrepreneur David Harrison, the pledge commits businesses to tackling coronavirus in three areas: for their employees, their customers, and their communities. It targets the issues faced during recovery as well as the immediate challenges of the virus.
The CEO of Ecclesiastical, Mark Hews, said: “As a business with a purpose to give all available profits to good causes, we wholeheartedly support the aims of the C-19 Business Pledge initiative in galvanising the business community to do the right thing at this challenging time. It is vital that we support our customers, communities, and employees so that we can come through this together.”
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has called for reforms in Gift Aid to ease the coronavirus burden on charities. During an online Lords debate on Thursday of last week, he asked whether the Treasury would consider “a simple mechanism based on raising the amount of Gift Aid that charities can claim back. . . It is an excellent form of match funding, and would be relatively simple to administer.”
He has also tentatively backed proposals for more shopping time on Sundays to boost the economy and to allow more time for key workers to shop. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “We must all think about innovative and flexible ways to protect our local economies,” but he warned that any proposal must provide safeguards for workers, including an opt-out for those who wanted a day of rest on Sundays.
Micah Liverpool, the social-justice charity based at Liverpool Cathedral, has reported a 40-per-cent increase in demand at its foodbanks since the lockdown. Its executive director, Paul O’Brien, said: “We are noticing now that there are people who were self-employed and have lost their jobs who have made claims for Universal Credit, but are seeing a five-week wait for their benefits.”
The west end of St Albans Cathedral has also been floodlit and its bells rung on Thursday evenings
The Salvation Army has urged the Government to replace Universal Credit advance-payment loans with grants. Its Secretary for Mission, Lt. Col. Drew McCombe, said: “These loans are offered to people who need to bridge the gap while they wait for their first payment, but the loans are forcing them straight into debt. With so many people who may never have claimed benefits before now claiming Universal Credit and going hungry, we are again calling on the Government to fix this.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has supported an online “blessing” in song by people from more than 65 churches of different denominations. Writing on Facebook, he said: “We are separated in a way we’ve not experienced before, but the unity we find in Christ brings us together in extraordinary ways.” The “UK Blessing” was viewed almost 800,000 times in the first 24 hours.
One bell-ringer who, like others, currently has no access to a tower to ring in has come up with an alternative: Adrian Whatmore, a former NHS worker, is using a bell-ringing simulator program on his laptop and an amplifier to broadcast the sound of bells from his garden in Pitminster, Somerset, each Thursday evening during the weekly clap for NHS and other key workers.
He said: “While it will never replace the comradeship and exercise afforded by proper church bell-ringing, I’m using the simulator to practise my method ringing ready for when I can meet up again with my colleagues and friends in the Taunton branch of the Bath & Wells Association of Change Ringers.”
Ripon Cathedral has launched a project, “Wing and a Prayer”, to boost funds for frontline workers with the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA). Donors can request online that a prayer be printed on a paper angel as part of an art installation in the cathedral nave. The YAA’s director of fund-raising, Helen Callear, said: “With event cancellations and fund-raising activities on hold, the YAA need all the support we can get to keep our helicopters in the air and saving lives across the region.”
The 55,000 members of the Mothers’ Union in the UK and Ireland are making thousands of essential items for the health services, including scrubs, ear protectors, scrub bags, masks, and mask straps.
The York diocesan MU vice-president Hilary Castle said: “Because we use craft in many of our community projects throughout the year, most of our members have sewing machines and equipment. Where materials are available, it is being ordered and delivered, and donations are coming in from the community. We have fewer pillow cases and sheets in the houses of our members right now.”
Members in Dorset and Wiltshire have also sourced sewing machines for prison inmates to make scrubs; and, in south Wales, members have knitted woollen hearts for coronavirus wards. The Llandaff diocesan president, Sue Rivers, said: “Hospital staff are trying to ease the pain of separation. Matching pairs of knitted hearts are given to the patient and their family, so that people can feel more connected with their relatives. Knowing that their relative has the exact matching heart with them during the last hours of their life is incredibly special, and it helps people to process their grief.”
At Exeter Cathedral, volunteers who usually work on vestments and kneelers are making scrubs for the NHS. Sally Hulin, of the Company of Tapisers, said: ‘It has been really nice to receive such an enthusiastic response from fellow needleworkers, all willing to step in and help meet this urgent need. Our biggest struggle is sourcing suitable fabric; we are now requesting materials from as far away as Bradford.”
Comment: Facebook is boosting numbers, says priest
ON EASTER Day last year, our church, St Mary’s, Nantwich, held six services, with a total attendance of 577. On Easter Day this year, its four online services had a combined “reach” of more than 6000. Have we discovered the secret of “numerical growth”, for which the Church of England has been searching in recent years?
We used Facebook Live, which, helpfully, allows you to dig into the data. The 6 a.m. dawn service was the most popular, at which the Paschal candle was lit, reaching 3500 people. Only 43 watched live, but this compares with an attendance of 39 last year.
Viewing took off after the event, and, for this service, it may have had something to do with the primal attraction of a bonfire and the dawn chorus. It has also helped that the Rectory is next door to the church; so, for many of our services, it is possible to have the lovely octagonal tower in the background, and the bells marking the start of the service. We still need the building.
“Reach” is a measure of the number of people who saw the videos, and it is flattering. But we are brought down to earth by the average viewing time: for services that lasted about 25 minutes, the average viewing time was one minute.
When people lose interest in what is on a screen, they change the content, whereas we don’t measure how long people zone out in a church service. Even so, it’s clear that many of the 6000 are the equivalent of people who put their heads inside the church door for a quick look.
If we are allowing more people to do that, it’s worth while continuing to live-stream some services when we’re back in church. That would also benefit people who can’t make it to church. And imagine the viewing figures at Christmas, when our church attendance is nearly four times that at Easter.
In addition to the services, the worship band and choir are producing videos, reaching typically a thousand or more people each. The songs were readily available online, anyway, but what attracts viewers to our musicians and services is the connection with local and familiar people and places.
The Church is a body, and it is yearning for physical presence. That loss is measured by another statistical comparison: Easter communicants, 383 in 2019; zero in 2020.
The Revd Dr Mark Hart is Rector of St Mary’s, Nantwich, in Chester diocese.