In difficult times, people turn to religion for comfort. How are religious charities staying connected and continuing to serve their congregations?
Religion plays a huge part in most people’s lives. Eighty-four percent of the world’s population believes in a religion, with around 30% following the teachings of Christianity, according to the Guardian. Digital technology has transformed the way people find comfort – religion has not been left untouched. While physical congregation attendance in churches has tailed off in the UK to approximately 890,000 in 2018 from over 1 million a decade earlier, religious charities have stepped up digital outreach and communication.
Welcoming tentative believers and helping church followers stay connected, South Church Street embraces digital by posting sermons online. The religious charity’s website includes YouTube videos of sermons delivered pre- and post-coronavirus lockdown. All of the previous sermons are available on-demand, helping those who have missed them. In addition to videos, the religious charity also offers downloadable recordings and notes, so congregation members and the general public can access the musings.
The lockdown over Easter did not stop South Church Street from delivering service. The religious charity also posted an open invitation on their website for prayer – via Zoom. Making use of the videoconferencing service in place of an IRL gathering, the organisation has helped those unable to attend stay connected.
Religious organisations and charities have also live-streamed events and gatherings to keep congregations engaged. Keeping the tradition of Sunday church services alive, the Church on the Corner in London hosts a weekly live-streamed service for followers. Hosted by Zoom, church organisers can still participate from their own homes.
The religious charity has also set up an online prayer group through Facebook. Videos are posted from Zoom onto the page for congregations to view – many of the videos include a link to ‘watch with friends’ helping to keep audiences engaged. Services are also available to follow along on Google Documents, making weekly get-togethers accessible.
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year, many Muslims celebrate the most holy month by fasting from dawn to dusk, pray, and participate in acts of charity. Secretary-General Harun Khan of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The message for this Ramadan is clear: fast and pray at home and share Ramadan digitally. This is the way to help save lives.” In addition to offering advice, the MCB also posted an online resource of how to celebrate while under lockdown.
Rethinking worship and engagement, Islamic faith-based charities have come together under the banner #RamadanAtHome. The hashtag has been used to share events, celebrations, and religious momentum – Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also taken part via Twitter, showcasing Muslim support for NHS workers and encouraging celebrations at home.
#Ramadan is very different this year, but we can still demonstrate our values of compassion and love by protecting our key workers and saving lives.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) April 24, 2020
Join me and many other Muslim Londoners by staying at home this Ramadan. #RamadanAtHome pic.twitter.com/zky4tjdUu3
The Naz Legacy Foundation (“NLF”) has used social media to launch its events around #InterfaithIftar. Taking digital even further, the foundation has used Google Docs to help organise participants. The charity also uses Zoom. The videoconferencing service has helped the NLF feature Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade as a panel guest on its Virtual Iftar event. The virtual iftar event is a means for families to have their evening meal with high-profile guests.
Gaining traction and audience, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (AMA) UK and its youth group have launched a virtual event to replace its usual celebration in mosques. A celebration of interfaith matters, the event includes, “online live talks related to the current crisis, virtual Mosque tour, personal stories of Muslims impacted by COVID-19, question & answer sessions and to watch someone breaking a fast live.” The virtual event is being held on the 8th of May, from 19:35 to 20:40 and is an opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to engage. For charity digital leaders, the virtual event has the potential to register even more participants than a single mosque could hold.
Over the long weekend, children and parents were not disappointed by Christian festivities. Virtual Easter egg hunts were held all over the country and helped both charities and supporters stay connected.
Krunch South West, a youth charity with a Christian ethos launched a virtual egg hunt. Krunch project manager Penny Baker said: "We desperately want to stay connected to young people. Obviously, we are adhering to all of the latest government guidelines so our service may change but our commitment to supporting the young people remains steadfast."
The charity took 14 photos of Easter Eggs around Thornbury and posted them onto Facebook for community members to guess where they were taken.