Our first get-together and chat about the past few months was a resounding success, with 30 network members taking part. We're staging another next week (18 June 2020), and from reactions we're receiving this may become a regular feature of what we do as a national network.
Despite the large number taking part, hitting the emojis 'reactions button' worked well in order to signal when someone wanted to add a word or two.
We had participants from Newcastle, Brighton, Southampton, Chichester, Winchester, Bournemouth and Birmingham. Others too from Cambridgeshire, Kent, Dorset and Warwickshire took part.
Many voiced their frustration at having felt 'called to' this ministry and then abruptly halted in their tracks. Others were quick to speak up about the positives; how telephone befriending conversations had deepened the level of interaction, with more time in a focused, say, 20-minute call to 'really listen' to what someone had to say, which might not happen when sitting in a group, face to face.
We heard about: Skype services into care homes, acts of worship over the phone, individually, for residents facilitated by care home activities coordinators with the Anna Chaplains help, examples of how to make funerals meaningful during lockdown, and of newsletters produced with entertaining snippets and uplifting stories.
One person said she had evidence that church services online were now being viewed by many more people, and that 60 per cent of those viewers were over the age of 65.
Many were busily jotting down all the good ideas others were coming up with and said they would be 'mining' such ideas to copy them.
However, a sad and worrying note was struck by one participant who had reason to believe there's been a steep rise in deaths among those living with dementia in care homes (dementia deaths up by as much as 52 per cent) – not from Covid-19 itself necessarily, but because of increased isolation during lockdown. This echoes the views of a statistician heard recently on BBC radio, who also alluded to the 'extra deaths' during this pandemic in the frail elderly age cohort.
Southampton Anna Chaplains were able to give news of a new telephone befriending scheme set up in response to a request from Admiral Nurses and the NHS, locally, to help support people recently bereaved.
A network member in Brighton spoke of recording church services on CD and getting them into as many as 32 care homes in her vicinity. She said relationships with care homes had improved since the start of the health crisis.
The 90 minutes we spent together, which began with a short of act of worship followed by wider discussions and closing prayer, seemed to pass in no time! A show of hands indicated this was roughly the right length for such a network Zoom meeting.
Here's what people had to say afterwards:
A huge thank you for this morning. So good to see everyone and encouraging to share resources. There were some inspirational ideas – what an amazing group of people!
Today was brilliant. Just the right amount of structure and informality. Just the right size.
It was lovely to 'meet up' with so many people and to hear all the exciting things they have been up to!