(The image used is not one of the churches in the benefices mentioned but was chosen to illustrate a rural church).

The benefice of North and South Somercotes, Marshchapel, Grainthorpe with Conisholme together with the Benefice of Fotherby, North Thoresby, Grainsby with Waithe is a scattered community of 12 churches in the north of the county, in-between Grimsby and Louth.

Like many church communities around the county they have geared into action in response to the coronavirus pandemic offering help and support to people in their local area. 

David Margarson, a Reader in both benefices, said: “It’s wonderful to see how our church communities have immediately stepped into action as soon as the lockdown began. Churchwardens in our benefice contacted people on the Church Electoral Roll to check on their needs and to see if they needed help; and another group of worshippers worked with the parish council to produce a newsletter containing offers of support that was delivered to every house in those villages.

"This resulted in over 20 volunteers coming forward to help respond to the needs of the community at this time (such as shopping for the self-isolated) and feedback we received was how good it is to see the local church, parish council and the village social committee working together."

Understanding the importance of keeping in contact with people who could find themselves feeling isolated, one parish arranged for an appropriately socially distanced meet-up in the village between 2-2.30pm each day when six or seven people from the local church congregation are present to offer support to those who need it.

David continued: “This meet up has been an important lifeline for many as it has provided structure to their day at a time when everything else that is familiar is largely now off limits. Other church members in another village have reached out to be good neighbours and have focused on letting people know that the people of God are forever present and there for them – responding to urgent pastoral or practical needs.”

Although a number of the churches were using A Church Near You and Facebook prior to the pandemic many had limited followers but now they have doubled in numbers with the new followers being mainly people who live in the parishes and have looked for a way to be connected with their local church family during this difficult time.

“We have also put together a monthly calendar of prayers across the benefice and the prayer for the day is uploaded each morning” David added.  “The focus of our prayer has been focussed both on our local communities and looking beyond our boundaries as well. Local themes have included praying for those whose jobs have been furloughed, those still at work and providing us all with essential services, and also saying a prayer for those who feel isolated, alone and scared by the pandemic.”

Bringing the communities together is the weekly ‘Virtual Coffee Morning’ held each Saturday.  This is a time to focus on the needs of each community, asking how people are and sharing news of how everyone has spent their week.

David said: “It’s very touching hearing about the deliveries of food parcels to those who are self-isolating. Among our attendees at our coffee morning we have a GP, a teacher, some retirees as well as people who are self-employed so you get to hear a different perspective which is very interesting. Some have joined an online choir and the work of a mental health professional provide a rich source of both support and understanding of what is happening on our doorsteps and gave us the direction of our prayer for the coming week. We were also able to gather and share our prayer and thoughts on Derek, one of our Churchwardens who sadly died this week, thankfully not from coronavirus.”

The benefice has also benefitted from the global reach of its Facebook services and they are joined by Marku from Taiwan, who used to live in the benefice and who keeps in contact. Fellow worshippers have found it fascinating to understand the pandemic from a different culture’s perspective and Marku has been included in their prayers.   Marku writes,  I try to be a good citizen here and to contribute to society however I can, but nevertheless at very sensitive times such as these with deep-rooted political sensitivities, one cannot help but be reminded that I am still a foreigner living in someone else's country.  I am therefore truly grateful to you for reaching out to me, especially at this time”.

“The pandemic has really challenged us and who we are as a Christian community” David said, “It has completely changed our concept of the way we do church when this is over and we will be continuing what we are doing online as it is proving to be very successful. This week, my Reader colleague Jenny will be leading a weekly online Compline Service for all of our twelve churches and we plan to continue this each Thursday evening. I feel this unlocks the church door more widely and we welcome everyone that wants to join us – both near and far.” 

This story was published on Thursday 29th April 2020.