**NEW Nov 17th 2020** COVID-19


Diamonds are for lockdown…

Here’s an unexpected outcome of Covid-19: it has inspired more of us to get engaged.

Engagement rings sales have risen this year, in some firms by up to 73 per cent, a survey of various jewellery firms has discovered. 

When, at the beginning of lockdown, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested that couples could get round the coming isolation by moving in together, it seems that many listened to her.  They decided to give it a go and ‘test the strength of their relationship.’ 

“A lot of people have now resolved to go ahead and tie the knot,” said one jeweller. “Perhaps they are thinking: ‘life’s too short, let’s go for it’.”

Another jeweller said: “Maybe if you can make it through lockdown together, you can make it through anything.”


Spare a thought for your furry friend

Many dogs have struggled to adjust to the changes that Covid-19 has brought to their owners this year, according to the Dogs Trust.

For one thing, coronavirus has meant greatly reduced walkies for many dogs, more people around the house all day, less quiet for rest, and little or no contact with other dogs.  No wonder that the Dogs Trust has reported that 82 per cent of owners have reported an increase in barking or whining. 


The Wellbeing Journey –
Churches tackling the impact of Covid-19

The Wellbeing Journey is a new 8-part video series, which will help churches and communities address the challenging impact of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Local churches are in a unique place to lead communities on this holistic journey to physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

The videos are presented by Simon Thomas (ex Sky Sports/ Blue Peter) and Joanna Abeyinka (CBeebies), with contributions from leading experts in different fields.

As well as the videos there is a book to be published by Waverley Abbey Resources this autumn. God’s Plan for Your Wellbeing by Dave Smith offers a 50-day devotional – fuel for the journey. 

Dr Rachel Jordan-Wolf, HOPE Together’s assistant director said, “We’re encouraging churches to run The Wellbeing Journey online or in person from January, inviting all those who attend their Christmas services, both virtually and physically, to join them on this journey.

“The series can be used to run with a centralised group, in small groups or in Sunday services, whether online or physically. The material is suitable for interested non-Christians and would make a great introduction to your church.”

HOPE Together will provide posters, invitations and social media posts for publicity as well as sermon ideas to launch the series at Christmas. The sermon ideas will be based on Isaiah 9 – The Message version translates verse 6: ‘His names will be: Amazing Counsellor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness.’

Find out more at www.wellbeingjourney.org


Helping people cope with loss

Bereavement at any time is hard. Bereavement during a period of isolation with restricted movement and limited contact with family and friends is so much harder. During the global coronavirus pandemic many thousands in the UK have faced the loss of someone they know.

Loss and HOPE was launched just before the Covid-19 crisis to enable the Church to respond effectively with support for those who are grieving. This timely coalition between HOPE Together, Care for the Family, the Church of England and At A Loss, is developing support for the increased numbers of people who are bereaved at this time. The church-facing website lossandhope.org is gathering ideas from Christians across the country to help churches support the bereaved. Loss and HOPE is also connecting Christians who are experts in supporting people who are bereaved, to run the Bereavement Journey course.

This tried and tested six-session course uses films and discussion, which help to guide people through the most common aspects of grief. It is for anyone who has been bereaved at any time, and it offers an optional session with the Christian perspective.

To find out more about the course visit www.thebereavementjourney.org or contact projectleader@lossandhope.org for more information.


Church online

 Dr Peter Brierley considers how the churches have coped during the pandemic.

Among the number of new concepts introduced to us by the coronavirus pandemic is the idea of ‘church online,’ both among the Christian population and those less familiar with ‘church.’ Many ministers have commented that, while they may initially have struggled, the new format has worked, and has drawn in people who would not normally go to church; theirs or anyone else’s. 

One Church of England Diocese carried out a survey across its many benefices, receiving some 180 replies to its questions. Five-sixths, 84%, had made some kind of online provision for its work, with three-quarters, 76%, providing worship services. Over half did such more than once a week! 

In total, the online church respondents had almost 1,300 participants on a Sunday, but these were augmented by a further almost 800 who tuned in subsequently. Normally, if you aren’t at a church service, you’ve missed it. Not now! To have so many who followed the service subsequently, an increase of over three-fifths, 62%, of the original Sunday watchers, must say something about the usefulness of this format, popularity, and the convenience of being able to worship at an alternative time. 

Do online services ‘work’?  For many, the overall answer is positive. “Although online services have (a number) of limitations, people can meet with God. Two people have come to faith through online services,” wrote one minister. It enables the church to re-connect with those who have moved away, and not found another church to attend. “It’s easier for people to come than to walk through a church door,” said another.

“We have overcome being a physically dispersed rural church. We are now a church built on a praying community across 30 different people praying together morning and evening,” was the testimony of another. Housebound people, providing they have the necessary facilities and technological ‘know-how,’ can also participate.

Is it worth all the bother? Evidently so, as over half, 55%, of the churches aim to continue online services once lockdown is over. Only 7% said they wouldn’t, with the remaining 38% uncertain.

Two-fifths of the churches, 41%, found that their numbers watching the service had increased over the weeks of lockdown, but this was offset by the 45% who found their numbers decreased. The remaining 14% said they had stayed the same.

Overall, have online services been beneficial? In the technical sense, yes, as “we are more capable than we thought at first,” said one respondent, but spoke for many. So new technical skills have been learned. “Planning online is very different – it needs to be engaging and concise,” said one person, so teaching skills presumably need to be sharpened also.

Faith-wise, as mentioned above, some have come to faith. Some have ‘come back’ to church. Many have watched for the first time. Some have watched services from other churches. Others, though, will have been put off by the format. “Online services are no substitute for a church service,” wrote one leader, and another said, “There is opportunity to reach wider, but more difficult to go deeper.”

Dr Peter Brierley may be contacted on peter@brierleyres.com.


The unsung heroes who help us say goodbye

The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the work of funeral directors during the pandemic

No one likes to talk about death. Especially during a pandemic that’s impacting everyone on the planet. And yet for some people, death is their life’s work. It’s their vocation.

In fact, helping bereaved families and friends say a personal goodbye to their loved ones is what motivates them, day after day.

They are the funeral directors and the staffs of our local crematoria and cemeteries. Often forgotten or out of mind, the men and women who arrange and service funerals perform a vital role.

Vicars and other ministers of religion work closely with these key workers. We see the care they take to help families arrange the funerals they want for their loved ones. We see the strict health regulations they have had to follow during this pandemic and the increased pressures on them. We see the long hours and dedication.

Yet, after one funeral, an undertaker confided to me how useless he felt while NHS staff were at the frontline of fighting coronavirus. I replied that what he did was essential too, and massively important during these difficult days.

Another undertaker told me how he helped families cope with the restrictions on the numbers of mourners at funerals, currently set at 30. He had slowly driven his hearse past golf clubs, pubs and old people’s homes where friends – unable to attend the services – had said their goodbyes.

In the funerals I have taken during the pandemic, I have been much impressed by the care and sensitivity shown by funeral directors and crematorium staff. Often, while they have been under much stress themselves.

I applaud the way that crematoria have made it easier for mourners who cannot attend funerals to view the services via the internet. This seems to have become common practice across the country. During the pandemic, this ‘optional extra’ has become a key part of the service.

The feedback I have had from mourners watching from just outside the chapel, or across the world, has been very positive.

Christian ministers work closely with the bereaved family and the funeral director to ensure each funeral is very personal to the deceased, and an occasion they will remember long after the day has passed.

We want to bring a message of hope at funerals. I like to say that love never dies, and that the love we have for someone goes on beyond the grave.

As the funeral section on the Church of England website states: When someone dies, although we can’t see the person we love anymore, Christians believe that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will see that person again. It might be in a very different form, in a very different way, but that is the Christian hope, and that is themessage everyone will hear when they come to a Church of England funeral.”

Meanwhile, it’s the care of undertakers and all those who arrange and conduct funerals that help us say our goodbyes.


Visit the C of E online page

There is now a range of digital resources for to you connect with God at this difficult time.  These include:

Time to Pray app (https://www.chpublishing.co.uk/apps/time-to-pray) which is free and has an accompanying daily audio offering on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Mental health reflections (https://www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/mental-health-resources/supporting-good-mental-health)

Tips to tackle isolation (https://www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/mental-health-resources/dealing-loneliness-and-isolation-five-top-tips)

Finally, there are the Church’s smart speaker apps, which provide a range of Christian resources.  https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/our-smart-speaker-apps  In March alone, the number of people using the Alexa app rose by more than 70 per cent.

More details at:  https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-online