Mth Rose Hill, Llandaff Diocese
Social media has become a tool for mission in a way that it has never been before, says Mth Rose Hill, assistant curate in Penarth.
At the start of lockdown, I was already in self isolation. I felt very keenly the loss of interaction with my congregation and a sense of helplessness in how I might stay connected with them when so much of pastoral care is connected with physical presence.
For me personally, it wasn’t that complicated to set up. I have a high standard of social media literacy, we already had a well-established social media presence as a parish and I am fairly tech savvy so it was more a case of adapting my existing skill set rather than having to learn things from scratch. The biggest challenge for me was to take a step back - not to jump in, but to wait and evaluate in order to minister in such a way that provision would be sustainable for the next few weeks.
With this in mind I decided to use the parish’s existing social media to live-stream morning and evening prayer from my study and also to open up our Sunday school resources to support our Sunday School parents at home during lockdown.
Morning and Evening prayer has become quite popular. Although only around nine people join live, the videos remain on Facebook and many more people will often watch them afterwards. Indeed, someone in my local community, who is not a member of the church, said they were using the daily office in the background to help structure their day. Also, a local councillor used our social media presence as inspiration for his own decision to do a live feed each week for the community.
During the Easter period, Fr Mark Jones also uploaded his Holy Week services to YouTube and these were a source of comfort to many. One parishioner commented, “Watching you at evening prayer and Father Mark over Easter was a wonderful experience. It felt very personal and allowed me to be very focussed (especially as a warden I always seem to have one eye and one half of my brain checking that everything is as it should be at services). I found the Taize service especially thought provoking and spiritual.”
For Easter Sunday, I edited together a mass which incorporated smaller videos of contributions from people from around the parish. It was a bit chaotic but fun. In the days before, many of the Sunday School children received, on their doorstep, a Sunday School pack containing a little free craft activity and a card of Easter action songs to enable them to have Sunday School on Easter morning. Some of the parents remarked that it had “been lovely to still have a community and church family”. Another parent said they had used our YouTube and Facebook worship to set aside time for prayer and had found these times uplifting.
Social Media is an excellent tool. It is a breaker-down of walls and a means to greater accessibility and inclusion. For the first time, housebound people are able to attend services. People have been brought together through COVID-19 groups in communities and are living out gospel values without even realising it. It is freely available and widely available.
However, there are drawbacks. It cannot be the only means to stay in contact with congregations. It is a complement to traditional forms of communication but not a complete replacement. This may change in years to come, but at the moment there are still people who are not able to access the technology needed and so need more traditional forms of communication.
The church has a great deal to learn from this time on aspects of accessibility and inclusion. That we have developed the skillset to provide worship for people unable to get inside a physical building is awesome. We have the capability to bring God to more people than ever before from all sorts of contexts. Social media has become a tool for mission in a way that it has never been before.
As I get ready to leave my curacy parish and begin a role of first responsibility, I will certainly be looking into providing online services once lockdown lifts. We now know that it is as easy as a mobile phone on a tripod, which can be done when the church is full, as well as when it is empty.
These days are difficult and at times bleak but there are cracks of light. There are signs of life emerging all around us. We have the gift of the means to spread the love of God in ways the early apostles could only have imagined. What we must do now is use it and not let it become a wasted opportunity.