Palpable joy, as in person worship approaches

Palpable joy, as in person worship approaches

As NSW opens back up again post lockdown, a Sydney Minister reflects on lockdown experiences and what opening back up will look like for his congregation.

Rev. Phil Swain is the minister for Turramurra Uniting Church. When interviewed about opening back up, his excitement was palpable.

Throughout both lockdowns Rev. Swain has put together two to three services each Sunday which air on Facebook as live videos at the same time each week. He has been supported by his IT background to successfully produce these services. Rev. Swain mentioned this nearly doubled his work load.

“For a Sunday I will edit around 12, 13 videos,” he said.

Although this added work and stress to his job, Rev. Swain is proud of the decision to keep live services as Turramurra is an, “…interactive church.” Having “Changed the way that we did things.” Swain was able to maintain an element of the church community that is so dear to him and the congregation.

Adapting to an online model of course brought about challenges for Rev. Swain especially in terms of pastoral care. He struggled with the question of, “How do we care for people?” Throughout the lockdowns the Turramurra pastoral care group met much more frequently than usual to try and be supportive and caring for the congregation. One overall change was that they “Had to be quite intentional with a few things.”

Another challenge Rev. Swain has faced is the timeline of opening up. With advice coming from the NSW government as well as the Uniting Church it has been, “… a bit of a juggling act…” However, Rev. Swain’s priority was clear, “We have an extreme bias to caring for people…” The decision to open up during stage two instead of three was in order to keep the congregation as a whole safe. Rev. Swain mentioned that this is  “What is good for us as a community as well.”

As NSW starts to open back up again, the importance of reflection is clear. When asked what he missed most about regular church, Rev. Swain said, “For me it’s the informal conversations that you have without thinking.” This connected back to the struggle in pastoral care as there were times that he didn’t even know if people of his congregation were sick or even in hospital. He concluded that, “We’re missing a foundational part of what it means to be a community.”

With this reflection comes a comparison between the first and second Sydney lockdowns. For Turramurra Uniting Church, the first lockdown was a lot harder technically, as they kept changing the systems used for online church. However it was mentally easier due to the novelty of some activities. Practically, the second lockdown was much easier for Rev. Swain but he said  “it’s been like walking through mud.”  From his position Rev. Swain has noticed that, “Emotionally and psychologically this lockdown was much much harder for everybody.”

The interview ended with a large smile from Rev. Swain as he stated that, “there is light at the end of the tunnel…there really is.” He’s seen that the mentality of the congregation has improved with this hope for coming back in the next few weeks. A special highlight is that Swain thinks that Christmas, “…will almost be normal again.”

Susy Cornford is a former Insights intern, now studying journalism at Charles Sturt University

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