At All Saints Petersham, we have aimed to keep things simple and sustainable while still focusing on the core of all our church activities: gathering around God’s word and seeking to spur one another on in faith.
Our church services are uploaded to YouTube to be streamed from 10am on Sundays. We have mostly pre-recorded services but have also done some livestreamed ones. We’re not a particularly tech savvy team, so having the service put together and safely sitting on YouTube on a Saturday queued to go has been an appealing option for us (though we’ve managed to mess that up a couple of times too!). These services also have the benefit of allowing more people to participate, as members of the church record Bible readings, prayers and music from home and send them in. This does compromise on some sound and recording quality and consistency, but means there is a much wider pool of people participating in our services. We’ve been very grateful for the help of some church members skilled in IT who have helped make live services happen in the church building.
Our growth groups, youth group, and ‘after service’ times have all been using Zoom. It’s a tough format in many ways, and no real substitute for actually being together. But it has allowed lots of opportunities for prayer, conversation, sharing and teaching that we would not have had otherwise. It’s only a small group of people that join our less structured after service times, though that has grown in the morning session since the kids’ ministry leaders started offering to host a kids’ breakout room. We’ve found group Zoom meetings only really work when they’re quite heavily directed by a discussion leader who either asks open-ended questions (and is happy to deal with a few awkward pauses) or asks people directly to share.
Apart from these regular and more centralised activities, there are lots of other small efforts we are making to try to communicate and help people stay engaged in church and their relationship with Jesus. Every week or two I send out a list of half a dozen resources for home discipleship and growth. The staff make ‘quick catch up’ videos every week or two to speak to a particular issue or topic. We try to make phone calls every day, particularly to people who we haven’t seen on Zoom. At the beginning of social isolation we asked people if they’d like to be paired up for a one-to-one Bible reading partnership and a number of people responded to that. We moved our series in the Psalms, ‘Joyful Endurance’, from Term 3 to Term 2 as it felt like it fit this season so well (covering topics like loneliness, fear and depression).
These are just some of the bits and pieces that I know are happening. The great joy of this season is that I’m hearing so many stories about people caring for each other and spurring one another on. The flip side of this is that there are people who don’t have access or a willingness to engage with technology, or who are really disengaged and not growing in their faith. We can call, text, email and Zoom but only God can work in our hearts, so we are praying for those we fear are in a time of spiritual dryness.
None of this is particularly special, and there are some large holes that we have not been able to fill, like our weekly community meals for people in need. This is usually a time to connect with people, have a cup of tea and sit around tables together eating and talking. At the moment we can only provide a meal to take home in a plastic container, an option not many of our usual patrons are taking up.
Our next step will be to try to anticipate what the gradual stages of lifting social isolation might look like and how we can work within those. In the mean time we remain thankful for the things that don’t change, namely the gospel, which has thrived under greater trials than these.