Islington churches boost congregation numbers despite lockdown

King's Cross Church online services

King's Cross Church has moved its services online. - Credit: Emma Kenny

Three churches in Islington have found new ways to boost their congregations despite the challenges brought on by Covid-19.

Although religious places have been able to stay open in a Covid-safe way amid the third coronavirus lockdown, some churches have decided to operate completely online.

Pete Hughes, a lead pastor at King's Cross Church (KXC), said: “Taking the church online created a huge amount of nervous energy."

Pete Hughes

Pete Hughes, a lead pastor at King's Cross Church, at a service before the pandemic. - Credit: Emma Kenny

Prior to moving online, KXC was made up of 700 members across three congregations.

Although it has reached more people during lockdown as a result of going online, measuring growth has been difficult.

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This is because the church can measure the number of people tuning in, but it is more difficult to ascertain the length of time listeners are connected.

To combat the lack of interactivity, KXC has been holding five Zoom gatherings across London (north, east, south, west and central), all connected to the main service.

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The congregation converse in groups, praying for one another.

KXC has also put on a brunch service using a community café for the vulnerable and through the formation of the Kings Cross Food Bank.

Pete believes online services are likely to continue after the pandemic, not as a substitute but to complement physical services.

“This is not a virtual gospel, it is a gospel where our flesh and blood matters and God draws near to heal, restore and redeem us," he said.

“However, online church could create a safe environment for those who may be anxious about turning up to church to check it out beforehand or for those who might be sick.”

Fr John Burniston, parish priest of St James' Islington, also spoke about his experience.

Fr John Burniston, St James' Islington.

Fr John Burniston, parish priest of St James' Islington. - Credit: Fr John Burniston

He said: “Covid has been a cloud over the church, 20 per cent of the congregation has had it.

“We have been working at half strength."

Pre-lockdown, the church, which has a congregation with an average age of 38, could expect about 50 visitors each week. However, following the transition to online, the numbers tuning in have risen to around 80.

Charity of Richard Cloudesley has also chipped in by awarding St James' a £5,000 grant, which has been spent on webcams in the church to make streaming services easier.

St James’ has also continued its weekly lunch for the homeless during lockdown, adapting it for takeaway rather than its usual eat-in service.

Daniel Allwood, 35, operations manager of St Saviour's Church, also spoke on the transition.

St Saviour's Church

St Saviour's Church on Hanley Road. - Credit: Toby Mitchell Creative

He explained the adjustment to online was initially complicated as some of the congregation did not have access to laptops or iPads.

The congregation helped to tackle the issue by donating old iPads and laptops to those who otherwise would not have had access.

Members of St Saviour’s Church has risen from 20 to 100 between October 2019 to September 2020. However, this could also partly be due to its new partnership with KXC.

It works with KXC on the latter's foodbank, which uses a building at St Saviour's to stock items and distribute food

Daniel thinks online services will continue to occur, especially for people who are sick and unable to leave their homes.

A member of the congregation, Dennis Hylton, 61, said: “As a church we have learned to be a community offline and offline.

"We have used technology to share, support and pray for one another as we journey through the Covid pandemic together."

This newspaper also spoke to Rabbi Mendy Korer, 39, of Chabad Islington, which serves as a synagogue and community centre.

Rabbi Korer temporarily shut down the centre after London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plea for places of worship to voluntarily close to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Its educational activities for younger children and general social events have been adjusted to online, but worship services have stopped altogether. 

This is because services are performed on the Sabbath – a day of rest - and streaming services would constitute work. 

Rabbi Korer said: “Not being able to gather does make things very challenging. 

“I miss hosting people and watching members of the community become friends in a way they would not have been able to if not for our physical space. 

“Our attendees for our worship services have expressed their eagerness to reopen so they can be a part of the communal worship they currently lack, although they understand the need for closure.” 

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