Fort church finds new ways to care for community during virus crisis

The Duncansburgh MacIntosh Church in Fort William. NO F21 Duncansburgh Church

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Reverend Richard Baxter, minister of Fort William Duncansburgh MacIntosh and Kilmonivaig, sat down this week to give his thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local church life in Lochaber.

He said the whole community is affected by coronavirus, and everyone has to do their part in stopping its spread by minimising social contacts and following all the health advice we are given.

‘We owe that to health service and care staff and to our neighbours,’ said Rev Baxter.

‘Our congregations in common with all other churches and faith groups, have suspended all our regular activities including Sunday services. That’s a huge gap in the lives of many people.

‘We have been taking steps to make sure people can still engage in worship, even if they are alone at home.’

Rev Richard Baxter.
Rev Richard Baxter.

Question: So are churches just closed for worship now?
‘So while the church buildings are, but the church communities are not! We’re keeping going in several ways. First, we sent out some materials for prayer and reflection for the period up to Easter to all our members, because we know many people will not have access to or use social media.

Copies of that can be emailed to anyone else who wants them. Secondly, we are doing much more by internet and social media. Our website has links to worship resources and a library of talks on a
wide range of subjects.

‘However, our Facebook pages have been a great resource. For example, materials on the Facebook pages last Sunday were watched by many times more people than would come to our services – about four times our Sunday congregations at last count.

‘As well as people in Lochaber, video messages have been viewed across Scotland, in Northern Ireland, the south of England, Liverpool, the Lake District, Malawi, and Australia to name but a few, so we’re reaching much further than usual.

‘We’ll keep putting up new reflections each week, and responding to comments that come back. We’re also sharing in wider initiatives like last Sunday’s national day of prayer, shared across the country through social media and candles in windows.’

Question: What is happening about other events such as funeral services?
Rev Baxter: ‘The hardest change we’re having to make is around funeral services. In Lochaber most services take place in churches and we’re no longer allowed to use them for that or for gatherings of family and friends as we normally would.

‘We can still carry out committal services for immediate family at the graveside, but we’re trying to do other things as well. Of course, we’ll have appropriate memorial events when the coronavirus crisis is over, but we can also email copies of services to families so they can pass those to family and friends.

‘It may be possible to write services and deliver them by video, so people who can’t come in person can still be part of them. We have to be creative in finding ways to allow people to remember and celebrate their loved ones, when the normal avenues are closed off.’

Question: ‘What other things can churches still do?
Rev Baxter: ‘This may be a crisis for the whole of society, but it is making us look at better and more imaginative ways of providing pastoral care and worship. It’s also an opportunity for individuals to find their own creative ways of helping neighbours and serving their community and we’re encouraging those who can to take those steps.

‘Finally, we continue to provide a listening ear for anyone who wants it. Even without face to face meetings, we can use phone calls, email, Facebook
WhatsApp and all sorts of means to offer help and support to anyone who
wants it, whether they are connected to a church or have a faith background
or not.’

Question: Can you sum up your thoughts in one message?
Rev Baxter: I suppose I’d say the most often repeated words in the whole of the Bible are ‘Do not be afraid.’ In critical situations for communities and individuals those words are repeated over and over.

‘We have a God who made us and loves us and put us here for a purpose. Even when life is hard he won’t give up on us, and we can ask for his help. Quite simply, by working together, by acting sensibly, by putting our faith into practice, we’ll get through all this.

‘It will be hard, there will be sad times in the midst of it, but we’ll learn and grow and find out something about the kind of people we really are.’