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It’s all about outside, in

Date: 17 November 2021

Like many churches St Paul’s Egham Hythe went into the pandemic without an active online presence. So when the pandemic struck and churches closed, St Paul’s went online with Zoom. 

“It meant we gathered,” says Steve Baynes, who was Churchwarden at the time, “And the people came. We were getting 50 to 60 people on Zoom.”

“It was a steep learning curve for us all” says vicar Revd Rosie Hoad. At the first Zoom service she picked the passage from Exodus 3 with Moses at the burning bush.  “I invited everyone to take off their shoes and recognise that there, in our own homes, we stood on holy ground.  We were gathered in worship, even while we were scattered.”

The team worked patiently to help others catch up.  “We became more confident. We were seeing people, many from an older generation, who were not tech savvy, getting online and join in". Others invited family or friends from far away.  "It was beautiful,” says Steve. 

Step by step the church began to experiment, starting a Zoom group for children called Cheesy Church and working hard to find other ways to help people connect to the church community. 

For those unable to use the technology, packs were delivered each week, and the team got creative about finding ways to keep the connections with them.  “For example, one week we took photos of those receiving the packs waving from their doorway, and then had a quiz in our Zoom service to guess whose hands they were.  When the whole picture was revealed, it was evident just how much we were missing one another” says Rosie.

With a small team it was difficult to do much pre-recorded material, but special services for schools and for services like Harvest and Remembrance with the Uniformed Organisations helped connect the wider community.  “It was all about outside, in” said Rosie.

“Church is not about inside, out,” says Steve. “It was as if God was saying ‘you are now looking at church as all of the people in your community do. Look through their eyes. See them as I see them’. That drove us as we went forward.” 

The church then decided it would stream services, “which was terrifying,” says Steve. The church had renewed it’s audio-visual system not long before covid, so was able to build on the resources it had, but everything was new. 

“It was as if we were God’s apprentices. We learnt on the job. And every time we needed something, someone would appear.  So again, there was this outside in, community support. We saw that it was the community that blessed the church,” he says.

The team decided that it was important that it continued to use Zoom as its delivery method, but streamed to YouTube. The spark of inspiration was to screen share it on Zoom, so that the new congregation didn’t have to learn a new technology.

“It’s been humbling to watch people coming to be supported and blessed, to watch people rise to leadership and learn the tech,” he says.

The online community at St Paul’s have become a congregation in their own right. A congregation who are sharing the service from their home. But more importantly after the service, they stay online for a chat. Clare Quarman, mum of two who has been helping facilitate the zoom group commented "We are getting to know one another better, and sharing and supporting each other through illness, self isolations, and life events.  It still feels like we are part of St Paul's church and this supportive group is invaluable.”

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