Church in a bag, no one is left behind
As the pandemic continues and congregations do their best to serve their communities, Dubbo Uniting Church has gone beyond to make sure congregants receive a weekly resource following the lectionary.
As is the case for some congregations, Dubbo Uniting Church is without a paid ministry agent. Instead, wonderful members of their congregation lead services and initiatives.
As COVID-19 restrictions were enforced, worship was suspended. For many reasons, including the fact that some of their congregation do not have access to the appropriate technology, they decided that they would not yet move to online worship.
Raelene Burn is the Office Manager at Dubbo Uniting Church. She told Insights that during this time of slight indecision and wanting to find a way to stay in touch spiritually with congregants, she had a conversation with a friend, Captain Lara Sutcliffe of the Salvation Army in Dubbo. “We have held a few combined events with the Salvos here at the Dubbo Uniting Church, and we often chat about how things are going,” she said.
“Lara mentioned that she would be preparing Church in a Bag to share with her congregation. “What’s that?” I asked. After Lara explained what she would be creating, I definitely thought this was achievable.”
April saw their first delivery of approximately 80 bags to their congregation; now their outreach has increased to 96 deliveries each month. “Our Church in a Bag is a weekly resource following the lectionary that contains prayers, a reflection on the reading prepared by our lay leaders, a song to sing or to read, and a lectionary-based puzzle or brain teaser. We also include a tactile surprise, a hand-crafted item, or if things are busy, a tea bag, coffee sachet, and a biscuit (pre-packaged of course!). I and my small team -those who have been crazy enough to offer to help!- have had great fun and stretched our creative levels to include origami, inspirational notes, papercraft, woolly sheep, bookmarks, fridge magnet, a mini bible including something for the sweet tooth, and August will see a jigsaw puzzle. Activities are also included for families with kids who might be needing some inspiration of their own,” Raelene said.
Dubbo Uniting Church’s Discipleship Church Care Circle Leaders have been responsible for distribution. Church in a Bag is hand-delivered monthly in a cloth bag, made by one of their volunteers or sent by post to members, both in and out of town.
Along with delivering Church in a Bag, generosity abounds from their ‘drivers’ with the addition of some shopping and other essential items for those who are self-isolating for health reasons, or because they can’t physically leave their homes.
Dubbo Uniting Church has had a positive response to their little bag of inspiration delivered each month since April. Congregation members in aged care facilities share it with their neighbours; Saltbush has also shared it during their worship services; some are delivered at request to friends in other areas of NSW; one congregation in the Port Macquarie area is using it regularly, and many others are using it directly from their website.
According to Raelene, “It’s been a great resource to keep us together, though we are not physically meeting for worship– it’s often a topic of conversation during the many regular phone calls between our congregation.”
But Dubbo Uniting Church does not stop there. They have two Zoom social catch-ups per week on Friday evening for ‘dinner’, and on Saturday morning the craft group gets together. The ladies choir, Cantando Sorelle also meets via Zoom on Monday evenings.
“As a conductor of a Zoom choir, I think that my lip-reading skills are getting better with each week. The facial expressions at ‘succeeding or not’ to achieve the desired singing can be priceless!” Raelene said.
Weekly newsletters are still emailed and delivered by post. Knitters have been very busy, and many blankets and beanies have been shared with the local Uniting programs and other agencies around town.
They have a small food pantry that has been operating for some years that can assist community members in need with a two-day emergency supply of basic pantry items, a venture that has been very busy over the last few months.
While restrictions ease, simple things in their daily life are returning to ‘normal.’ “Some of our ladies have been meeting to walk together. This is a great time to rejuvenate, reconnect, and reawaken the body, mind and soul,” Raelene said.
Dubbo Uniting Church’s Mission Teams are also working on their plans to return to small gatherings to worship and meet in smaller groups, ensuring all people are well looked after when they do return.
Church in a bag has reached out differently to members who were unable to come to worship at church before COVID-19. It will be a continuing mission of the Dubbo Uniting Church.