Over the past year of lockdowns, clergy and parishes have responded with a variety of inventive online solutions to bring church to parishioners. Yet, for all the creativity there is one group who has remained out of reach. St Martin’s, like most parishes, has a number of parishioners who are unable to access online worship. This was a deep concern for us especially as these isolated people were some of our most beloved and long-time members.
In the midst of St Martin’s quest for a solution, there came a moment of serendipity. Last Christmas, a promotional brochure landed on Ian Marsh’s desk at work. Ian is a Warden at St Martin’s. Instead of a glossy paper bulletin this was something new: a video brochure. The brochure came in the form of a book which when the cover was opened a video began to play. Being engineers, Ian and his colleagues took apart the brochure, figured out how it worked and then tossed it into a drawer. Shortly after that, Ian came up with a simple but brilliant plan. What if, he proposed, we were able to source these brochures and could figure out a way to upload our Sunday services to these devices and deliver them to our parishioners? It was so simple and yet so innovative.
Just in time for Easter, two of the younger members of our congregation, Bridget and Margot West, delivered video brochures to three parishioners who had agreed to be testers. For them it was a bit of a leap of faith. After all, it’s one thing to hear that you simply open the cover, and it is an entirely different thing to find out that’s exactly what happens. As one of our parishioners said “I wasn’t so sure about it but I opened it up…and there you were Rev’d Mary-Cate!” This parishioner is now one of the biggest fans of what we call StMartins@Home.
The video brochures are easy to use. Think of those greeting cards that open up and play ‘Happy Birthday’: it’s that simple. Our devices have three buttons: volume up/down, pause and play. Each time they are shut the video restarts automatically making it is possible to use them without ever pushing a button. Setting up the brochures each week is straightforward. They are rechargeable and with 2 GB of storage each brochure easily holds a Sunday service.
One of the keys to this ministry is the delivery. Each participant has two dedicated machines; when a new one is dropped off, the old one is picked up. We have StMartins@Home members who live in houses, apartments and retirement homes. Each delivery is a bit different and tailored to the type of residence.
When we began ‘StMartins@Home,’ our goal was to develop a way for people without computer or Internet access to share in the Sunday worship but, like all good ministries, that was only the beginning.
Bridget and Margot use StMartins@Home for their Grade 11 volunteer hours and towards the Duke of Edinburgh awards. For them it is “super nice” to get out and safely see people. Most of all, they like seeing how pleased people are to receive StMartins@Home. Ian often thinks of his own mother who wasn’t able to use computers. For Ian, StMartins@Home is “just so nice [after all] how often do you get to brighten someone’s day?”
Each of our members uses their video brochure in a way that suits them. Most save it for Sunday morning and watch at the same time we met in person. Many watch the service more than once. One member reported that StMartins@Home is “absolutely splendid and I am so thrilled” whilst another said, “It is a very good thing… I may not be in church but at least I am taking part.”
That is what makes this ministry so wonderful: people can take part in the services. They see a familiar place and familiar faces in the priest and readers and they hear the words and music that they know and love and need.
Is StMartins@Home a perfect solution? Of course not, there are some limits to the device, but StMartins@Home is a simple, relatively affordable and highly-effective way of bringing ‘church’ to people. StMartins@Home may not be a perfect solution, but it is a near-perfect ministry. It is a joyful, Spirit-filled endeavour, and it is a ministry of hospitality. Not only are the members gaining, they are offering back. As I write this, St Martin’s received a donation from one member as a thanksgiving and so that others could benefit.
In these days of high-tech offerings StMartins@Home also reminds us of the value of even simple ways of reaching out. For our parish seeking a way to care for our community, a moment of serendipity became an Holy Spirit moment. Out of that, a vital ministry emerged as St Martin’s sought to live out their faith, loving and caring for each other as we ourselves are cared for by God our Creator.
For more information about the video brochures or for ordering information please email the Rev. Mary-Cate Garden [email protected]