Skip to main content

Church Stories

Here is a selection of instructive stories from churches that have taken worship online. We are happy to receive more and to keep updating.

Story 1: From Samantha Parsons, a Vicar in Grantham:

My congregations are small (between 15-20 people at the estate church and 6-15 people at the village church), and predominantly elderly. I don't have any young families with children so my services are quite traditional, but had recently launched a monthly Family Service for our many baptism families which was bearing good fruit.

Morning Prayer midweek

I began by recording a shortened version of Morning Prayer on my mobile phone (about 12 minutes long, 1 psalm, 1 reading, prayers focussed on coronavirus and issues arising each day) filming a candle and cross while my husband and I said Morning Prayer. Then I uploaded it onto our church Facebook page which hitherto had been very little used. I have done this every day (Monday to Saturday) since the lockdown began. I used to get 2 or 3 people joining me for Morning Prayer at church, but since I began uploading this Morning Prayer we are regularly getting between 20 and 50 households watching it. The spouse of one church member, who doesn't come to church, began listening to it and now shares it on her Facebook page every day encouraging people to pray! I have people 'liking' it who I've never heard of before as well as many of my own congregation who never used to come to Morning Prayer. People have commented how much it is helping them in these difficult times.

Sunday Service

As many of my congregation don't have access to the internet, I decided to put together a short Service of the Word which includes a confession, reading, reflection prayers and blessing on 2 A4 sheets. This gets delivered to their homes on Saturday afternoon and they are invited to join us at 10am on Sunday reading through the service. I then record the service on my phone on Saturday morning in my office and upload it onto YouTube. I tried to upload it to Facebook but discovered that the file was too big for Facebook. On Sunday morning I link the YouTube video to our church Facebook. Over half of my congregation are on email, so I email them the service sheet and Facebook and YouTube links on Saturday afternoon. This means that people who can't access Facebook can still access YouTube. I also decided to email all my baptism, wedding and funeral families to invite them to join us for worship and offer our support to them as a church. I also send them a link to a great Facebook page called 'Together at Home' for families with children in case they want something more relevant to their situation.

We have regularly been getting between 70 and 120 households watching our services which is far more than we ever get on a Sunday. Again, people who I have never heard of have been 'liking' the service. The service is watched at all times of the day on Sunday and even during the following week! People seem to like the flexibility. I decided not to use Zoom because it excluded people who don't have internet access and was very complicated to set up for people who do have it. I also wanted something more missional and inclusive and this is undoubtedly reaching more people.

Story 2: From Richard Pennystan, a vicar in Romiley

We have 2 congregations - 9.15am and 11am, full age range balanced across all generations.

The number of people who ‘like’ St.Chads on Facebook has grown since lockdown from c.450 to 550.

Our number of YouTube subscribers has crept up to 170 (from virtually nothing as we only occasionally used YouTube).

We have gone down the pre-recorded route – two services.

An older congregation at 9.15am who value liturgy, Biblical preaching and favourite hymns. They love Jesus and his kingdom and pray. We are producing a 30min service, which is basically close to our usual Common Worship Communion up to the end of the sermon, ie. without communion, a shorter sermon (8mins not 20-25mins) and only 2 hymns (locally recorded by a musician in church) Finish with praying for blessing on our community.

Our 11am is a classic New-Wine congregation. We do a family slot at the start, (aiming to still be accessible to singles) then encourage households to take as long as they want to worship, (providing YouTube & Spotify playlists) and then reading, sermon (same as 1st service) and a longer time of intercession.

We then have ‘coffee’ on Facebook live, 2 staff members broadcasting a Zoom call on Facebook, lots of interaction and engagement. Votes (using response emojis) questions, prayer points. We’ve built a bit of structure to that after 5 weeks. It’s proven really popular and valued, it is our main point of contact relationally with those tuning in.

We are launching online Alpha this week, we’ve plugged that through our Sunday services, community groups and Facebook. I think we’ve got 8 people so far signed up, plus a few families with teenagers going to do it as families in the home. We are praying a lot for online Alpha to grow bigger.

I am also writing a daily Biblical reflection blog, which goes out to c.150people (Facebook, a blog and email) 500-700words/day on a Biblical passage.

Story 3: Nel Shallow from Lincolnshire and Sheffield

Reposted from: Premier Digital website

Nel Shallow is a Methodist Minister, based in the East Midlands. She has shifted over to digital ministry in her own imaginative and creative way and established a Facebook group celebrating all things creative and worshipful. Here Nel reflects on her climb up Digital Mountain!

There is no comfort zone. I am not outside of my comfort zone. Any such zone has ceased to exist. The announcement to close our rural chapels felt sudden and abrupt. I wonder how differently we would have gathered for our services on Sunday 15th March had we known all that would unfold in the next few days? Except we didn’t know. And suddenly some of us, as ministers, find ourselves on an online learning curve that felt, and feels, like a mountain to climb. On this steep mountainside, I have found digital rocks & gullies.

I have surely slipped on a few slippery broadcasting rocks as I’ve stumbled my way through FaceBook Live: finding the right volume, the correct camera angle, the best lighting. Tripping up over some simple and basic know-hows such as remembering to look into the lens and not my own eyes. And where on earth do you put your notes in order to maintain a reasonable amount of eye contact? (in the end, I sellotaped typed paper sheets to a chair just behind the camera lens; a very makeshift autocue!)

And I have fallen into a few gullies too, despite my carefulness, requiring me to climb back up again retracing my steps over old ground, except only a few days ago this was very much new ground. Who knew the camera angle changes slightly when you go Live to include the drying washing you’d positioned so carefully out of range, or so you thought!

The sense of being unexpectedly teleported from the pulpit to the screen is acutely startling, whether that be communicating by daily email with our chapel folk rather than in person or the face-to-face contact with my own videoing self instead of looking into the eyes of another. There is a sense of bewildered loss. There are people I miss and people who are missing from our being online. The Body is not whole.

However, there is also much beauty on my steep learning curve mountain with new breathtaking views which would have remained unseen without this crisis.

The renewed and renewing sense of connectedness through our online gatherings is immense. Is it my imagination, a mirage mountain view, or do people share more deeply by email, text and comment? I believe we do. I have received far more open and unguarded responses from our chapel folk, and others, in these days than would usually be so. How will we carry this deeper-ness into our re-emerged gatherings?

The collective nature of our online community is wonderful. As a Methodist, I am so delighted & encouraged by the very real sense of our being a Priesthood of All believers. I may enable and curate our collectiveness but each person contributes to the whole. This is an answer to prayer. A prayer often offered in a building based church. Once again, how can we keep hold of this treasure when we return to our pews & walls?

And I have fallen in love with the Agape meal once again. This open, inclusive, shared, storied time of fellowship is an online gift.

The uphill journey is undoubtedly huge, both exhausting and exhilarating. As with any good mountain climb, I am too hot & uncomfortably sweaty after every online video! However, the excitement soon returns and I want to climb higher. And even though I am the most novice of novices I cannot now imagine not being on this steep mountain. It makes me red in the face, physically and emotionally, but I love the reviving sense I gain from climbing this learning curve. How will I continue to hike when I return to the lectern.

I wonder too how many more twists and turns there will be on this mountain path as we journey on together in these days?


Story 4: St Mark's, Pennington's Story

We saw the isolation coming, and so on Saturday 7th March Paul (tech), George (from our 8 o'clock service who was due to preach for the first time on Sun 8th March), and me (priest) spent the afternoon in church to try and work out how we could make it work, to livestream on Sunday 8th March. We’d been recording and sharing sermons on YouTube for about 18months already and developing our Facebook social media engagement with the local community, livestreaming was the next step.

We realised we didn't have quite all the kit we needed, so put out a post on our local community Facebook group asking for help, and I contacted our neighbouring vicar Peter from St Thomas’ Lymington. In the next hour, whilst we continued working in church, repurposing bits of kit around the building, Alan from the pub turned up with an audio jack and mics, and Peter the vicar from Lymington church came with a box of mics etc from their church.

Paul coordinated it, and we managed to get it working, so we started livestreaming whilst we were all still in church (we did Facebook live the first week, as we were too late to activate the 24-hour wait for YouTube streaming), and I printed & gave out a booklet of prayer resources to use at home (that had been put together collaboratively online in clergy forums on Facebook and compiled by Revd Adam Ransom in Eastbourne), the last Sunday that we were all able to gather together. (I thought we were looking far into the future with it including weekly lectionary readings until 22 May... we will be issuing a further one soon!) That Sunday, without letting anyone really know about the live streaming, we had our usual ~25-30 people in the building, and a further 55 max joined us online.

We put out a press release to that effect on Monday 16th March (the day the world started to change). So the Sunday when clergy could be in church but not congregation, I also had the BBC in church with me and we were on our local regional news.

We used Facebook and YouTube. We now primarily use YouTube, but advertise within Facebook.

Our decision, from consulting with people that usually came to our church, is that we have a lot of people within our congregation and wider community that are very new to tech and with limited IT skills. YouTube can be accessed with just the link, you don't have to have made an account or committed to being part of a particular platform.

We use YouTube to stream. We also pipe YouTube into our permanent zoom channel, so that those in our church without internet can phone in and listen to the service. Every few weeks, we now also burn onto DVD and give to those without internet but with DVD players.

After our Sunday service, our regulars are invited to join us in Zoom for coffee after church. This Sunday we also opened that up within the service too. So we had a mix on Zoom of a few people who usually come to church, local person on the phone and two people from further afield joined us. Coffee started at 10:30am. I think I left the meeting at about 1:30pm.

Online clergy forums have been fantastic on Facebook, sharing ideas, getting support, helping each other. Through one of these, I found that teleprompter apps are a thing. So I now paste my 'script' into an app on my iPad, that I hang with string to be near the camera (that I borrowed) that's mounted on a tripod (that I borrowed from someone else) that makes it far easier to lead the service speaking to camera.

Palm Sunday, we'd been planning a gospel reading in church that used different voices within the church to tell the story. We continued with this plan online. We also decided to work together with Lymington Church across two parishes and six usual congregations to put together one service a week. So, George (8am Pennington service) spent hours on zoom with people from across both parishes, to individually record their contributions, and Paul edited all 156 snippets from 20+ people to create our passion gospel reading.

We continue to stretch our thinking of how we involve our church community in being part of leading services. 95-year-old Priscilla who comes to Evensong has now recorded a reading through zoom, that we used in Holy Week. This week, 70-year-old Dorothy (12-week shielding), who has no internet, is going to stand at her front door and Jane who lives nearby is going to stand at the end of her path with her phone, and record Dorothy's reading whilst on her daily walk. (Dorothy is one of the people that phones in to listen to our service.)

I've realised that some in our churches aren't happy to read in a Sunday service, because it involves pressure/anxiety. I've got braver at asking, and some of those people are now happy to record at home (because they can use their phones, at the time they are happy with and rerecord until they are happy, and can always say no if they decide that it really didn't work.)

During our live stream (although actually we pre-record and stream to edit in all the contributors), in the first week, we were assuming people might drop out in the sermon, or during communion. We only get significant drop out when we get to the last hymn. We reflect together after the services, and on the basis of engagement thus far, we have made the decision not to go with the conventional wisdom (which says shorter is better), our services are the usual length that we would have in church on Sunday.

I'm also part of HeartEdge (a movement of church initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields) and we have a weekly practitioners’ zoom call which has been really helpful to reflect together with other church leaders in this unexpected season.

Local community have continued to help us sort out kit to now record from the Vicarage. One of the lights we're using was someone's under the stairs light, someone in the wider community has lent me a laptop, I've traded bags of compost for a sound mixer, we've bought a new mic from Ebay. For the bonfire for Easter vigil, someone from the pub parked a trailer with lumps of wood in it, on our driveway. Our local photographer who is passionate about community films our hedge and shares online. A local guy has helped us to spec what we need for a decent camera, both for now and when we get back into church, we started fundraising for this last week and have thus far had £850 online donations, and the district councillor committed to give some of his grant towards it and promises of offline donations. None of these people are usually found within our church building, but they are all passionate about community and we have been working together for the past eighteen months in leading large community events (as a sub-committee of Pennington’s PCC).

Our cash collections in Pennington church are usually less than £30 a week, and we have significant challenges encouraging people to PGS etc.... although I've written to everyone this season too, and we've started to get people increasing giving and signing up to PGS too, and some additional anonymous donations. Each service we include a link to our online donations page. On Facebook posts that we think are likely to do well, we often include a donations link there (we're registered as a charity on Facebook too.)

2 weeks into lockdown, it had already taken off here, and we started working together with our neighbouring parish, St Thomas Church, Lymington, using our YouTube channel as we'd already got it going. So some of the views have come from bringing the two churches to work together in what we're doing... but it's gone a lot further than that. (And not just my Mum and her husband in Waterlooville, watching with a phone next to the tablet, so that Janet down the road can listen in too while they come to our church service, before going on to their own local one.) We're aware of pockets in Wigan and Canada following us, in online chat on Sunday we had someone from the Philippines too.

One person who has found us is Alex. The link below is where he shared a little of his story within our service, taking you to where he starts to speak. He joined our congregation about 18 months ago, and then joined our evening discussion group. I baptised him last Easter Sunday and he was confirmed the week after (and we gave him 2 sponsors (nearly godparents) from within our church community). About 6 months ago he moved away, and I encouraged him to connect with a church local to where he moved to. For various reasons, this hasn't worked out, and we are still in touch with him on Facebook. Since we started streaming he is joining us every week, and is also joining our evening discussion group that we've taken into zoom.

Probably one of the favourite services for me, that I put together was the Easter Vigil. I posted this on Facebook later: "So last night, I chose the stories of women in the Old Testament, to tell the stories of salvation through history, the stories that would have shaped Jesus life. I decided to invite some of the inspirational, nurturing and encouraging women in my life, those that have shaped and nourished my story, to read. (Sorry, I couldn't invite all of you to take part... although you are all invited to watch!) So some of the women who have helped to shape my life, told the stories of the women that shaped Jesus’ life."

(None of the women are usually part of Pennington or Lymington Churches). Having put the service together with these amazing women, I later noticed something very particular. Those inspirational women include one who is a carer for her very elderly housebound mother, and hasn't been able to physically go to church for a few years; another who uses a wheelchair and would usually be physically in her church holding in the tics of Tourette's; another who has a significant heart condition and was physically unable to go to her church before lockdown; another woman is usually part of a church but her church are not currently offering anything online. If we are willing to let it, this season opens up possibilities not only for who can 'come to church' / access our services, but also for who can lead.

We're also doing a lot within our community too, but perhaps differently to others. One of our key communication/connection bits locally is our hedge. This video tells you something more of it and how you too can take your #SelfieWithJesus. Our post of this on Facebook has now had reach of 7.3k.

Following from it, we've worked with our local photographer, and launched Pennington in Bloom, encouraging people to make flowers out of recycled things, or to carry on knitting & #CrochetThroughCorona. This has gone widely online, but I've also repurposed a summer fair banner, and painted on the back of it, so that it's advertised in the centre of the village, opposite Tesco & One Stop for those that are not digital. Our local photographer on her recent Facebook post promoting this included a donations fundraiser for our church, and we've had a donation through this too!

We're about to launch Pennington Construction challenge, which will launch through online school assemblies that we'll share through YouTube (haven't started these yet.) Wanting to get Dads/men more engaged, so this will be things like bottle rocket, tallest tower etc... I'm working on a plan. This will also have a banner up in the village, so online & physical.

We will continue working together as the Churches in Pennington and Lymington, to share God’s light in the communities here and beyond. We’re currently working on plans for our local VE day event, Ascension Day in crochet (yes… it’s likely to involve a crochet cloud and two feet sticking out), Thy Kingdom Come and a quiet day, Lymington Church are leading a prayer course, and we’re reflecting together to see which way the spirit blows and what emerges next!

Story 5: St Edmund of Canterbury, Yeading

Put together on our website a "Worship at Home" page which has each week a service outline with a variety of resources for people to use at home. This includes the Sunday sheet with the readings (made available to us electronically by the Redemptorist Press who print the paper ones), a short sermon YouTube video, a link to the kids page with activity sheets for them, a video of the Liturgy of the Sacrament, Intercessions (this week we are going to start videoing these). All interspersed with YouTube videos of hymns chosen by our organist/choirmaster.

It is quite passive and yet strangely tiring just watching a service on screen so this varied menu allows people to stop watching the screen and read the passage in their family, pray together. By breaking it up there is a variety of medium and the opportunity for pause and silence, and helps with attention spans.
We are trying to do one new thing each week, one improvement - better quality video, better sound, other people involved, new additional content etc. I think this is important to pace yourself and not feel pressured to have everything perfect from week one.

I was sent a link to this article with embedded videos which I thought was excellent and I thought you would be interested too.

Pre-recorded versus live:

Live is risky: It is immediately, everywhere, forever. There is no chance for an edit. If you inadvertently misspeak - or set fire to yourself (a la Vicar of St Budeaux, Plymouth) - it is in the online national paper the next day, available to everyone in the world and permanently "out there". When we get back to services in church and you have a guest speaker or stumbling new preacher you have no control over the message that goes out to the world. We all have off days, but our forgiving congregations will forget in time. The internet never forgets.

So I have gone for a pre-recorded short video message which I can edit, check the sound, do several takes if need be, splice with other material, add PowerPoint slides and overlay titles with the name and (web -) address of the church. Most of all I can spend all week getting it together, getting help with the editing. I am much less stressed, the overall quality is better. I think that this will be sustainable in the long term.

After the lockdown, I will definitely keep posting videos but I don't think we will live-stream whole services.

Story 6: St Nicholas’Church, Taplow

Like every other church in the UK, we've been racking our brains and trying to figure out the best way to serve our congregation during these times. I think that we have to play to our strengths - we can't all be absolutely brilliant in every way! - and a particular strength in Taplow is our choir and our musical tradition. We also have a lovely Vicar, Jane Creswell, who is very proactive in engaging with the community.

I and my fellow Wardens are members of the choir, and for a long while I have been fascinated by the Virtual Choir movement, started by American composer Eric Whitacre some years ago. With singers and choirs now unable to be together, meeting and singing together virtually has taken off in a huge way and YouTube is awash with orchestras and choirs and Jazz Ensembles meeting online.

Very early on in the Lockdown process, our Director of Music, Neil Matthews, and I decided to motivate our choir and create a Virtual Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, for Easter Sunday. This took a huge amount of planning, and the brilliant outcome can be seen in this video. I'm a professional Sound Engineer/Editor, but Video Editing is something new to me, so there are a LOT of rough edges in this video - but I'm learning all the time! We have since made several other videos, which are keeping our choir members involved in singing and singing together (in a virtual way - and we have Zoom Meetings each Friday when we otherwise be holding a Choir Practice).

As well as the Virtual Choir offerings, we compile a Sunday Morning Worship from various sources, with hymns (sometimes from our Virtual Choir, more often from YouTube videos) and Reflections from Jane, our Vicar. I also create a video of Jim Oliver reading the Intercessions along with relevant graphics or audio.

Story 7: New Malden Baptist Church

Simon has contacted us, saying,

'Since lockdown, we have been doing a separate “Families” Zoom for 30 mins before the “main” service, aimed at families with children (mainly primary school age). We have tried to keep this as interactive as possible, with games, learning memory verse in creative ways, screen sharing songs with dance actions and bible story videos, sometimes with follow-up questions. We have tried to encourage the children to lead certain elements themselves and have also had “break out” discussion groups at the end for general “catch up”. These sessions have been fun and appreciated but the issue of inviting others is still something for us to grasp in a bigger way – Zoom not being ideal for this as you suggest. We’ve had a few “non-church” families join us and are hoping to encourage a greater intentionality around inviting people.

On another note, the biggest encouragement I have found in lockdown has been that a weekly Sunday 3pm “Street Sing” has emerged with the neighbours in our road. We have been doing this for 6 weeks, since Easter Sunday and normally have had approx. 20+ people come out of their houses to sing a mixture of hymns and contemporary (often popular) songs. This has been appreciated by many and has helped develop a sense of community in the street. We are currently reflecting on and praying through how to build on/develop/adapt this once lockdown ends.'