It’s church Jim, but not as we know it!
Hilary Taylor, Small Church Enabler at the London Baptist Association, reflects on the challenges and opportunities we face during the Coronavirus pandemic
Since mid-March, life has changed for us all at a rapid rate. Changes to our freedom, mobility, work and finances have affected everyone. The Coronavirus has spread around the world, challenging the very fabric of society as we know it.
But amidst all the doom and gloom, there is light! Neighbours are connecting, people in their thousands are volunteering to help the vulnerable and best of all, the church has left the building!
This strange new world is seen as both a challenge and an opportunity for the church.
We are a creative people, so many small churches have started exploring the whole new world of video conferencing, using Skype, Zoom, Youtube and Facebook. Some have got hold of it quickly and are using it for Sunday services, bible study, prayer meetings and even quiz nights! New WhatsApp groups have been formed which are keeping the fellowships close together. Foodbanks are staying open with brave volunteers.
Amazing results so far
So many more people are tuning in to a Sunday service / zoom online than ever attended in a building! Those who have no internet are taking part in zoom meetings using a landline. Virtual communion on Maundy Thursday was a first for many!
Everyone in the church and on the fringe are being contacted much more regularly by the leadership team
Churches are generally praying more through the crisis, often praying daily together
People are learning how to use the technology. They wouldn’t before!
Those churches who are finding it hard to use the technology are tuning in to services online, getting a variety of worship experiences. Premier Radio have many new listeners.
Young people who connected anyway using the internet, are continuing their groups online with youth workers.
Christians are helping their local neighbours more than ever before, offering to help with shopping, collecting prescriptions or just phoning for a chat. One church distributed letters offering help to the 6 streets around their church building. Other church leaders are doing this in the streets where they live. One minister is sitting outside his church, enjoying the sun, and chatting to all who pass by.
Some people are reaching out to God through this crisis, asking Christian friends to pray for them. They are realising how fragile life is and how quickly we run out of our own resources. People are realising that they need each other and yet need a power greater than man’s to get us out of this. We are the people with the message of power and hope of Easter!
The smaller churches are being hit hard by the financial fall out of the virus. There are no offerings collected at Sunday services and no hall users for income. Churches are asking their members to contribute using bank transfers or direct debits rather than cheques or cash.
Some ministers are struggling and one said he didn’t know how he was to pay the bills next month. Churches do have some assets but many of them are bricks and mortar, rather than cash in the bank. The Baptist Union are offering grants of £10,000 for the worst hit and loans of £25,000 to be paid back over 10 years. There have been brilliant regular updates on the Baptists Together website as the Government announces each new way to help workers. This page in particular has more details.
Please pray for the smaller churches. The shape of our churches is changing, and some may sadly not weather this storm.
I'm also aware of a number of ministers who have taken funerals, and churches who have lost members. There have been a few quiet reflections and thanksgiving services on Zoom, and plans made for memorial services for when this is over. But an awful situation is now more difficult: not being able to properly say goodbye, or attend a funeral, or comfort those who are grieving as you normally would. It’s just the moment when people need to give or have a hug, and it's not possible.
BUT this is an opportunity to do church differently. Not just to replicate what we used to do but online, but a real opportunity to reflect on how to be church. We are in post Christendom and the emphasis is more on relationships and talking to people about Jesus at work, in coffee shops and with friends, than organised religion in a building… We need to encourage this spirit of reaching out when life resumes and not just to default to business as usual.
We need to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Hilary Taylor is the Small Church Enabler at the London Baptist Association.
The image shows the Easter service on Zoom at Ashford Common Baptist Church, where Hilary is a member
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