Could you conduct a church service over the phone?
Updated: May 7
I was so impressed with the confident way in which Anna Chaplain in Maidstone, Kent, Elizabeth Bryson, is cheerfully conducting services over the phone that I asked her to explain the 'nuts and bolts' of how she goes about it. Here's her guide, in her own words.
During lockdown I have found telephone services are a really wonderful way to give spiritual care to the residents of care homes, when we cannot visit them. These services are much appreciated by the managers and activities’ coordinators because they can see how much they are enjoyed by the residents and how they are being given ‘meaningful moments’ (Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, John Swinton, 2012, p. 235).
The activities’ coordinator takes the phone to residents in their rooms or in the lounge, telling them I am on the phone. I say hello, ask how they are and lead them in a service with Bible verses, hymns and prayers. They love these services. I have led individual services for up to ten residents in a care home. Sometimes I lead services for fewer if other residents who usually come to the service in the lounge or who have room service are asleep or in isolation.
I am now leading telephone services in three care homes in Maidstone each week. In these services I am reminding them about ‘the rhythm of the Christian year, retelling the Christian story’ (Between Remembering and Forgetting, James Woodward, Continuum Publishing Corporation, 2010, pp. 74–75). The Easter Bible readings have been perfect, with the disciples being in lockdown for fear of the Jews, and we are in lockdown because of Covid-19. I have read John 20:19-20 and in another service John 20: 26. I have said to them that we are in lockdown and Jesus comes to you and says, ‘Peace be with you…’ This week, with the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, I am doing services with the theme of peace using John 14:27: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’
I realise, and have experienced, how powerful music is for those living with dementia. Singing hymns in the services is therefore special and helpful for the residents and is encouraged by Louise Morse in her book (Worshipping with Dementia, Louise Morse, Monarch Books, 2010). I sing down the telephone and the resident listening often joins in with the hymn. I vary the hymns depending on who is listening. For Holy Week I sang 'There is a green hill far away'. Some I know like 'All things bright and beautiful'; for others I sing 'Jesus' love is very wonderful' or 'Jesus loves me, this I know'. I have sung verses from Easter hymns and 'O God our help in ages past'. For Ascension I will sing 'Hail the day that sees him rise'.
The residents join in with the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace. I pray the Hail Mary with those who I know are Roman Catholics. I pray for them by name: ‘Please Jesus let _______ know your peace, joy and loving presence with him/her today and every day. Amen.’
For those who usually receive Communion I lead them in an act of spiritual Communion. We pray 'Lamb of God', then I say: ‘Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.’ They repeat: ‘O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.’
The service ends with the Grace. I say goodbye. They thank me and say ‘goodbye’ before the telephone is taken to the next resident who would like to have a telephone service.
The order of service that I have found works well is: Greeting, Bible verse, sing hymn verse, prayers. Sometimes after the greeting I sing before reading from the Bible. For others I pray the Lord’s Prayer after the greeting before singing and reading from the Bible.
The care home managers and activities coordinators appreciate me telling them that I am praying for them, the residents and the nursing and care staff every day. I use my register of the names of the residents as a prayer list. I am glad to be able to continue to offer spiritual care to the residents and staff of the care homes in these days of lockdown and with Coronavirus spreading in many care homes.
Telephone church services are a great blessing, reminding the residents that Jesus loves them, and that Jesus is with them, as nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38–39). For ‘God so loved the world…’ (John 3:16). ‘God has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."’ (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ (John 14:27).
Anna Chaplain at St Michael & All Angels Church, Maidstone