The ups and downs of family life have not gone on pause in lockdown – and one charity is making a difference for families throughout the UK.
‘Our team is working from home and ready to help,’ said Care for the Family’s chief executive Robin Vincent. ‘We still support families, not through live events that usually go out on tour but through various platforms online. The response to one online offering, The Marriage Sessions, has been incredible with 10,000 couples signing up.’
A four-part series, The Marriage Sessions explores how couples, whether newlyweds or married for years, are able to build or strengthen their relationship. Each part takes just one hour and the series will be available via the Care for the Family YouTube channel until 30 June.
‘It has been such an encouragement to see couples willingly make time to invest in their relationships, even with numerous other challenges faced by so many at present,’ said Robin, ‘The impact of the pandemic has been felt across the UK. For many families, hope is needed now more than ever. We recognise the ups and downs of family life have not gone on pause but have, in many respects, been intensified. Alongside widespread economic uncertainty, some couples will be fighting to keep love alive, parents will still be trying to do their best for their children and many people are having to live with the pain and heartache of a close bereavement.’
The organisation has also produced Covid-19 specific support on a dedicated page on their website, and as a charity they have made it very clear that whatever situation families are facing right now, Care for the Family will be continuing to create new resources every day to support them. Dates for their autumn events will be released soon. Sign up here and Care for the Family will let you know the details when they are to hand.
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When it comes to starting church services online, keep things as simple as possible.
That’s the advice from Andy Pidsley, managing director at CRE exhibitor API Sound and Visual. ‘Phones and tablets have built in microphones and cameras and generally just work,’ said Andy. ‘Plenty of helpful YouTube videos will help you get started.’
There are several ways to broadcast services and meetings, he believes, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. ‘Live streaming is like a radio broadcast, offering one source to many listeners,’ he said. ‘Video conferencing, however, is more like a council meeting with a chairperson and a number of participants.’
There are pros and cons to each.
‘With live streaming the potential for congregational feedback is limited to a text message and it doesn’t allow users to see each other,’ said Andy. ‘Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook are well suited to a Sunday service format. They can also be promoted and anyone can join the service without a specific invitation. While they are free to use, you should have the correct CCLI licence to cover streaming to the public.’
Video conferencing platforms, however, such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, give users the opportunity to see and hear everyone in the gathering as well as the chairperson.
‘They also offer the facility to share the users’ desktops so you can run a Powerpoint presentation or song words for example,’ said Andy. ‘Many of these platforms offer a free service but subscriptions are very reasonable.’
This type of service is ideal for smaller churches of 50 or less, however strict discipline is necessary as people can talk over the top of each other.
‘If you have a paid-for Zoom account you can also stream to Facebook or YouTube direct for those who want to watch but not interact – or visitors who don’t have the login details for the Zoom meeting,’ said Andy. ‘Our church has a Sunday meeting on Zoom weekly with around 40 participants. We led worship from our lounge and someone else operated Easy Worship, church presentation software, in their kitchen! There was a great sense of togetherness with many contributions and we even had coffee and chat afterwards.’
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How to keep a locked-down church on mission is a short video from the initiator of Back to Church Sunday.
‘During these unprecedented times, something significant is happening in our communities,’ said Michael Harvey, also director of the National Weekend of Invitation. ‘More are recognising that life is not guaranteed, we are not masters of our own destiny and life is fragile and death more real that we would wish. More are praying. More are “visiting” church through streamed services. More are open to a loving Christian approach.
‘This video offers everyone a simple approach to asking God who he is nudging them to contact – and experience his help as they do so.’
Michael describes the approach as a ‘spiritual practice’, called ACORN, with each letter standing for a step in a simple process.
It has already been enthusiastically received from several church leaders including Rev. Richard Heard of St Francis, West Bessacarr, who said: ‘I am writing to the whole congregation with a link to this video and strongly encourage people to watch it. If lots of people get involved, I can see it making a really big difference.’
Michael Harvey added: ‘This is what every church leader could encourage their members – young and old – to do each day during lockdown. It is about more than reaching out to communities, friends and families. It is also a way to help us grow as disciples.’
See the video: How to keep a locked-down church on mission
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Blessings boxes that encourage people feeling isolated are among the products now available online.
‘We have been delighted to serve thousands of people at many exhibitions over the years,’ said Marianne Needham-Bennett (pictured below), founder of The Christian Gift Company. ‘But with the next CRE some nine months away now is the time to drop by our website! All the products are carefully selected to strengthen and encourage you on your spiritual journey.’
The company stocks greetings cards, stationery, notecard packs, prayer cards, colouring and Bible journalling resources, jotter pads, perpetual calendars, promise boxes and notebooks.
‘We also sell gold, sterling silver and fashion jewellery for men and women, including crosses, tree of life, doves, hearts, Ichthus fish necklaces and bracelets, plus accessories such as scarves and socks,’ said Marianne.
For home display, Christian prints, posters, canvases and plaques are available, along with practical items like coasters, magnets, mugs, dishes and bread boards.
‘We are also stockists for Hannah Dunnett’s beautiful cards, prints, posters, bags, journals and notebooks,’ said Marianne. ‘Our gifts can be used for everyday or special occasions, so pop over to our website and use the coupon code CREONLINE in the checkout process to get 10 per cent off the items in your first order. We look forward to seeing you!’
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A bookshop manager is launching an online, three-night comedy festival (June 16-18) to support comedians unable to work during lockdown.
Among those taking part will be Adrian Plass, Tony Vino, Anna Nicholson, Paul Kerensa, Nicola Houghton, Stephen Cookson and Yazz Fetto. Each evening will be hosted by Andy Kind, who has been a professional stand-up comedian since 2005 and won the Anything for Laffs award that year. He has also authored a number of books.
‘A bit of humour is badly needed during these days of isolation, when many are unable to get out and feel depressed,’ said Steve Barnett, 54, manager of St Andrews’ Christian Bookshop in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire – regular exhibitors at CRE. ‘I was listening to The Folk Show on BBC Radio 2 when a music festival online was mentioned as a fun way to raise money to help musicians with no gigs. I thought of the many comedians I have befriended when exhibiting at major Christian festivals.’
‘While access is free there will be opportunities for those who wish to donate to help the comedians and also key Christian charities which are also feeling the pinch as so much is quite rightly being directed to the NHS,’ added Steve, whose own shop remains shut during lockdown.
• More information: Email Steve Barnett, or call on 07889 02058
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A new journal has been launched that looks at 10 psalms in depth and offers space for users to colour as well as reflect and write.
‘Exploring the Psalms has been created by Jacqui Grace and is perfect for new Christians and home groups,’ said Anne Stiles, founder of Just Cards Direct. ‘During lockdown we have discovered Zoom conferencing to be an ideal medium through which people share inspiration and reflections from journalling.’
Just Cards are passionate about resourcing churches and organisations with cards and gifts for various occasions and initiatives. Almost 300 women prisoners received a card recently that simply read: ‘Trust me, you are amazing!’ The cards were donated by Just Cards to a church reaching out to their local prison.
‘Many of the women are isolated in their cells at this time, so it is particularly difficult for them,’ explained Anne. ‘The church chose a card which specifically required a non-religious image. What a wonderful message to share!’
The ‘just’ of Just Cards refers to justice.
‘We aim to stand tall in upholding ethical business principles and fairly supporting craft makers in Africa who produce beautiful handmade gifts,’ said Anne. ‘Our fairly-traded products are made by small groups of people in Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa – countries close to our hearts.’
Just Cards offer churches 25 per cent off everything, including pastoral card packs, Christmas and Easter cards and congregational gifts. Create an account for your church here.
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With large-scale indoor events unlikely to be permitted in the autumn, CRE National at Sandown Park, Esher has been postponed for 12 months – until 12-14 October 2021.
‘Though October is still four months away, we thought it best to make this difficult decision sooner than later,’ said event director Brett Pitchfork. ‘Even if Government restrictions are lifted, we doubt enough people will feel confident about attending an event of this kind in the autumn. We have taken the decision with a heavy heart but feel it is the responsible thing to do and appreciate the thoughts and prayers of our visitors and exhibitors as we plot our way through these difficult times.’
The next two exhibitions are:
• CRE South West – 17-18 March 2021, Westpoint, Exeter
• CRE National – 12-14 October 2021, Sandown Park, Surrey
Before lockdown, 42 per cent of exhibition space at CRE South West had already been taken and organisations considering exhibiting in Exeter are invited to make contact with the CRE sales team. Click here for more information.
‘By March next year we are confident strict new guidelines will be in place to ensure sufficient protection for all our visitors and exhibitors,’ said Brett.
The first in the region for six years, CRE South West has been welcomed by the Right Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter.
‘Since CRE was last in the south west lots has happened at local church level,’ he said. ‘There are new worshipping communities, new leaders, new volunteers taking up important roles – and lots of exciting projects in our local communities. I want to help people to be inspired in their faith and get the support they need to make a difference where they are. CRE is a great opportunity to access new resources, ideas and practical tools to meet the many challenges of local ministry.’
In place of CRE National 2020 in October will be a ‘Virtual CRE’ – taking the form of online seminars, interviews and features, accompanied by a specially-printed handbook listing all exhibitors booked in at one or both of the next two exhibitions. The handbook will be mailed out free to thousands of past and prospective CRE visitors, backed up by an extensive online campaign through email and social media.
‘We are grateful for your support of CRE at this unusual and stressful time and look forward to playing a part in resourcing thousands of churches over the next few months and years,’ said Brett.