One issue since lockdown that has been on my mind a lot is how we minister to those who do not have access to the internet. My friend Rev’d Chris Lawton is a vicar in Wensleydale and he decided at the beginning of lockdown to not do online but services over the phone for his dispersed congregations in a very rural area. He invited me to preach at his ‘phone church’ service and inspired by his example, I’ve set up a similar system for my parishes for our regular Thursday morning Eucharist.
I’ve decided to do a Communion service at the same time as we would normally gather in church on a Thursday morning. This congregation is small (less than 10) and mostly elderly and we usually use a small intimate chapel. I think it will be some time before we can start meeting in that way again so a phone service may well fill in the gap for some time and may even become a permanent fixture to reach out to those who can’t physically get to church for whatever reason.
This system is very easy to set up. I used Whypay (at Chris’ recommendation) – a free phone conferencing system. Here’s some information about it in this video:
Callers simply dial the number (which once you’ve set up a free account remains fixed) and type in a room code and pin code to join the meeting.
If you’re the first person on the line you hear a voice telling you you’re the only one here and then some music plays until someone else arrives. When someone arrives you hear a tone (a bit like a doorbell!). You hear a different tone if someone leaves.
For the service I make sure I’m on the line at 9am for a 9.15am start. This gives 15 minutes for people to ‘arrive’ and greet one another. I jotted down who was there so that I have a record of attendees but also so that I can remember who is there when speaking live.
I posted out an order of service which is the same traditional communion service we have on a Thursday. You can download it below:
I put the dial in instructions as clearly as I could on the front.
I ran this for the first time this morning and I had 14 people at one service and 8 at the other. It’s best to have the phone on hands free/speaker. Most people were on hands free and it didn’t impair the quality of the call.
I’d already been warned that communal singing doesn’t work over the phone (because of the slight delay). Short responses work fine (eg. The Lord be with you, and also with you). Longer prayers are a bit trickier. I did ask people to go slowly but not everyone did! So as a result, the ‘spiritual communion prayer’ (see order of service) needs to be just read on our own, not in unison.
Some people put their own bread and wine out to have at the same time at home (I am acutely aware that there a number of theological arguments for and against this but I am happy for people to do this if it helps them). When I take communion on behalf of the dispersed congregation I say ‘the body of Christ broken for us keep us in eternal life’ and ‘the blood of Christ, shed for us, keep us in eternal life’.
In time we may have different people leading the intercessions and doing the readings but this time I led the whole service myself. I found the experience very moving, it brought a tear to my eye hearing all of them on the phone together after such a long time apart. It is more intimate than Facebook live services.
I will also use the WhyPay teleconferencing number for PCC meetings and other meetings with more than 2 people from now on.
If you want to set this up for your church, these are the steps:
- Create an account with Whypay (you should really only need the free plan). They will send you your phone number, conference room number and guest pin.
- Decide when your service will be and what format (it makes sense to choose a service that already exists, eg. Morning Prayer, Midweek Communion etc.)
- Create your order of service and include the joining information (feel free to steal my wording below).
- Post the order of service and joining instructions out to your congregation.
It’s that simple! You can ring the number beforehand to see how it works but my folks had no problem dialling in this morning. The only downside is that you can’t save the number and the other numbers into a speed dial – you have to wait to be prompted to put in the codes. So some people may require a carer or friend to come in and dial the number for them for them to join in.
Thanks so much to Chris for inspiring me to do this!
Here’s the wording for the joining instructions if you would like to use the same (obviously replace my numbers with yours!):
Using your telephone (landline OR mobile) dial:
0333 0164 757
See if you can put your phone on ‘speaker’ or ‘hands free’ so that you can move it away from your ear. This isn’t essential but might make it easier for you.
You will hear a woman’s voice saying “Welcome to Whypay (and a short marketing message)” then, “Please enter your conference room number followed by the hash key”. So using your keypad type in:
51074674 # this is the Room Number
You will then hear the same voice say “Please enter your Guest Pin followed by the hash key” So using your keypad type in:
5602 # this is the Guest Pin
When you are connected if you are the first on the line some music will play, when someone arrives you will hear a tone, just say hello to each other and when everyone is there we will begin.