Corona connection: Don't underestimate the importance of a humble phone call
I would like to encourage my brothers and sisters not to lose sight of the simpler things in life as they look after their flock in this strange new world, writes Mental Health Chaplain Vicky Martin
Since the government banned group meetings, including church services, I have been watching with interest, the variety of imaginative ways that my colleagues have been broadcasting church services and inspiring messages to the masses. To be honest, I have also had a bit of a giggle at some of the faux pas that have occurred, including not realising a camera is on, being interrupted by passers-by and, my favourite, an Italian Priest who forgot to turn off his filter setting and proceeded to broadcast Mass in a variety of wigs, glasses, lipsticks and monster heads!
New words have entered our vocabulary; words such as Zoom, Facetime even YouTube for some. New apps have been downloaded and new equipment hastily sought and questions we never thought would be asked, have popped up such as licensing laws for worship songs in a live broadcast, bandwidths, effective camera angles and download speeds. Perhaps this could be a new module opportunity for our Baptist colleges?
Whilst this is all very admirable, and raises huge questions about where we see our role as pastors - such as, is it really all just about the Sunday morning after all? I would like to encourage my brothers and sisters not to lose sight of the simpler things in life as they look after their flock in this strange new world.
Working as a specialist Mental Health NHS Chaplain, I was annoyed to be instructed to work from home. Anyone who knows me would know that I always want to be in the thick of the action and saw my role of Chaplain during this crisis as an opportunity to do so. Images of Woodbine Willie and other famous wartime chaplains offering cigarettes to wounded soldiers in no-man's land inspiring me to do so. "Now is the time" I felt, but it wasn't to be and so I reluctantly resigned myself to becoming a home-based chaplain - an oxymoron I felt.
However, I have found a quiet humbleness of serving people by being home. Why? Well, the first reluctant phone calls I made to some of our community based service users were so well received. They, like 8.2m people in this country, live on their own and the COVID19 lockdown has stopped all their support groups, activities, visitors and carers. They are on their own in their homes, feeling ignored, let down, isolated and already struggling with their mental health - a toxic combination. My phone call had plainly made their day - just a chat! Wow! During my second day of grumpy isolation, my call even stopped someone from overdosing and I was able to get them the help they needed. I am not telling you this to make myself look good but to encourage you. A humble phone call is sometimes underestimated.
"Do not feel a failure if you can't sort the techno stuff out."
So, in the midst of our new found techno-broadcasting, zooming and skyping please do not lose sight of the simple things. Do not feel a failure if you can't sort the techno stuff out. You don't need to - the pressure is probably more from yourself and the old view that Pastors only work Sundays and take a service. Instead, make a cuppa, make yourself comfortable and take time to call your flock. Remember the old BT adverts? BT: It's good to talk - as true now as it was then!
Ten tips on making a good and meaningful phone call at this weird time
(and probably in the future too)
Ask if they have time to talk? If not, ask if you can ring back later and arrange a time
Don't just ask them if they're ok and then ring off
If people are struggling then perhaps offer some guidance as to how to cope - there are plenty of resources out there to do this. Find your favourite and have it handy.
Perhaps have in mind someone else they can call in your community. This may start a friendly call around.
Try to talk about hopes for the future rather than THE virus or THE news
Make sure you are comfortable - I have found using a headset useful so I can walk around whilst on the phone
Don't do your emails/sermon/facebook whilst on the phone - people can tell
Use lots of verbal affirmations and reflecting back
At the end of the call it is useful to summarise any actions you have agreed ie. They are going to make something nice for dinner etc
If you have offered to ring back again or do something practical then don't forget!
The Revd Vicky Martin, Mental Health Chaplain, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
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