On Sunday 15th March at the end of our morning service, I pronounced a blessing over the congregation from Romans 15:13 with a slight, perhaps indiscernible, wobble in my voice, and a strong sense that this might very well be our last gathering for some time. I had already been feeling anxious even about holding that service, knowing that whilst church would be quieter than usual, we would still be a ‘crowd’ with vulnerable people in the mix.
Since then, of course, there has been an almost unbelievable pace of change each day and we’re now straight into the throwes of imagining how church can come together without gathering; to imagine how we can support one another from a distance, and to create new ways to connect which, to be perfectly honest, should be part of our day-to-day life even before something like coronavirus COVID19 comes along.
I’ve often used the questions in training settings; ‘if, for whatever reason, it was not possible for our community to gather together in a large group for a length of time, how would we live as church?’, ‘How could we sustain prayer, mission, pastoral care and learning?’ and ‘How do our dependancies on the way we always do things let us down in that light?’ . Ironically, I’d have been having that conversation with Hertford Baptist Church in the summer as we gathered together to think of our future ministry. The time for talking, however, is not our luxury – now we are having to do it…it is our reality.
I might have been saying ‘if we encourage our whole community to come together in smaller missional communities, we’d be small enough to care and large enough to dare.’ I’d have mentioned that breaking down our larger community into decent chunks, raising up leaders and overseers for those chunks, and helping them to develop ways to be communities within communities, engaged in mission, care and prayer, we’ll find that we’re better fixed for mission and ministry moving forward as we break out of our one Sunday gathering to become that community of communities.
Alas, I’m not saying it in advance of the need for it…although I have been saying it for a wee while now. We aren’t as equipped and organised as we need to be for such a time as this. We are building from the ground up now, upon some fragile foundations that few could see were creaking a little.
I’m sure that our community will learn some valuable lessons from this – it might be one of the few silver linings. Or, maybe we won’t. Maybe we will see the utter value of the community we already share, or maybe we won’t. Maybe we will see how organising ourselves in a different way for an uncertain future is of great value, or maybe we won’t. Maybe we will be quicker to adapt, or maybe we won’t. Maybe this new season will galvanise a fresh determination to really value the ministry we have and need to extend, or maybe we won’t.
Hard to know, isn’t it?
These are reflections that had to be reflected upon. In many ways, there’s little time for the reflection right now. Now is the time to create, dream, be imaginative, be beacons of light, hope and prayer.
The church building may be shut, but this might mean that, even in isolation, the church of Jesus Christ might actually be activated in ways it hasn’t been for some time! We have the opportunity to seek to be a non-anxious presence in a troubled world. To make bold yet gentle invitations to prayer, to friendship, to connection and towards the very heart of God through being Christ hands and feet where we can, but more than that, by being God’s own letter written to our world in whatever way we can be (2 Cor 3:2).
Lord, build us up in faith, courage and hope. Cause us to care, love and extend your holy hospitality. Help us to reach beyond ourselves in spite of our fears. Cause us to look, sound and live like Jesus ‘for such a time as this.’ Amen.