Looking to God in a Pandemic – a letter from the Elders
Dear church family,
The current situation that we face is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. The world has ground to a halt! We’ve had crises before, but not one that has enforced our isolation, nor, perhaps, one that is so truly global in scale. That being the case we wanted to write to you all both to encourage you but also to explain how we are approaching this as elders, especially in our role of leading our church family.
How do we reflect on our situation?
There are many voices out there talking about how to understand what is happening. Without trying to be comprehensive, we wanted to share with you a few ways we have been reflecting on the crisis.
First, whether we see this as something God has commanded or something he has allowed, we can agree that God was fully aware of coronavirus and remains on the throne. This sounds basic but is important because it allows us to acknowledge our emotions (including fear, anxiety, etc), whilst also reminding ourselves that God is in control and we remain held in his hands.
Second, we recognise that God has allowed something to occur which has brought all our normal lives to a shuddering halt. We simply cannot meet on a Sunday (or at any other time); we have to stay at home. It seems likely that, for some, this will cause real hardship – both from illness and from economic consequences. We do not want to minimise that in any way. However, rather than just seeing this as something to endure, we are also asking how God may be using this for his purposes:
Could it be that in this season God has stopped our normal lives to give us a chance to re-evaluate and reform our lives in a different way? Rather than thinking that when this is all over we can all go back to what we have long regarded as normal, could it be that God doesn’t want us to ‘go back to normal’, but that through this time he wants new ways of living to grow that are more faithful to him and his kingdom?
Could it be that God has given many of us the gift of time in the coming months? How may he want to work in our lives individually and together through that time?
Does this expose a lot of the brokenness of our world in a way that is important and necessary? For example, one thing this crisis exposes is that many people have no meaningful relationships outside their households and our lack of community is unsustainable. Might this be a wake-up call to our culture in some ways?
How do we reflect on our response as a church family?
These reflections are influencing how we think we need to respond as a church family; so far, our approach is characterised in the following ways:
First, we want to be reflective and move slowly, rather than react with panic, activism or the assumption that we should try and ‘carry on as normal’. Another way of saying this is that it is possible to react with denial (to pretend this is a minor inconvenience that will soon go away and that we just need to crack on); it is possible to act with despair (and give up trying to do anything meaningful); or, and this is our intention, it is possible to act deliberately. That means taking time to deliberate – to discuss, to pray, to reflect, to think, and to respond in a way that is considered, sustainable and, as best we can, embraces the opportunities God gives us.
That is why we are moving slowly. We do not mean to be frustrating and we certainly don’t want to be neglectful of our duties, but we want to provide thoughtful leadership, rather than being reactionary. After all, this crisis may last many months yet, and even more importantly, God may not want us to ‘return to normal’ – he may want to birth something new amongst us. We need time to work that out.
Second, we want to meet our real needs as best we can. We know that many will have to go through significant hardship over the coming months. This in an invitation to truly be the family of God. The future months may require a depth of community, of mutual support (financial and emotional), and inter-reliance that we haven’t seen before. We want to help our church family to rise to that calling.
Third, we want to see discipleship and mission expressed in this season, but in a way that is appropriate, sustainable and, as we’ve said above, in line with the leading of God. Again, we will be slower to do this than some other churches, but we hope this letter explains why that might be the case.
What have we done so far?
All that being said, for those of you who have missed our live streams, here is what we have been doing so far:
1. We are trying to take time to be still before God.
As we reflected on psalm 46 – the response God primarily seeks in a crisis is not human activity, but human surrender. We need to be still before God in prayer, faithful waiting and reflection so that we are formed by him and hear his voice in this season, above all else.
2. Setting up Community Care Hubs
By now, everyone in our church family should have had a phone call and be connected to a hub. Hub facilitators are getting to grips with their groups and we hope we’ve had a good start in building sustainable communities to care for our mutual needs over the coming months. This will continue to develop, but we feel this has been relatively successful so far.
3. Continuing pastoral support
We are continuing to provide pastoral support to individuals, although this is now over the phone and online video-calls! We envisage this continuing and, possibly, growing over the coming weeks.
4. Developing online teaching and discipleship
We are putting in place the technology and structures that will allow us to offer a range of different teaching, worship and discipleship content through various online platforms. These will start over the coming few weeks as they are ready. We think that this will not only be the best way of providing meaningful teaching while we cannot meet, but may also provide new ways of thinking about discipleship. As ever, though, what we provide as an eldership will not be enough – we all need to learn to nurture our own spiritual life through this season. Indeed, some of the teaching we will offer will be focussed on this issue.
5. Exploring partnership with the local council
Adrian Lowe has been asked to head up partnering local churches with the local council to provide care for our communities. ACC is being paired with Brierley Hill and the initial need we will be responding to is helping to get food to those who are self-isolating or facing food poverty. We’re still working this out, so details will be forthcoming, but this partnership is likely to grow as time goes on.
We would really appreciate your prayers as we seek to serve you and the Lord through this time; we need God’s wisdom, grace and the courage that only the Holy Spirit can bring. We’re also open to suggestions and feedback as we try to work this out together, so please get in touch if you would like to.