Ackroydon Community Church: Reimagining Church

What does a priest look like? What kinds of things do they do and say in lockdown? What does the church do when large gatherings are prohibited? Is Zoom the only way?

I used to work for a charity going door-to-door. It can be tough. Lockdown has changed that. It’s fun timing how long it takes for people to answer the door, they’re so desperate for a chat! Abnormal times.

In Southfields, we have a large council estate, with Ackroydon Community Church at the heart of it. We are so aware of huge need hidden behind the doors. Large families in small spaces. GIG economy workers financially stranded. Children bored. Cupboards bare. No wifi.

How can the church make a difference? We wanted a simple concept. We offer food, kids activity packs and signposting to long term help. I’ve written a prayer for the community on the flyer so people can turn to God for comfort and strength.

We are in the process of delivering flyers and snacks (so people notice the flyer and it’s not consigned to junk!) to 1,000 homes in the community. We knock on each door. Many are opened.

Not your average junk mail. Reaching out to unearth those in need.

Not your average junk mail. Reaching out to unearth those in need.

The estate is a diverse place. There are young professionals working from home keen to connect. Others have little English but are grateful for a smile. Others are financially desperate. Some are hungry. Some are positive. Most are fearful, weary and putting a brave face on things. 

One lady said we were a godsend. An hour before we met, she was in tears. Her 16-year-old daughter has shut herself into her room and won’t talk. Her mum was desperate so went for a walk to process it all. As she returns we’ve left some snacks at her door and we meet in the corridor. Kindness opens up a conversation. She’s been going to AA for 16 years and we talk about to how she might make the ‘higher power’ more personal. She wonders how she will ever forgive herself for some of the life she’s given her daughter through her addiction. She’s living with so much guilt and shame. I’m able to talk to her about beginning by receiving forgiveness from God to release her to be more herself. She longs for that freedom, so we pray together. 

This simply is what the church does writ large across Southwark Diocese, the UK and the world. We communicate and contextualise the phenomenal news of forgiveness and restoration found in Jesus Christ. We find a way to be Christ’s hands and feet, even though our physical doors are closed. We offer whatever we can, wherever we find ourselves.

It is real hope in despair. Comfort in isolation. True, gritty love amid grief.

This is a time of opportunity. Recent statistics suggest there is a spiritual hunger. People are turning towards God. Usual support mechanisms aren’t there. There is huge fear for the future. Self-determinism is no longer a safety net. Death is a nearer danger than ever.

As the church we have something to say. We must be known by our incarnational love. Love in action. Love in word. Love in prayer. Love in kindness. Love in sacrifice. Jesus can use us to reach out to a hurting world. 

Love your neighbour, Southfields

Huge thanks to our partners:

Learn to Love to Read, a local literacy charity providing books and simple craft parcels for families unable to connect to online school or with few resources to occupy their children.

Dons Local Action Group – a group of Wimbledon AFC fans who have gathered over 500 volunteers in Wimbledon, Merton and Wandsworth to give out emergency food parcels. They are using our new church hall as their Wandsworth base.

City Harvest – putting surplus food from supermarkets to good use in a sustainable way. They provided all the snacks for the flyer delivery.

Live streaming services at Christ Church East Greenwich

Margaret Cave from Christ Church, East Greenwich shares some of her learning from the last few weeks live streaming services and their weekly Praise and Play pre school fun time.

I encourage you to see technology as your friend and not your enemy because it can work hard for you to make shared worship possible in this challenging time. I am a technophile, so I have enjoyed the challenge of leading the change to become virtual church for a season even though it has been demanding and extremely hard work.

Last week someone said to me the world is going to change forever and if we don’t keep up, we will be in danger of being left behind. In these fast-changing times, we need to be agile and take seriously the challenge of how the church is to proclaim afresh our faith in each generation.

So, how have we gone about it at Christ Church, Greenwich?

We have live-streamed via Facebook which also allows us to stream onto Facebook and put a link on the Church website.There are a couple of things that have given us real encouragement:

  • It is really encouraging to live stream on Facebook where you can see the hearts and thumbs up floating up the screen and everyone’s comments, good mornings and Amens.
  • I have had really good feedback particularly around including lots of other people making contributions to the service. There have been lots of views, comments, sharing and people putting on Facebook ‘watch’ parties.

The software:

We use Macs at Christ Church East Greenwich and have been using Ecamm Live to enable our live streaming. Ecamm Live is flexible with loads of functionality and it works for streaming on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms. It is available for a 14 day free trial and costs $12 per month and has great tutorial on YouTube so you can get to grips with it quickly and easily. If you want to buy it please use this link so I can receive commission which I will give back to the church

Good preparation is key:

We have found that preparing in advance has really helped us in seeing what we can do and to do it as well as we can.

  • Think about your background view – what is on the wall behind you – move your furniture and make a good set – for example daffodils for Mothering Sunday or white lilies for Easter, a candle, an image on the wall
  • Use the YouTube tutorials to learn how to use overlays, add in pre-recorded videos and to switch between sources
  • Practice in advance – think about where to look so it is natural and where to have your notes – practice your voice too as its different talking to a screen and mic
  • Have all the pre-recorded videos ready in an open folder so you can drag them on quickly and easily
  • Quit all the other applications on your Mac so you don’t get any rogue noises when you are broadcasting AND put your phone onto ‘do not disturb’ or ‘aeroplane mode’

So far, I have used:

  • Background slide show with slides of the liturgy (PowerPoint saved as pdf and then added in as an overlay)
  • Foreground live camera feed in the corner of the screen in a circle
  • Dragged in pre-recorded videos of people reading, praying, doing ‘This Time Tomorrow’ and preaching – great way to engage members of the congregation
  • Dragged in pre-recorded songs and hymns from our own worship band which have been put together on garage band after sending round files and each person uploading their tracks
  • Scheduling the livestream from the software and sharing widely on Facebook and Twitter
  • The recording is automatically saved to Facebook and is saved to our YouTube channel – it is also embedded in the church website

Going forward, I will try:

  • Second camera  on a swan neck mini tripod for view of hands for Holy Communion (planned for Easter Sunday) or a craft demo (for Praise & Play) using the £2.99 app ‘Shoot’ which allows for filming from the back camera of an iPhone plugged into the Mac using a normal charging cable – easy to switch between Mac camera and iPhone camera feeds
  • Interviewing or including another person live in the service by skyping them into the live stream – planning to use for ‘This Time Tomorrow’.

I think it’s important to keep the live stream fresh with different faces, voices and using the technology to maximum effect.

See the Christ Church East Greenwich live stream services on Facebook OR YouTube OR from our website

Pyjama Prayers – Jesus-centred fun from the comfort of home

What do you do when children are confined to home during this lockdown? How can we alleviate the strain on parents and families to provide round-the-clock supervision, home tutoring and entertainment?

At Ascension, we have developed Pyjama Prayers, a series of video clips for children which air every weekday at 5pm. We saw this crisis not as forcing us to reduce our output as a church, but as a chance to increase it. A chance for us to engage with young families in Balham and beyond and deliver fun and free worship right to your front room.

Families view the episodes live on YouTube. A great aspect of these videos is that they air live as it allows families to integrate it as a fixed part of their daily schedule. Routine and familiarity is an important aspect for helping small children learn. This live-ness has also acted to help build a strong community of families who log on each day and interact with each other in the chat box. It is amazing to see that the community-aspect of weekly church life can be replicated at home, even when families are physically isolated from one another.

Isaac hosts each episode along with his trusty puppet friend José. Each video contains some songs (which families are encouraged to sing along to), a bible story and some ‘chat time’ where parents and children can discuss the bible story and its meaning together. This is a really rich time where parents and children can take time out of their busy and often unpredictable schedule to connect with each other through the bible.

We have received some amazing feedback from both regular church families and families who are connecting with us for the first time. Parents say they love what we are doing and how we are drawing the whole family together in the midst of such an erratic time. Children are really loving it and we are seeing it help deepen their relationship with God. A comment from a child after watching a recent episode was; “I love God because he made the world, and the stars.”

We would so love for you to join us too! Pyjama Prayers airs every weekday on YouTube at 5pm, Just click on the link for Pyjama Prayers, Ascension Balham in YouTube to join in!

Revd Marcus Gibbs, Vicar Ascension, Balham