One Boat Chaplaincy: a global response to COVID-19

By staff writers
May 29, 2020

With churches in the UK still experiencing lockdown, the Rev Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford has launched One Boat Chaplaincy  and offered reflections on fresh lessons to be learnt about how we 'do church'. Enforced online communication is revealing a potentially deeper experience of being part of a universal, holy, catholic church, she says, redefining a kingdom message and relocating who has authorship of both content and framing of what it is to be ‘church’.

Carrie Pemberton Ford’s response to the lock down and church lock out in her local parish was to generate the One Boat Chaplaincy, a daily mid-morning reflection, initially featuring an act of  morning worship filmed on  her phone from the comfort of her study. Since those first tentative broadcasts, One Boat has grown to  a membership just short of 1000 and over 70,000 virtual visitors to it daily services of meditation over the first five weeks.

 Ford explained that the idea was a response to Pope Francis’ call at his annual Orbi et Urbi address in an empty  St Peter's Square on 27 March 2020.  “Pope Francis wanted Christians to understand that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”

"COVIS-19 and its impacts, closing the physical premises by which we have nominated ‘church’ and other places of worship, has unleashed a surge of alternative ways of realising our spiritual endeavours and desires. It has opened up a fresh line into how we can attend to one another’s suffering, desires for a more just world, and inspired fresh collaborative efforts and vision-making across the world", she added.

Reflecting on what may emerge from changes in 'doing church' caused by the lockdown, Ford points to the opportunities of engaging with  "the contemporary language of our times". " Being able to film, talk happily into our smart phones, manipulate a few images, manage a room in zoom, has meant as ministers we are once again on track to communicating, as every fresh generation of faith is called to do, to our current populations", she said.

She points out that this will not be "unlearned" as we move forward: "From here on in we are going to be exploring a much more mixed economy of communication, and I for one welcome wholeheartedly the refreshed reality of church, mirroring the first Pentecost, when suddenly, and this is the big break through which One Boat Chaplaincy has been brining to the mix, the fact that many many different expressions of faith, and geo-political contexts, can come together so easily when invited into one place, sharing a common platform, speaking their reality, unmediated by an imperialising voice, through zoom or facebook, suddenly brought together as close neighbours, as brothers and sisters in the one internet household."

Those who have come along to some of the mid-morning meditations, recognise the range and power of those in the boat seeking to work out kingdom values, says Ford. "Not only does the regular half hour slot become a new part of their spiritual regime, but many from the Philippines through to Pennsylvania have written in to say that their spiritual practice has been lifted and they have been moved to work on practical expressions of justice for all now, when many in their communities lack food. Many are thinking about new ways of being church post-COVID-19.”

Early contributors have included: the African Green Wall pioneer, Dan Mullan:  Smarita Sengupta, co-founder of the Destiny Foundation which works with young women in the Red Light district of Kolkata; Danish Iconographer Charlotte Pedersen; and Pastor Biyya Bourdois from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, contributes fortnightly reflections. “I am part of the One Boat Chaplaincy because whether we want to recognise it or not, we are all, each one of us, in one boat, one world, one creation", she said. " It is important to me to join with other voices from the faith community who speak the truth with love, seeking justice, particularly at this time of COVID-19 menacing the whole world”.

Elizabeth Geitz, an Episcopalian priest and author whose writing focuses on spirituality and justice issues,  describes One Boat Chaplaincy as “a life raft in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting people from all walks of life in every country.” She adds: “Hearing the reflections of contributors from around the world each day provides both a fresh and broader perspective on the similar, yet different, situations in which we find ourselves. It is an honour to contribute an American perspective to this ambitious global initiative.”

The Rev Professor June Boyce Tillman, Professor of Applied Music at the University of Winchester said: “The virus has broken down divisions in the world. We really are in one boat and the international nature of the chaplaincy is especially important, for Christianity is an international religion. I have enjoyed working with an amazing variety of people here. Our tradition offers hope, companionship, compassion and love from our scriptures and also a real richness of our mystical tradition, which also receives a welcome place here on the boat.”

The Rev Dr Nadim Hassan, a Syrian theologian and Executive Director of the Awareness Foundation which has supported Syrian refugees for a number of years and works for reconciliation alongside raising awareness of the precarious situation of hundreds of thousands of Syrians forced into migration by conflict, said: "One Boat offers every day a sanctuary of peace and fellowship with our living and gracious God. The contributions of different voices reflects the richness and diversity of our fragile and suffering world. It brings hope instead of despair to our common quest for a peaceful world."

* One Boat Chaplaincy  www.facebook.com/oneboatchaplaincy

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