Mighty is the pen that's wielded by an Anna Chaplain finding fresh ways to reach people isolated by the coronavirus crisis.
If visiting is vetoed, it doesn't mean we can't send cards, letters and emails to those feeling most overlooked. Informal phone networks have sprung up, too, to ensure the most vulnerable can keep in touch and are supported spiritually.
As care homes also close their doors to visitors, and all citizens are urged to 'stay at home' with only few exceptions, the Anna Chaplaincy network has swung into action supporting older people deprived of company.
What Anna Chaplains are doing
Here are just some of the ways our network of more than 140 Anna Chaplains (and those in equivalent community-based roles) are getting to grips with the new restrictions:
Burning CDs in Hampshire
In Alton, the cradle of Anna Chaplaincy, the Revd Rachel Sturt, an Anna Chaplain with four care homes in the town and many sheltered accommodation complexes, is recording a simple care home service on CD and posting it to each of the care homes in the Hampshire market town. 'I say a few words of introduction, and greeting. Then we have a hymn from the CDs we use with singing voices already on them, followed by the confession, absolution, a short epistle and a gospel reading.' She concludes with two short prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, another hymn and a final blessing.
Obligingly, Rachel's husband joined her in the the responses, and she made an A4-sized sheet to be folded in half to be the words sheet. 'I will do another for Holy Week, for Good Friday, and another for Easter.
'As I can no longer go out myself, I post the CD and email the words sheet.' Rachel reports that residents still gather together, sitting two meters apart, and have a service, adding, 'They were all delighted with them.'
Home deliveries in Kent
Despite these 'difficult times', writes Margaret Hollands, Anna Chaplain in Kent (Hoo St Werburgh) explaining how they are using a 'reflective service' and printing enough for everyone on their electoral roll at St Gabriel's Church, Kings Hill. It was adapted from liturgy devised by the Revd Mark Montgomery at Gabriel's.
The liturgy includes Sunday readings through to July, and the special prayer for the Coronavirus outbreak. Plus, everyone has received a letter with essential telephone numbers and suggestions of where people can find worship services on the radio and TV and access hymns on-line. Envelopes are being hand delivered in the parish.
'One of our team has also created a WhatsApp Home Church group which is proving popular,' said Margaret, 'and people outside our church have become part of that.' They have also set up a church YouTube link and all joined together in reciting the Lord's Prayer simultaneously - linking with the Pope and others right around the world this week.
'This may not be the way we are used to doing ministry,' but, she adds, 'we are adapting to the circumstances.'
Reaching singles and couples in Essex
Sally Bates, associate pastor at Frinton Free Church, in Frinton on Sea, Essex, reports how through their church membership list they have identified 'all those living alone (a list of 97 people!). We have divided these names between ten of us on the pastoral team and have committed to making a phone call each week, including praying for them, for as long as we are unable to meet together.'
Sally (a new member of our Anna Chaplaincy network) and her colleagues have devised a simple form 'to ensure we capture all relevant information and can keep a record of when we phone'. They were, until lockdown, offering a brief visit over the threshold with a face-to-face prayer for those not self-isolating who would like it, and 'last week we were posting out an encouraging card to each of the 97'.
'This week we did the same thing (going through the membership list) and added 35 vulnerable couples to our list of 90+ people living alone and have sent them all a card. Each of the pastoral team has 10–14 people allocated to them, for weekly phone calls.
'We're also inviting people to share stories of what God has been doing and how he's been speaking to them. We're then sharing these on our online services on Sundays. For those not on the internet (many of our older folk) we're posting out a sermon transcript and a church bulletin each week so they don't feel left out.'
News that the Coronavirus germs may remain on paper and card for up to 24 hours prompted us to consult on the risks of posting messages of support to those we used to visit face to face.
Keith Nye, a retired consultant, and member of our network, assures us that: 'Viability studies on Covid-19 have not been performed scientifically yet, but studies on the related viruses that caused SARS and MERS were performed at the National Institutes of Health in the USA and they found that RNA from both of these agents could still integrate into the host cell for up to 24 hours if left on paper or card and up to three days on metal foil or plastic film. This means that there is an infinitesimal chance of passing the infection on a card or envelope and a slightly bigger chance on metal foil or plastic film.
'I’m certain that the loneliness and depression of being isolated and alone,' said Keith, 'is much more likely.'