Saturday, 6 June 2020

The Campfire Church

Buzzfloyd, who comments here sometimes, hosts The Campfire Church on Facebook with me. Here we are.

I don't know where that little chapel is — the one in the picture at the top — it's just a photo I saw on the internet. And that's what The Campfire Church is — a temporary gathering on the internet, round an imaginary campfire, for worship and fellowship during the Covid19 isolation when physical church doesn't meet.

Buzzfloyd and I both Local Preachers and we have church membership at Pett Methodist Chapel, a little country chapel in a Sussex village. We started putting together online worship as soon as the lockdown started. We initially began meeting on the Pett Methodist Chapel Facebook page, but moved to our own page when our worship began to develop its own community identity no longer confined within the Pett Chapel membership. This last week, a couple of months into the lockdown, our minister wrote to me to ask if I could write a report for our Circuit meeting explaining about The Campfire Church, what we are and what we're doing. I thought you might be interested too (you can come to The Campfire Church if you like — tomorrow is Trinity Sunday, and Buzzfloyd will be leading our worship) so here is what I wrote in my report (Grace is Buzzfloyd):

 The Campfire Church on Facebook

As soon as we went into lockdown, realising that people could be feeling lost, isolated and in need of support, it seemed important to replicate as closely as possible the experience of church they were used to — something that felt comforting familiar.

Here are the characteristics I wanted to include:
  • A church is part of a neighbourhood.
  • Pastoral support, fellowship and friendship, beyond the Sunday service, are of immense importance.  
  • Good liturgy is participatory, not just a spectator sport.
  • In church, people sit with their friends — they don’t just sit as isolated individuals listening, singing, and saying “Amen”. They exchange remarks with those sitting next to them and chat to their friends.
  • Shy people like to be able to just observe for a while before plunging in.
  • Coffee and a chat at the end is important.

There may be a number of ways to replicate these characteristics in an online setting, but I thought Facebook would particularly lend itself to meeting these objectives.

On Facebook, a person “posts” something — some thoughts, or a picture or a link to an article or video, and below the post is a comments section where those who have seen it can add their views. We built on this simple system in structuring our worship.

In our services, we move through by a series of numbered posts, each having a comments section allowing participation by anyone who is there. 

So, for example, when we come to a hymn, the post will be a link to a video  on Youtube — and that may be Grace playing the piano and singing, or an a cappella group, or a Welsh choir or a Big Sing at the Albert Hall. We make sure the words are always provided, because it is important that those participating can sing along in their own homes. And they do. Those who worship with us who have little children at home sometimes remark how much the children are enjoying singing along.

Our opening prayer, and our Lords Prayer, are given in text format  and in the comments section people can just type “Amen”, or they can type in any phrase that speaks particularly to their heart that day.

The posts all include either a picture or a video, to make sure the worship is a sensory experience, not just cerebral.

The reading, and the sermon, are given as pre-recorded videos (with full text also supplied).

Our intercessions are usually a time of open prayer, so people can bring into the worship whatever concerns are on their hearts.

As it is possible for others to rely to any comment made, it is in effect possible for the “people in the pews” to speak to one another as well as to respond to the leader — just like in normal church. So they can exchange comments, or use the emoticons provided to exchange a smile, or a hug, or send love or express sorrow.

The Sunday before Pentecost we had a eucharistic-type liturgy, in which those attending were invited to take photos of the liturgical table they were putting together in their own living rooms, posting these pictures into the comments section as we went along, so we could all share in this creative expression of building an altar at home.

And then of course, there is the neighbourhood dimension. Because Facebook is essentially a large village/town — a community — where you can make friends, it is possible for the Campfire Church leaders to become Facebook Friends with the members; and this allows interaction, affirmation, support and exchange through the week. It enables a pastoral framework to establish.

The Campfire Church grew out of taking Pett Chapel online. As not all Pett members wished to be on Facebook, and as one or two did not enjoy our worship format, preferring Zoom services or watching live broadcasts, I took the decision to create The Campfire Church a Facebook page of its own, so that Pett folk could continue to attend it if they wished, while at the same time being free to pursue a variety of options to find what suited them best.

The Campfire Church now has 70 members, and on Sunday mornings we usually have about 25 logged on. Our membership is international and interdenominational, but also includes a number of people from the Hastings Bexhill and Rye Methodist Circuit. We are pleased that our attendance is stable (the same people come back week after week) but also growing (new people gradually come along, and they usually stay with us). We worship at 10 am on Sundays, when some of our members want to attend live broadcasts of the churches to which they belong — and those individuals often come along to the Campfire Church later in the day, and go through the service (which we leave up for them to find) quietly in their own time.

Those in membership are finding this expression of church supportive and nurturing. We aim to offer teaching of a high standard, with good levels of spiritual and intellectual stimulus, a strong sense of fellowship and pastoral care, and also to make church fun.

Our church has 4 admins — Pen Wilcock, Grace Garner, Tony Collins and Gail Tea (Gail is a Roman Catholic in Plymouth). So far our readers on a Sunday morning have been Grace, Tony and Gail; our preachers have been Pen and Grace, and our liturgies have been structured and delivered by Pen and Grace.

You are most welcome to come along and see what we do. If you go to Facebook and search for The Campfire Church, you can easily find us. It is a private group (to protect personal disclosures made in our open intercessions), so you will have to request membership.

 Maybe see you one Sunday morning? xx


Cate Nunan said...

Thank you for the explanation of your worship and how The Campfire Church works. I would like to come along but I will see if it possible, time zone wise. I think it should work, being 7pm in Australia whilst you are online at 10am. I already like to attend different church services in my own home town, why not one on FB too?

greta said...

i'm not on facebook but always look forward to your postings from the campfire church. such a great idea! still have to catch up on last week's post though. life is sometimes a bit too busy.

Pen Wilcock said...

Cate — yes, I should have said we meet at 10am British Summer Time, which I *think* is GMT+1.
We have several people for whom the timing absolutely doesn't work — Americans who would have to be up at two in the morning (and, amazingly, some do stay up util then to worship with us!) or people for whom the time zone is fine but they feel a commitment to worship with there own folk at that time of day.
So, we leave the Events (as Facebook calls our gatherings) intact for people to come into at whatever time suits them. Although there isn't the wonderful feeling of knowing that right across the world we are all gathered doing the same thing at the same time, nonetheless it allows people to experience the worship and see what everyone said, and add to the prayers — touch and taste the moment.

Greta — There have to be limits, don't there? I, likewise, don't do Zoom; I just limit myself to a few online ways fo doing things that allow me to be in touch with others and share thoughts and insights together; and let that be enough. Putting the ministry of the Word up on here or on Youtube means friends for whom Facebook is an alien land cans till share in some of what we do. Tomorrow I'll add Buzzfloyd's word to us about the Trinity.