Using life-giving symbolism and creative ways of staying connected, Margaret River Uniting Church, like many congregations at the moment, are finding new ways to be church during the COVID-19 crisis.
With churches not able to physically meet, not only Sunday worship has been affected, but pastoral care systems have also been reviewed. Margaret River Uniting Church is working as a team to make sure no-one falls through the cracks – with a ‘buddy system’.
The buddy system has been used the world over to support people through all sorts of challenges, from kids starting out at school to potentially dangerous situations like rock climbing or hiking.
Pairing people up so they can help each other out, look out for each other and offer encouragement is an effective way to remind us that we’re all in this together.
Kay Dowling, Chair of the Margaret River Uniting Church Council, said the Buddy System they’ve set up is for everyone in their church, including people who may not come to Sunday morning worship regularly but who are connected in other ways.
“Each person is assigned a buddy and we’ve got about ten people being those buddies,” she said. “We’ve also considered couples; we haven’t necessarily given couples the same buddy.
“The idea is that they just ring up and say ‘hi, how’re you going?’ and ‘how’re you managing?’ and try and see what needs are coming through.”
Where more pastoral care is needed – to people who may be unwell, have family or friends who are affected by the virus, or for any other pastoral care issues which come up during this time of physical distancing – chaplaincy will be offered.
Kay said that while the congregation is lucky to have some members who are retired ministers, it doesn’t have to be a minister who offers the chaplaincy, but it needs to be someone who is able to attend to serious pastoral matters.
For personal reflections, an email prayer chain has been established by Muriel White, a member of Margaret River Uniting Church. The prayer chain will aim to share uplifting prayers and has attracted some people from the community who don’t come to church on a Sunday, but who want to be connected in prayer. If you’d like to join the list, email Muriel firstname.lastname@example.org.
The congregation are also offering online and hardcopy worship resources. Online, Rev Don Dowling, member of the congregation and also a retired Uniting Church WA Minister, is preparing short video devotions, including hymns with footage of their pianist. The videos, as well as video resources for Easter, can be found here.
Finally, a hard-copy letter was sent to members and others who have a connection with the church, inviting them to join them in lighting a Christ candle in their homes each Sunday, and to take part in the worship resources.
The candle, Kay said, is an important routine for them to keep, as it is a life-giving symbol for the congregation.
“It’s really important to have symbols and for us, as Christian people, [the Christ candle] is our key symbol – and the cross of course,” Kay said.
“When people get really anxious or terrified, they actually need to remind themselves who they are. And that can be really basic.
“For us, the Christ candle is the life-giving symbol.”
Kay said the church in Margaret River has an important role to play in providing stability in a time of uncertainty.
“We’re attending to current needs and we also want to take a long view,” Kay said. “Because one day the virus impacting our lives will be over, and we want to be able to do our part to be in the community growing strong together again.
“The actual virus itself is very serious. We have a really great impact on all families and all people who live alone and that that impact is in so many different ways. We’re in unprecedented times and it has an overwhelming uncertainty to it.
“When there’s a lot of fear and terror – which we’re seeing all around us every day – finding ways to be grounded is really important.
“I hope the things we’re doing will give the opportunity for some grounded-ness within that uncertainty.”