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