Thursday, September 3, 2020

September 2020 Week of Prayer

At the start of 2020 we encouraged everyone in our community to do three things:

  • Pray on our own every day
  • Pray with others every week
  • Fast for breakthrough once a month
For our September week of prayer (Monday 7th to Sunday 13th September) we want to encourage everyone to pray with others every day. To help achieve this we are providing multiple opportunities to pray together throughout the week.

The start of the day (6.45am Monday to Friday)
 
Each morning there will be an opportunity to pray with others on my prayercast on Facebook. If you're not an early starter you can watch later in the day, or for our deaf community the prayercast gets translated by our amazing interpreters. I will lead all five mornings and we will pray for a different topic each morning. 

The end of the day (9.45pm Monday to Friday)

We will finish each day with a 15 minute time of prayer, lead by different people from across our sites. This will take the form of an examen where we will review the day and recognise where God has been at work. This will be on Instagram Live on our Kerith Instagram account

Kingdom Come Zoom Hour of Prayer (8pm Monday)

We will join together on zoom for an hour to pray for one another, the church, the nation and the nations. We will finish by taking communion together so please come prepared with some bread and wine or equivalent. 

Kingdom Come In Person Hour of Prayer (8pm Wednesday)

As much as possible this will be a repeat of the Monday hour of prayer but instead of being online will be held on the Kerith Centre balcony. This will be our first physical gathering since the Covid restrictions came into effect and in part will be a test event for the safety procedures we have developed. Attendance will be limited to 55 people on a first come first served basis with places booked via ChurchSuite. We are targeting this event for those who will struggle to access the Monday zoom prayer meeting. If you know somebody who you think would like to attend but would struggle to book a space then please can you contact them and offer to make a booking on their behalf. If you would like to attend you can find all the details and the booking form on ChurchSuite

Prayer for Revival (9am Saturday)

I want to encourage as many of us as possible to join Jon Hulme's zoom hour of prayer for revival in our nation and the nations. Jon is away this weekend so Jacqui Webber-Gant will be leading it in his absence. 

Fast for Alpha

Please also pick one day of the week to fast (food or something else), praying for somebody you would love to see come on the Alpha course starting at the end of September. This term we are starting Alpha with a TASTER Night on Wednesday 30th Septenber 19:30 via Zoom. You can 'bring a friend' and then at the end of the evening they can decide if they want to sign up for the other weeks. It's therefore an easy invite as you are only inviting to 1 week not 10!

There are some helpful guidelines on fasting on the 24-7 Prayer website. Pray that God will give the person or people you are going to invite a receptive heart, and that God will give you the courage to actually ask them!

Zoom Links

For the events on zoom (the Monday Kingdom Come hour of prayer and the Saturday prayer for revival) we will send out the links to everyone on Church Suite on Friday. If you don't get that email then please email the church office and we will get the links to you. For all the other events you should find the links above. 

Sorry that this blog has come out a bit later than I would have wanted, but it has taken quite a while to make sure we have everything in place to run the in person prayer meeting on the Wednesday. 

Hope that all makes sense. There's quite a bit going on but please plug in where you can and enjoy a week of praying together (with a day of rest on Sunday!). 

Simon

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sundays - We want to hear what you think

 



We are now around 5 months into this season where everything we do on a Sunday has moved online. I've been so proud of all the people who have worked incredibly hard and shown amazing creativity to produce all of our online content. There has been an army of both staff and volunteers, in front of and behind the cameras, who have been serving and continue to serve us so well with Kerith Kids TV, Kerith Youth, worship, preaching, the pre meeting chat and much more. I'm also incredibly proud of our church family who have adapted so quickly to this new way of 'doing church' and the opportunities it presents. 

Now feels like a good moment to evaluate how well our online content is working for everyone, to gather ideas on how what we could change or improve and to see if there are any fresh ideas of things we could do. We would also love to hear how people feel about gathering again physically and what people feel would need to be in place before they would want to be part of an in person Sunday gathering. 

We've therefore put together this questionnaire which we'd really appreciate everyone taking the time to fill in. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to complete and will be incredibly helpful for us as a leadership as we look to chart a way forward. We'll report on the results in early September. The questionnaire only asks about our Sunday adult online content but if you want to comment on our kids or youth content, or any other area of church life, then there is an opportunity to do that at the end.

I realise that not everybody in our community will be able to complete an online questionnaire, and in some ways those who will struggle to do it will be some of the people we most want to hear from. If you know somebody who you think may be in that camp I'm asking whether you could help us by contacting them and filling the questionnaire in with them. That will be much more relational than us trying to do something centrally - thank you. As an aside we are also setting up a project to attempt to deal with the 'digital poverty' of those who struggle to access the online world. If you know people who are struggling in that way, and you personally are not able to help them, then please let us know by emailing our reception team and we will see what we can do to help. 

Thanks in advance for taking the time to let us know what you think - it is really appreciated. 

Simon

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Upcoming Dates - Prayer, Gift Days and Vision Hours



We've got some dates coming up which I wanted to make sure everyone knew about and had in their diaries.

Kingdom Come Prayer Hour - 8pm on Monday 6th July

This is our next monthly one church prayer meeting which will happen on zoom. Please come and join us for what will be a dynamic, faith filled hour of prayer. Included in the hour will be Lee Layton-Matthews leading us into God's presence, Paul Manwaring leading us in prayer for healing and the opportunity in groups to share encouragement and pray for one another. 

Because of the security issues around making zoom links public we are now sending out zoom links using our ChurchSuite database. That should mean that if you're on ChurchSuite you should get an email this weekend with the link in (you might want to check your spam folder as they often seem to end up there). If you haven't got the email by Monday morning, or you are part of Kerith but not on ChurchSuite, then please email the church office who will be able to send you the link. You might also want to ask to be added to ChurchSuite so you'll get these emails in future. 

Vision Fund Gift Days - 19th and 26th July

Our vision fund continues to provide us with the resources to move things forward on all four of our sites. In particular it is currently paying all the salaries and running costs for our Windsor and West Wight sites up until the end of 2020. We also give away 10% of all the money which comes in to other individuals and organisations. Our next two gift days are coming up - please be thinking and praying about what God would have you give. You can find all the details on how to give on the giving page of our website. 

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who chooses to sow their finances into the Kingdom of God by giving both to our regular offerings and our gift days. I never cease to be amazed by the ongoing generosity of our church community. It allows us to do so much as a church - thank you. 

Vision Hours on 3rd and 4th August

We want to update people on each of our sites as to what is going on both across Kerith and on your site. These are going to be one hour zoom calls which will include an update from your site pastor, from me and from Jonathan Davis who is our chair of trustees. There will also be space for Q&A and for us to pray.  

These are going to be:
  • West Wight – 7pm on Monday 3rd August
  • Bracknell – 8.30pm on Monday 3rd August
  • Windsor - 7pm on Tuesday 4th August
  • BV – 8.30pm on Tuesday 4th August   
The zoom links will come out via ChurchSuite emails nearer the time. Again if you haven't got your link by the Monday morning then please email reception to get it. 

Excitingly we have a growing number of people who consider themselves to be part of Kerith but aren't connected to any of our physical sites. If that's you and you're on ChurchSuite you will get an invite to the Bracknell vision hour. However, I hope that next time we hold site based vision events we might be holding a separate vision hour for our growing digital site (for want of a better name). Exciting. 

Hope that all makes sense. If not please ask :)

Blessings,

Simon

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Post Church Zoom Changes and More




We're still experimenting and innovating around how we best do church online in this season where we are still unable to meet physically on a Sunday (I'm going to talk on Sunday about the journey back to meeting again physically so please listen out for that). 

One of the ideas we've played with online has been to do something after the meeting to gather those who would like interact some more. Initially this was a Facebook live call, and then some of the sites started to experiment with zoom calls. These have worked well, with the addition of breakout rooms for small group discussions which people seem to enjoy, and now all our sites are doing separate zoom calls in the morning with one central zoom call after the evening meeting. 

However, one thing we have been very aware of is the danger that making the zoom links public allows anyone with malicious intent to join one of the zoom calls and do something inappropriate or offensive. Because of this we're going to change the focus of the post church zoom calls to be for people already connected to Kerith rather than for newcomers, which in reality is who has been joining them. This means that instead of making the links to the various zoom calls public we will send the them out in an email which will go out monthly to everyone who is on our ChurchSuite database. If you're on ChurchSuite you should get an email with the links by 5pm this Friday, they sometime end up in the spam folder so you might want to check there if it doesn't arrive by then. The links won't change from week to week so once you've got the one you need save it somewhere and you can use it every week. 

For those not on ChurchSuite but consider yourself to be part of Kerith (wherever you are in the world) we'd still love you to be able to join. To get the links you need to either:
  • If you are in a Kerith small group ask your small group leader for the links which they should have. If you're a small group leader why not send the links out to your group when you get them. 
  • Email the church office to ask for the link. They will check that you are known to us as a church and send you the link you need.
  • Apply to be added to our church database by emailing the church office.
I realise that this is all a bit of a faff and it may take a week or two for people to get the links they need, but both online and in person we want to prioritise making sure our gatherings are as safe as they can be for all of us. 

We are also upgrading the way we stream the Sunday meetings. You will still be able to watch the various components (Kerith Kids TV, the pre-meeting chat and the adult meeting) on both our website and on our YouTube channel, but from this Sunday the website will allow for interactive chat in the same way as YouTube does. Over the coming weeks we will add in other capabilities on the website such as the opportunity for people to be prayed for, respond virtually to appeals and more. 

Hope you're doing well. I look forward to 'seeing you' on Sunday.

Blessings,

Simon

Monday, June 15, 2020

Let's Talk




If you were with us on Sunday you would have heard the interview I did with Shari Barrrett, our worship pastor, something which will hopefully will be the beginning of a conversation about race for many of us in our community. This followed on from the pre-meeting chat Catrina and I had with Pelumi and Rachel Aworinde the Sunday before, and tied in with the pre-meeting chats we had this Sunday with Darlington Nwodo and Daniele Siedu. If you missed any of those interviews I'd strongly encourage you to watch them by clicking on the links. None of them make easy listening but it is so important that we hear these voices, especially those of us who are white and want to understand better what racism looks like in our own nation and the nations around the world. 

I want to encourage us as a church community to have the courage to initiate these sorts of conversations with people from a different ethnic background to our own. I realise that in the past I've shied away from having those conversations, afraid of saying the wrong thing or causing offence. However, I now realise how much poorer I am because of that. I've been shocked as I've sat down with friends from different ethnic minorities, in some cases with people I've known for years, not only to hear their stories of race based hatred and discrimination but also to realise that I had no idea that many of these things are still going on today.  

I also recommended a couple of books which I want to encourage everyone in our community to read.


The first is Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Reni is a London based journalist who writes with brutal honesty about race and racism in the UK. Please get it, read it and discuss it with others.


The second book is We Need to Talk About Race by Ben Lindsay. Ben is black but leads a white majority church in South East London. His book is very helpful in exposing some of the structural issues in white majority churches which can make it hard for black people (and those from other ethnic minorities) to flourish. 

Finally to say I finished my sermon yesterday with a poem, which for me summarised some of what I think God is up to in this moment (the poem is by a Poet called Leslie Dwight). We are seeing a shaking in our nation with in short succession Brexit, Extinction Rebellion, Covid-19 and now the murder of George Floyd. We are at a unique moment in history where God is shaking our certainties, revealing fault lines in our society, highlighting injustice and calling us to live a different way. Let us be the people who recognise God at work in it all, have the uncomfortable conversations, speak prophetically, act courageously and be God's agents for change in the world.

Simon



Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Resources to Help us with Mental Health in Lockdown


As lockdown continues, albeit in a slightly modified form, I suspect all of us are having struggles of one type or another with our mental health. For some that may be moments of anger, sadness or frustration (if you check in with my family I've exhibited all three of those!). For others it will much bigger challenges. I wanted to point you all at some resources which I think will be helpful for all of us at this challenging time. 



The first is to point you at the brilliant talk and Q&A which Dr Kate Middleton from the Mind and Soul Foundation did for us. You can find it on both Facebook and YouTube. I can't recommend it strongly enough. If you've already heard it then why not go and listen to it again! Why not also send a link to it to someone you know who might benefit from it.

There are also a whole load articles on supporting your mental health in the midst of Covid-19 on their website as well as a wealth of other helpful information. Please take a look. They also post lots of information on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube feeds, not all of which appears on their website.



Hope in Depression is a charity which founded by Lisa Owens who is part of Kerith Bracknell. The charity runs a six week course hosted by experts in various areas of mental health to help both people who are struggling with depression and those who are seeking to support people who are struggling. I have spoken with a number of people who have attended the course and they have all spoken incredibly highly of it, both in terms of the quality of the people presenting it and the impact it has made on their own lives. You don't need to have a faith background to do the course.

The latest course, which is being run online, started last Monday (11th May) but it's not too late to join in week 2. I'd really recommend it to anyone who feels they could do with some help. You can find all the details and a sign up form on the small groups section of the website

Hope in Depression have also recently posted some really helpful short videos on their YouTube channel around various aspects of mental health. 


Kintsugi is the name for a Japanese technique of making artwork from pottery which is broken and then put back together using glue which is golden coloured, highlighting the beauty which can come from brokenness. Kintsugi Hope is a Christian charity seeking to to see a world where mental and emotional health is understood and accepted, with safe and supportive communities for everyone to grow and flourish. Earlier this year I heard Patrick Regan who founded Kintsugi speak and found him very helpful. They run Wellbeing Groups as well as having a load of helpful talks and articles on their website. 


Finally many of you will remember Zoe Dickinson (or Zoe Hayes as she was). Zoe was a much loved part of Kerith and one of our key contacts at Tearfund before she moved to Cheltenham and retrained as a Wellbeing Coach, helping people with their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Zoe has produced a free Wellbeing Toolkit which could be a great first step in evaluating where you currently are and what some first steps might be in beginning to move to a healthier place. Sadly Zoe doesn't have a circular logo, which would have created a really nice symmetry to this blog, but other than that I highly recommend her!

Hope some of that helped somebody.

Keep safe and be kind (to yourself and others).

Simon.

ps. My final suggestion is to watch the Disney Film 'Inside Out' which is a masterclass in the importance of us engaging with our emotions. You can get a one month free subscription to the Disney Channel if you haven't got access to it on DVD or any other digital format!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Roy Buck


Sadly at midday on Wednesday (6th May) Roy Buck passed away. 

Roy and his lovely with Ruth have been part of Kerith for 45 years, two of those people in our community who have remained faithful through the huge changes our church has seen over the years. This has included the move into the charismatic, two major building projects, two changes of name, a change of senior leader and much more! Those of us who have joined Kerith more recently owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Roy and Ruth who have helped lay the foundation for all God is now doing among us. In that time amongst other things Roy and Ruth have led a very successful small group in their home in Crowthorne, and were amongst the founding leaders and leading lights of TMTL, our group for the retired. 

I will always remember Roy for his gentleness and kindness. Like many of us he always sat in the same place on a Sunday (if you can remember when we did that!) and he and Ruth would always get there early which meant I could have a chat with them before the meeting began. I will miss those chats, as well as his quiet support and encouragement for me and those around me. As a leader you come to deeply appreciate the Roys in your life. 

For some time now Roy has been at Glebelands Care Home in Wokingham. Because of all the lockdown restrictions that meant that Ruth was not able to be with Roy in his final few weeks which was very hard, although Ruth was able to speak regularly to Roy on the phone. She says the staff team at the home were incredible in the care they gave Roy which was a huge comfort (let's continue to thank God for all the care workers in our nation). Please be praying for Ruth as she grieves the loss of Roy, as well as for their three sons and the many others who will be feeling the loss of such a good friend. We know that Roy has gone to a better place, and that one day we will see him again, but we still grieve him not being with us. 

The committal service for Roy will of necessity be just for the family, but once it is safe to do so we will hold a public celebration of Roy's life which I know many of us will want to attend. 

Blessings,

Simon

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Mental Health in Lockdown


I suspect that every one of us has had our mental health impacted in one way or another by lockdown. We’ve all experienced our normal routines being broken. Some of us are physically alone, the rest of us are only interacting face to face with a small number of people. For some of us there is the pressure of juggling work and children or finding that our jobs are more complex and demanding than ever before. For others there is the challenge of having very little to do. Most of the things we look forward to have been taken away. We are feeling sad at not being able to see friends and family. We have the fear that we or those we love may get the virus and be seriously ill and even die. Some are fearful for their future, for jobs and finances. Some of us are grieving the loss of people we love. It is hard for all of us, but for those already struggling with mental health when we went into lock down lockdown can represent a perfect storm.

On Sunday 3rd May at 7pm we are going to address the subject of mental health in lockdown, and to talk about it from a Christian perspective. We are going to have with us Dr Kate Middleton from the Mind and Soul Foundation. Kate is both a psychologist and a church leader, and is an expert on how science and faith interact in our quest to be mentally healthy. Kate is going to speak for about half an hour on how to stay mentally healthy in lockdown, and then I’m going to do an extended question and answer session with her. It will be hosted live on our Kerith Facebook page and then available to view afterwards on Facebook and on our Kerith YouTube channel

You can find all the details on our website, including how to ask questions. 

Please join us for what is going to be a really helpful evening, and be letting friends and family know about it too. 

Be kind and stay safe,

Simon.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Kerith Finance Update


Last Sunday I gave a finance update which I thought I'd repeat and expand on in a blog.

One of the things the coronavirus has created is huge economic uncertainty: for governments, business, charities, churches and individuals. We don’t really know what the long term impact is going to be. Some are saying it is going to be a relatively short blip, others that we may experience something much harsher economically. I don’t know, and I don’t know what is going to happen to our church giving. What I do know is that God is in charge, that our hope is in him and that he is our provider. 

Our March offerings were £88,766, our highest offering of the year so far but around £13,000 below budget. We normally see a big spike in giving in March and April but this year the March spike has been smaller than we budgeted for. How much of that is coronavirus related we just don’t know, we will have a better idea when we see April’s giving. That means that for 2020 our giving is about £28,000 below budget. Interestingly although we are behind budget, our giving to the end of March is actually over £2,000 up on last years giving in the same time period. The reality is that we budgeted for a bigger increase in giving this year than we are currently seeing, rather than there being a decline in our giving. 

I want to assure us that despite behind behind our budgeted giving we are in a good place to not only survive but to thrive in the coming season.

First to say that although our income was £28,000 below budget our expenditure so far this year has been over £43,000 below budget. Some of that is down to the timing of when bills come in, but even taking that into account we are in a better cash position now than we were at the start of the year. We are also debt free, which is fantastic, and have around three months operating costs in our reserves which is a really solid place to be.

Even with all that we don’t know what is going to happen in the wider economic world and how that might impact our giving over the next few months, so we are taking steps to minimise expenditure as much as we can while continuing to fully resource everything we are delivering at this time. We have also made use of the governments furlough scheme to put on furlough nine of our staff team whose roles don’t exist at the moment because we aren’t meeting physically on a Sunday and most of our buildings are shut. For those staff the government will pay 80% of their salaries and we will make up the other 20% so they won’t lose out in any way. As soon as circumstance change such that these roles exist again we will look to bring these people off furlough.

I have three encouragements:
  • Let’s keep praying! We had a wonderful time last night at our online Kingdom Come prayer night. Prayer is foundational to all we do. That includes our finances so please join me in praying for us to have the money to do everything which God has put on our hearts to do. 
  • Some of us may get into financial difficulty over the next few months, or may already be struggling. If that is you please ask for help. Don’t be proud but humble yourself and reach out. We all have seasons where we are able to be the help giver and seasons where we are the one needing help. If you need help reach out to your small group or other friends in Kerith, and if they aren’t able to help the please contact us centrally. You can do that by clicking on the ‘I need Help and Support’ button on the front page of the church website.
  • Many of us have salaries which are relatively secure, and at the moment our expenditure has gone down because we aren’t going out for meals, having haircuts, going to the cinema or going for days out or holidays. Would you consider giving more in this season to help cover those who can’t give as much. People have already been incredibly generous, not only in the giving to the general fund but also with over £8K given to support people within Kerith who are struggling and over £22K given to Foodbank. Please think about doing this not only for Kerith but for charities which are on your heart and which would make brilliant use of anything you were able to give them at this time. I started writing a list of charities connected with Kerith but it began to get very long and I will only upset somebody by missing one, but if you know one then please consider supporting them.
To finish I want to tell you about the picture at the top of this blog, which I took yesterday yesterday while I was serving at Foodbank. Two British Gas vans turned up with a huge donation of many of our most needed food items, donated by a Tesco distribution centre in Oxfordshire. Who would have thought God would use two profit making organisations to provide us with the resources we need to be a blessing to our local community. God is our provider. He has never failed us and he never well. 

Be blessed and stay safe,

Simon


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lincoln Osunkoya stepping aside as an elder


I wanted to let you know that Lincoln Osunkoya has decided to step aside as one of our Kerith elders. He will be dedicating his time to supporting his wife Tess in her vision to rehabilitate people who are homeless, under the banner of a new charity named Renova Trust.

Lincoln and Tess have been a part of our community for the best part of 30 years. One thing that marks them out is their incredible heart for people, expressed through both their life group which they led for many years and their wider care for the people of Kerith. Many times in our elders discussions Lincoln has been the one to bring a pastoral perspective to our deliberations. On a personal level Lincoln has been a huge support to me, particularly at times when I have struggled with some of the tougher moments of leading Kerith. I’ve always known that he ‘has my back’ which I hugely value. Next time you see Lincoln please take the time to thank him for his years of incredible service to our community as an elder. 


Many of you will note this means we now only have four elders (myself, Ken Bothamley, Duncan Klitgaard and Ben Oliver). This isn’t enough for a church of our size and with the number of sites we have. We do have plans for how we are going to address this, but rather than write about them on a blog our intention was to hold site based vision nights after Easter to address this as well of giving updates on a load of other issues. However, given our current circumstances we're going to look at online ways of holding those evenings - more details to follow. 

Blessings,

Simon

Monday, March 30, 2020

Finding Rhythm in Isolation



I spoke on Sunday about how one of the keys to doing this season of isolation well is for us to find new rhythms of life. 
God designed a world which had a set of rhythms built into it. He gave a rhythm to the day with darkness and light, work and rest. A rhythm to the week with Sabbath, a day of rest every week. A rhythm to the year with seasons and festivals. He even gives a rhythm to the years with a Sabbath year every seven years and a Jubilee year every 50 years. Life is designed to be lived with rhythm.

When we think of finding rhythm in isolation there are an interesting group we can look back on called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They were a group of Christian hermits and monks who lived mainly in the Egyptian desert starting in around the 3rd century AD. The most famous of these was Antony the Great who spent over 80 years in the wilderness, which may help put what we're going through in perspective! One of the many ideas this hugely influential group developed was to have a 'rule of life' which provided a rhythm for how they lived.

Pete Scazzero, he of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality fame, encourages people to develop their own 'rule of life'. He suggests building it around four areas: relationships, prayer, work and rest. I thought it might be helpful to think how we might start to develop our own rule and find our own rhythm in each of these areas.

Relationships
Lots of us are spending much more time that we are used to with the ones we love! That is inevitably going to lead to moments of frustration and conflict. Others are having to be in isolation alone. Some ideas for all of us in navigating this season well include:
  • Get out of bed at a set time, get dressed, have a plan for the day.
  • If you are isolating with other then eat meals together. Use them as an opportunity to talk about how you are all feeling - at our evening meal we do a 'low, high' time where everyone gets to say what was the lowest and highest point of their day. 
  • If you are on your own then why not phone or do a video WhatsApp call with somebody else as you eat. I've heard of people doing afternoon tea, meals and even a virtual trip to the pub this way!
  • Have a weekly family meeting to talk about frustrations and plan the week ahead. In our family one person (a different person each day!) is allocated to do all the jobs including cooking, emptying the dishwasher and making the drinks that day.
  • Take time to exercise. Catrina and I have started running together which has been a lot of fun. On Sunday you may have seen our family doing morning exercises with Joe Wicks. Use your daily time outside (if you're able to do that) to go for a walk. 
  • Connect with those outside your home. Wherever possible rather than sending emails or texts I've been phoning or doing WhatsApp video calls with people to check how they are. If you're feeling lonely or anxious don't wait for somebody else to contact you but phone a friend and initiate contact.
  • If you have the technology then join a weekly zoom based small group if you're not already in one. I am hearing more and more people finding small group community 
Prayer
  • This season is going to require a bigger prayer life than we have previously had.
  • Take time to be thankful for the simple things. Food, toilet rolls, family, friends and community. 
  • Have regular times to connect with God in prayer. Two resources I know people have found helpful are Lectio 365 from 24/7 prayer and my prayercast.
  • Have a daily scripture reading plan. I'm working my way through the Wildfires Lent devotionals. The YouVersion Bible app has numerous excellent reading plans. 
  • Surround yourself with worship using Spotify and YouTube and be a worshipper. 
  • Make time every Sunday to watch our live stream at 9.30am, and for children to engage with Kerith Kids TV at 9am. Our youth also have Instagram prayer times at 5pm from Monday to Thursday and a virtual gathering at 7pm on a Friday. 
Work

Some of us have been busier than ever over the past few weeks as we adapt to the new reality. Others suddenly find they have very little to do and all day to do it in. Both of these can be a challenge.
  • If you are having to work from home have set times when you start and stop work, and if possible have a set place where you do your work which is different to the place where you relax. Let others know when you are working. 
  • If you are trying to both do your job at the same time as caring for and attempting to educate children be kind to yourself and to them. It probably isn't realistic to expect to be as productive as you'd normally be at the same time as giving the most entertaining and educational time they've ever had! Be realistic and don't be put under pressure by the instagram stories of others who seem to have it all sorted (they haven't). 
  • If you are working outside your home then first of all please do everything you can to keep yourself safe. Try not to let work totally dominate your life but where possible still make time to rest and care for yourself as you look to serve others. 
  • If for whatever reason you don't have work to do then find time to serve others. That starts if there are others in your home with serving them. After that you could set aside time every day to pray for others, to phone round people you know who may be vulnerable, volunteer outside your how if that is safe for you to do. If you can't leave home for whatever reason please don't feel guilty about that, do what you can and trust God to do the rest. 
Rest
  • Make time every day to rest. Get away from your devices and do something that refreshes you. That might be reading a book, doing a jigsaw puzzle (we've just started on a 1,000 piece puzzle), playing an instrument or catching up on a box set. 
  • Don't spend all day watching the news and continuously checking for updates. That will just lead to anxiety and worry. I've taken to checking the news in the morning after I've prayed and then at 5pm when the latest government update is given. Other than that I've got it turned off. 
  • We are continuing to try and have a Sabbath every week, a 24 hour period where we stop doing anything that looks like work, connect with God, connect with others and rest. I'm always amazed how tired I can be at the start of that 24 hours and how refreshed I am by the end. 
  • Be kind to yourself. We are all doing our best in very trying circumstances. 
I do believe that one of the things God wants to do in this season is to teach us a new set of rhythms. To show us a simpler life where we have a different set of priorities. That we will be changed for the good by what at the moment feels so hard. In the words of artist Charlie Mackesy, who drew the picture at the start of this blog:

One day we will be free again to roam and turn up at a friend’s house.
To go to cafes, shake hands and hug.
One day we will remember what brought us all together,
and what reminded us of what really matters.
We will chat about the courage of so many.
One day we will be free but different.
Better, kinder, braver.


Blessings,

Simon

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

In Isolation but not Isolated


I know that increasing numbers of people in our community are now self isolating, and all of us are going to be very limited in our social contact over the next few months. I want to encourage us that although we aren't going to be meeting physically we can continue to meet virtually. That although we may be self isolating, we don't need to be isolated. I wanted to share a few ideas on how we can do this.

One On One Meetings

I know it's quite old school but chatting on the phone is a great way to keep in touch with people. I would hope that all of us have access to a phone of one sort or another. Let's make use of it to keep in touch with those we love. And let's be proactive. Let's not sit around waiting for somebody to give us a ring. We can all take the initiative in keeping in touch, even the shy introverts like me!

Keeping in touch via text is also a great option for people with even the most basic of mobile phones. I'd encourage you as you think of people and wonder how they're getting on to send them a quick text to let them know. You have no idea how the texts that some of you have sent me over the years have sustained me and spoken to me. Let's be doing that for one another. 

For those with smartphones Whatsapp is a brilliant tool. The ability to set up groups conversations is hugely useful. I'm in numerous Whatsapp groups. Family groups with different permutations of our various family members. Groups around various small groups that I'm in. Prayer groups praying into a specific issue. Groups based around different teams that I'm in. Whatsapp also allows you to make audio and video calls very easily, and to do group calls with up to 4 people. Let's make the most of all these options. 

I know that some have a resistance to using Facebook, but I'd really encourage people to install it, if only for this season. It really is the simplest tool for accessing things like my prayercast, the latest information on church life including my update videos and information on Foodbank and how we can get involved. We've looked at replicating all of that information on the Kerith website but that is going to require quite a lot of effort which we want to use elsewhere at this moment in time. If you need help installing Facebook then find a friendly teenager!

Sundays

We're very fortunate as a community that we've already invested in all the technology to allow us to stream our Sunday meetings. For the foreseeable future our Sunday gatherings will focus around a 9.30am live stream which you can either watch live or later on in the week. This will come from our Bracknell site but will involve people from all our mainland sites. Our team are working hard to make this experience as good as it can possibly be. I'll be preaching for the next two Sundays and then we'll be hearing from Paul Manwaring on the 5th April.

We're also working on a streamed Sunday program for children, something we're calling Kerith Kids TV. We're hoping to have episode one ready for this Sunday, although it may take another week to get it up and running. More information on this in the next couple of days. 

As well as being live on our website the livestream also goes to our Kerith Youtube channel, where previous Sundays also get archived. It would be a huge help to us if you could subscribe to the channel, as if we can get 1,000 subscribers (we currently have just over 200) Youtube will guarantee to add subtitles to the livestream within an hour of it being posted. This will hugely help our deaf community, although we are also investigating how we add a professional signer to the video stream (this may take us a couple of weeks to work out).

We will also produce a Good Friday meeting which will have a different look and feel to our regular Sunday meetings. Again I'll give more information on this when we have it. 

Small Groups

It is possible for small groups to continue to meet virtually. There are at least two free tools which can allow us to do this. 

The first is Google Hangouts. This is free and allows up to 10 people to be connected in a video chat where you can all see each other and everyone can speak. Pete Moon used this last night for the Bereavement Course and reported that it worked well. 

The second is Zoom. There is a free version of this which allows you to do a group video call for up to 40 minutes, after which you can just set up another call. There is also a version which costs £12 a month, which doesn't have the 40 minute limit and may well be worth investing in.

It would be great to hear feedback from anyone who tries these, or any other solutions, so we can share what we're learning.

Helping One Another

I know some will be daunted by all this technology and have no idea how to access all these different tools. However, I also know that many of us are keen to use our gifts to help others at this time. Perhaps for some of us that might mean helping those who would otherwise struggle to get connected. As an example Catrina and I have set up an old iPad to help Catrina's parents stay connected with their children and grandchildren over the next few months. Perhaps you could do the same, either by setting up software on existing devices and giving instruction on how to use it, or by lending people devices you can do without. 

I hope this is helpful. Let's do all we can to keep connected, and keep sharing ideas on the best ways to do that.

Blessings,

Simon

Monday, March 16, 2020

Making Decisions in a Crisis



We are all being forced to make lots of tough decisions in the face of the Coronavirus. Decisions as to what we do to minimise the chance of the virus spreading. Do we do nothing, do we follow the government advice or should we be taking notice of the stricter rules being put in place in other countries. The line between not doing enough and putting our own lives and the lives of others at risk, and over reacting and causing unnecessary panic and disruption to the lives of many, is a very fine one. In fact it will only be with the benefit of hindsight that we will know where that line actually was and whether or not we and our government made the right decisions. 

From those making decisions on a family level for ourselves, our children, our parents and other loved ones through to the people making decisions on a national level, we are all forced to act without the full facts and with the conflicting advice and opinions of others. 

I have four encouragements for us all as we seek to navigate our way through this.

Pray for wisdom

We need to pray for wisdom both for ourselves and for those leading us. Scripture tells us that:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you. 
(
James 1:5)

I've been asking God lots for wisdom in the last few days. Wisdom for Catrina and me as we make decisions around our family. Wisdom as I lead our church teams in deciding on our response to the virus. Wisdom for our local and national government as they make decisions which will have huge consequences for our nation. Our prayers are powerful and effective and when we ask God for wisdom he has promised to give it to us. 

I'm also praying for all in our church community involved in education, healthcare, running small businesses or leading in larger organisations, politics, the arts, media, sports and entertainment, many of whom I know are having to make decisions with big impacts for themselves and others. May you know the wisdom of God. 

Let's all make sure prayer for wisdom is our first step, not our last.

Seek wisdom

It is also hugely important to seek the wisdom of others. Proverbs teaches us:

For lack of guidance a nation falls, 
but victory is won through many advisors.
(Proverbs 11:14)

As part of our decision making process we need to talk to others we trust and respect and hear their advice and counsel. Ultimately it is our responsibility to make decisions, but others can be a huge help us in the process of getting there.

We also need to listen to the wider advice of experts who know what they are talking about. Taking on board advice from the government and health experts, and not being spooked by the sensational or scare mongering reports in some of our national press or on social media.

Act out of faith, hope and love; not fear. 

We make bad decisions when we act out of fear, whether that is fear of what other people will think or say about our decisions, fear of the economic or other consequences, fear that elevates our situations and circumstances above our confidence in God, fear which paralyses us or fear which makes us buy too many toilet rolls! 

As Christians we should never make decisions out of fear. In this respect we should look utterly different to the rest of the world, continuously having fear cast out of us by the perfect love of Jesus, and being filled with love for our fellow human beings rather than acting selfishly or simply being focussed on self preservation. 

As an example if we decide for a season to stop our Sunday gatherings it won't be a decision driven by fear, but by our love for the vulnerable in our community and a desire not to put them at risk. It will be a decision driven by the faith that God can not only sustain us as we gather in different ways, but can actually use this season to grow both us and our impact in the wider world. And a decision driven by the hope and confidence that 


our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory 
that far outweighs them all. 
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)


Remember that although we make decisions, God is sovereign over all. 

God would remind us that:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

Let's not be afraid to make decisions, even when we don't have all the facts and aren't 100% sure of the right thing to do. If we commit our ways to God he has promised to make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), even if sometimes with hindsight we feel we made the wrong call. Let us decide without fear or anxiety, but with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our confidence in him.

I'm sure there's much more that could be said, but hopefully this is helpful as we navigate our way through the next few weeks. 

Simon

Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus - Some Further Thoughts


The Coronavirus continues to dominate our news, and I know will be a cause of anxiety for many. Following on from my previous blog I wanted to give a further update with some thoughts and information on how we respond.

Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus

It is easy in these moments to give in to fear and to forget where our help comes from. Psalm 46 reminds us:


'God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.'
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭46:1-3‬

We may feel powerless, but we aren't. There are things that we can do both practically and prayerfully. I will talk in a moment about our practical response, but I want first of all to encourage us to be a people of prayer. Pete Greig has suggested that rather than singing Happy Birthday as we wash our hands we use those 20 seconds to pray. If you have a smartphone then the Lectio 365 app from 24-7 prayer had a devotional on Tuesday 10th March which is a response to the Coronavirus. 

You can also join my prayer cast where we'll continue to pray into all that is happening.
Let us continue to stand on the promises of God:

'If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.'
2 Chronicles 20:9

Now on to the practical.

Sundays

We will continue to gather on Sundays until there is a change in the government advice. 

However, I strongly encourage (I'd command it if I could!) that anyone who for any reason is concerned about the impact on their health if they were to catch Coronavirus shouldn't take a risk but should stay at home and watch the livestream of our 9.30am Bracknell meeting. This goes for people who are due to be serving on Sunday too - please just let your team leaders know so we can plan appropriately.



For those of us who do choose to come on Sunday we are taking a number of measures to try and prevent any spread of the virus. These include:

  • Not putting out any literature on seats as it might be touched by multiple people
  • Taking up the offering via containers as people leave the meetings rather than passing round baskets
  • Taking communion using the wafers in the pods rather than using a shared loaf 
  • For now we will continue to have our self service drinks points and leave it up to individuals as to whether they want to make use of them or not
  • Where possible we will wedge doors open so that multiple people aren't touching the handles
  • Our kids and youth teams are also taking measures specific to those ministries
  • Let's greet one another with an elbow bump rather than hugs or hand shakes to try and limit the chances of the spread of the virus
If the government advice does change and we decide to cancel our Sunday meetings then we will livestream a 9.30am Sunday meeting for everyone to engage with remotely. 


Midweek Gatherings

We will take decisions on whether or not our midweek gatherings go ahead on a case by case basis. For centrally organised events take a look at the what's on section of the Kerith website for the latest information. For small groups speak with your small group leaders who will be making their own decisions on whether or not small groups continue to meet. 

Serving the community

We are assembling a volunteer team who will contact everyone in our church community who because of age, underlying health conditions or other reasons we think may be vulnerable. We want to make sure we are doing all we can to help these people, as well as ensuring they have the latest advice and information. We will start doing this early next week. I'd encourage anyone who feels in need of advice or support, and for whatever reason doesn't have a small group, friends or neighbours who can help them to either ring the Kerith Centre on 01344 862699 on weekdays between 9.30am and 5pm or email the office via info@kerith.church. Obviously if you have immediate health concerns then phone 111 and get help that way.

Many of us will be in a position to offer to practically help neighbours. I've just had a conversation with somebody in our street who is vulnerable. I gave him my mobile number so he can contact me if he needs food, a prescription delivering or just somebody to talk to. Ness Wilson, a friend of ours who leads Open Heaven church in Loughborough, recently sent a note round all her neighbours with an offer of help. I thought it was such a great idea I've included a copy below you could customise for your own use. 


Dear Neighbour,
As the UK faces the impact of coronavirus, I wondered if we who live on xxxx Road/Street might provide some support for each other? If you want to be part of a WhatsApp or text messaging group please contact me. That way we can shop, collect medicine or provide a listening ear for each other.
Whether being in a group chat works for you or not, I wanted you to know that if you need anything, please feel free to contact me. It could simply be for a friendly chat on the phone or to buy and drop off some shopping that you need or provide a simple meal. I can easily leave shopping or food on your front door and ring to let you know it's arrived. It’s no trouble at all.
Your Name & Number  

We are also investigating how we can adapt Foodbank to provide a mobile service for people who are self isolating or for other reasons are unable to leave their homes.

Isolated but not alone

There may be a number of us who need to self isolate over the next few weeks. Given the wonders of technology it is now possible to be isolated but not alone! I heard from one older couple who were concerned about not being able to see their grandchildren for a while, but have now worked out how to use Facetime to keep in touch with them. Let's make the most of the opportunity to connect with others via text and whatsapp, to read some of that pile of books by the side of the bed, spend time with family (even if they are two metres away!), to journal and all those other things we normally struggle to find time for. 

It's a joy to be part of such a wonderful community at a time like this. Please be assured of my continued prayers of and love for you all. 

Simon