With fortnightly services resuming in St Denys Church this Sunday, we caught up with the Rev Sera Rumble to find out what she’s looking forward to about the reopening. We also learned about her new YouTube skills, what lockdown looked like, and the tears she saw along the way...
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The church has only been allowed to open for private prayer since June 15, but before that it “embraced the world of YouTube” by producing two online services a week, explains Sera, who describes herself as the church “deputy head” – or, officially, curate.
But online videos don’t make themselves, and she talks of a “steep learning curve” to acquire skills to edit and upload regular programmes to their new channel.
‘I’m looking forward to hearing the piano being played again and filling the church with music’
“We did a service every Sunday morning... pre-recorded and edited together... the amount of footage of the river I’ve put in is unbelievable! And the bridge. So that’s been a delight, that we’ve been able to use local video...
“And we’ve done a ‘Messy Church Service’ every week, which is targeted at kids and families. Though it seems as if there’s quite a lot of 70-year-olds who seem to watch it!”
Still from Messy Time video - from St Denys station
She describes being able to resume church services as “cautiously great”.
“I’m very aware that there are some who won’t be able to join us, through shielding or other reasons; very aware that some people just have really benefitted from the online things, so how do we keep those going? But [I’m] really looking forward I think to hearing lots of voices all at the same time.”
While church-goers won’t be able to sing, they will be able to speak during services.
“And the joy is there are many ways you can speak things. So you can say grace together like the Lord’s Prayer, you can say some psalms together, so yes: we’re allowed to speak but not shout... so it’s been a lot of preparation, and getting it all together.
“The other thing I’m looking forward to is hearing the piano being played again and filling the church with music... So we’ve got a glorious grand piano and some wonderful pianists.”
Sera says it’s been interesting to observe people coming in to the church for private prayer over recent weeks, who have been regular church-goers as well as a “trickle” of people who never normally go into church.
‘To stand and face death, when basically that’s what we’ve been trying to avoid, and to have to face death with people, has been deeply moving’
“I’m very aware there’s been lots of tears, which has been interesting. But I think what people are finding is, just to have the space - where there is peace, and there is beautiful light coming in through the windows - just that space to escape for a while, but to be honest about how they are... It’s been quite moving to watch, and just observe people embracing that space a bit...
“I kind of think God is everywhere, but some spaces just help that encounter a bit better.”
She says one of the most “grounding” things, in her first year of being a curate, has been conducting funerals. She’d conducted some, and then in the first few weeks of the virus there was a big increase. She conducted around six funerals in eight weeks – although not all were deaths caused by Covid.
“I’ve actually found it really helpful, because in all that’s been going on, to stand and face death, when basically that’s what we’ve been trying to avoid, and to have to face death with people, has been deeply moving. Not enjoyable, but actually deeply moving.”
“What was interesting during that time was, you’re allowed however many people to a funeral to hardly any.”
St Denys Church
It became more important, she says, to “represent the many as we say goodbye to this person”, both at the graveside or in crematoriums, which adapted to new regulations and “actually managed to make it a nice environment even with fewer numbers”.
“So what’s it been like? I think the funerals have been particularly grounding, in some ways helpful, very sobering, but a total privilege to do. Absolute privilege”
And what’s been “amazing to see” for Sera during lockdown has been the way people have supported each other, both through the church, and via voluntary initiatives like the Southampton Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group, which has been distributing vast numbers of food parcels for vulnerable people and offering other support from its St Denys Boat Club base.
“In terms of the church, we’ve got one person who phones our 100-year-old and our 97-year-old each week for a conversation, to a young family who are shielding, and every week they do a Facebook children’s toddler music time – so to see people use their skills to just reach out to others, and not just the church folk but the community folk - I think it’s been amazing!”
Fortnightly services resume at St Denys Church on Sunday (June 19) at 10am.
The church’s YouTube channel is St Denys Church Southampton.