As of Monday 1st June, we will be enduring our 11th week in lock-down.
During this season, our normal patterns of meeting as congregations have been severely disrupted, and the leadership challenges have been particularly acute (for some). At the same time, a number of new (and some surprising) opportunities have also presented themselves…
For anyone who is feeling a bit ‘lost in lock-down’, here’s our top five opportunities which are very much open to you, at this time:
1. Taking care of yourself
As they say in aeroplane safety presentations: “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you try to help anyone else“. The reason is simple – if you pass out while trying to help someone else then you just become another person who needs help! If we invest a good amount of our time in maintaining our own health (in every area of our lives), then everyone else will enjoy the returns on that investment.
This, of course, involves prayer and bible reading, singing along to worship music and listening to (or viewing) encouraging messages from other believers (among many other things). However, it also involves keeping your heart pumping and your muscles working by doing some exercise, and not killing yourself slowly with excessive amounts of alcohol and unhealthy foods.
Also, try to keep yourself cheerful by talking to friends and family on the phone, and by doing some of the things you always enjoy doing (like playing music, reading, watching films, cooking, playing games, painting etc.) We won’t be doing ourselves any favours if we get too serious in this time of great stress. Try to be as light-hearted as possible. Laugh often.
2. Staying in touch with your people
Everyone is aware of the limitations we are all under to stay in touch, but a simple text to say ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ to people helps them to feel like they are not forgotten. Even if they don’t respond (they may be feeling too sick, too busy or too depressed) most of your people will still appreciate that you have made the effort to stay connected.
While there are a number of digital platforms through which we can stay in touch (e.g. WhatsApp, Zoom, Facebook etc.), I think that these are best used in combination with other media (e.g. a phone call without video, a hand-written letter or postcard). Many are reporting ‘Zoom Fatigue’, and there are some interesting scientific reasons for this.
However, when people who do need technology to stay in touch do not have access to enough devices for their households, I think we should all try do whatever we can to help. For example, using some of the Joshua Centre funding to buy cheap smart-phones, tablets or chargers for people who need them would be a sensible and generous use of that resource.
3. Praying for others, and practically supporting them
British people sometimes struggle to ask for prayer or practical support. When we are with each other in person, it is easier to pick up on non-verbal cues, but in lock-down this is much more difficult. Therefore, in this season we might need to invite people to volunteer such personal information, in more explicit ways.
This can be as simple as a direct question (e.g. “Is there anything you would like us to pray for, this week?”) or if that feels awkward or uncomfortable, you could set up a simple system (e.g. a congregation e-mail address, or an open Facebook group) which enables people to reach out for help without making themselves feel quite so vulnerable.
Some issues are resolved easily (e.g. food shopping, financial support), whereas other issues are more tricky (e.g. mental health problems, poor physical health). Therefore, while we should help others as best as we can, it is good to remember that only God is God (and we, therefore, are not). Even the most intelligent and resourceful of us have our human limitations.
Some practical things which people have been doing locally are about offering support. For example, a congregation in Maghull have a ‘Prayer Tree’ in the grounds of their Parish church, which simply means they have hung a sign on to a tree which invites passers-by to write and then ‘hang’ their prayers on to the tree also. This is a humble way of making local people more aware of their existence.
Other practical things which people are doing locally are about engaging with people. Some congregations have organised ‘Community Treasure Hunts’, which involve placing objects around their town, and posting clues about what these objects are in a WhatsApp group. The objects range from being ‘just for fun’ to ‘spiritually significant’. This is an interesting way of making new contacts, locally.
4. Offering spiritual ‘food’, and ‘chewing on it’ together
In an ideal world, everyone would be spiritual ‘self-feeders’. However, as anyone who has raised children will know, when they are young they need help in the selection, preparation and sometimes even the consumption parts of the eating process (!). It is the same with new disciples. They need help.
Sometimes new disciples do not know where to even look for ‘spiritual food’. Those who do may come across content which is a bit dense, and needs to be chopped up into smaller chunks before it can be digested. Others will be drawn to the bizarre, and they will need a steer on why certain ideas are not particularly edifying.
One youth congregation has a WhatsApp group, and each Tuesday the leaders upload a short video by Francis Chan (from youtube), and a discussion question. On Thursdays they all meet up on Zoom to talk about it, as well as playing online games together. This all takes the leaders very little time to prepare, and is very easy for the young people to access.
5. Inviting friends and neighbours to join you online
Sometimes people are reluctant to attend church, as it often means entering unfamiliar surroundings. ‘Attending’ something online is so much easier. The lock-down gives us an opportunity to find new ways of serving seekers, by providing more accessible online courses and services, which they might feel more comfortable engaging with.
There is now an ever-increasing number of courses which can be used online (e.g. Alpha, Christianity Explored, Start, The 4 Points Course, The Bible Course, The Prayer Course, The Marriage Course etc.), and most of these are free of charge – all you usually have to do is set them up and invite people! It could not be easier.
However, if you feel that the technical know-how to run an online courses is too much for you, then you could just ask someone else in your Congregation, Parish or Deanery to help you, either by arranging or by hosting the course for you, and then all you would need to do is ‘show up online’ and join in the conversation!
If you were feeling lost, but now feel overwhelmed, please don’t be. Remember that this season will not last forever. We shall not be doing the exact same things next Summer which we are having to do this Summer. With that in mind, next week there will be another blog about how we might start to prepare for life after lock-down. Hang in there!