Churches in a remote rural area of north west England have been describing how they have served remote hill farming communities scattered over vast areas of land during the lockdown.
In the Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Tebay Circuit, which covers 300 square miles between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, worship services have been put onto You Tube because internet speeds are so slow. The ecumenical Heart of Westmorland Mission Community went online, with clergy learning digital skills from scratch and their services and reflections have had 400 views a week, more than might attend in person.
Stewart Fyfe, rural dean of Appleby, produced a film on ‘how to be a you tube vicar’, explaining how they had set up a You Tube channel and learned to film, edit and upload services, spiritual communion and reflections.
Methodist minister Rev Stephen Radford said: “We have learned very quickly how to edit videos and we are now offering a Bible study on zoom. We have analysed the data coming from our online worship – the flexibility seems to work well for families and we hope that now churches are reopening we will bring some of that learning into how we plan services in church.”
Services are written out and delivered to around 60 households not on the internet. Pastoral visits could involve a 30 mile journey to remote parts. Ministers have continued to visit nursing homes, delivering laminated posters and service sheets for residents to use, doorstep (and through the window) distanced chats and a drop in for tea at the manse front garden.
Stephen Radford says that his conversations have become longer than ‘after church chats’ and so relationships have deepened as a result. There has been heightened anxiety and feelings of isolation amongst some, although he says that there is great resilience amongst the farming communities, for whom the period of lambing is the busiest time, which they had to manage while in isolation.
Foodbank use has grown significantly in recent months and 60 families, with children, are now being helped.
The Methodist church says: “The communities of this corner of northern England have shown how adaptable they can be in a crisis and the strength of ecumenism on the ground.”