Since the beginning of the first lockdown last March one of the questions facing churches and church leaders has been how much should they continue to meet physically. Different churches have made different choices, based I would guess on a whole range of factors including their size, their demographic, their ability to move their gatherings online, their local infection rates, the personality types of their senior leaders and much more. We took a decision very early on that we would move our Sunday gatherings online and put all of our resources into making that experience as rich as possible with no physical gatherings. I know that some people have found this hard but I think that it was the right thing to do, choosing to love one another by minimising the spread of the virus and realising that although our buildings might be closed the church as the people of God is very much still alive.
One of the things I have learnt leading through this pandemic has been that although we don't have certainty we can lead with clarity. We can make clear decisions which, even if not everyone agrees with them, mean that people know what we are doing and why. This allows people to make their own plans and not be constantly in a place of uncertainty as to what we are doing as a church.
With this in mind we have taken the decision that we won't have any physical gatherings while we are in this current national lockdown. Given the rapidly rising number of infections and the resulting danger of our hospitals being overwhelmed I personally think this is the only responsible course of action for us, even though under the government rules we are still allowed to meet. Based on the choices we have made to this point I don't think this decision will be a surprise, but I wanted to let people know for certain rather than having to guess what we might be doing. We will of course review this as things develop.
The good news is that with the vaccine now being rolled out there is a route to a 'new normal' where we will be able to gather physically, worship together, be mask free, hug, have kids work and youth work and do all the other things we've so missed in this season. We are starting to dream about what the new normal will look like and next week I will be inviting all of us to take part in a survey to hear thoughts on how we might do things differently in the future.
In the meantime I have a few suggestions of how we can not only survive but thrive in this season:
- Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We may be in a storm but he is in the boat with us and is going to bring us safe to the other side. Let us be honest and real about how we are doing but also let us be fully focussed on the one our hope is in. Listen to worship music - I recommend Maverick City Music if you haven't discovered them already.
- Keep pressing into God through meditating on scripture and prayer. Some great tools are Nicky Gumbel's Bible in a year, Lectio 365 and my prayercast.
- If you aren't already in one then join a small group. We are going to be starting a new series on Wellbeing on Sunday 17th January with a lots of small groups being launched starting from Monday 18th. I am going to be running a group which runs on Wednesday evenings and you'd be really welcome to join me, but there are lots of others available on various days and at different times of day. You might even consider signing up to lead a small group.
- Prioritise joining with us on Sunday mornings, engaging with the online chat and using the prayer chat rooms which are now available on our website. If you can't watch live then find a time later in the day or week to catch up.
- Use your daily opportunity for exercise to go for a walk with somebody where you can be honest about how you are doing and encourage and pray for one another. Make use of WhatsApp, zoom, text and even writing a letter or sending a card to encourage and keep in touch with others.
- If you need help of any sort then please reach out to ask for it. We will get through this together, and we will all have times when we need to be vulnerable and admit our need to others.
I hope that helps. I keep praying for you that in the midst of all that is happening you would know Jesus more clearly and strongly. Our hope is in him.