Church under Coronavirus: Great Victoria Street, Belfast

When I was asked to write this article on what we’re doing as a church in Belfast during these strange days of social distancing, my first thought was: we’re doing what we’ve always done! It may look a little different, but our priorities have stayed exactly the same.

As I write, Belfast is in stage one of a five-stage process outlined by our government to guide our emergence out of lockdown. The regathering of churches is at stage four of this process, so we could be apart for some time yet. Our leadership team is meeting monthly to review where we’re at and to prepare for the transition to gathering again. But for now we rely on these different platforms  to continue in our ministry priorities. Preaching, prayer, pastoral care—in a nutshell, disciple making. That’s what we’re about, and that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

Our preaching ministry continues mainly via a new YouTube channel and that seems to be working well for us. With one of our tech guys we prerecord the coming Sunday’s service during the week, then we add in a Bible reading recorded by one of our church members at home, and some well-chosen hymns and songs—some recorded at home by our musically gifted folk and some recordings of the congregation singing corporately in the past. We also produce CDs and DVDs to be distributed to older members who don’t have the internet so that everyone can be gathered at 11am on a Sunday morning and 7pm on a Sunday evening to watch at the same time.

Prayer ministry continues through a couple of channels. We set up a congregation wide WhatsApp group for urgent prayer requests and also send out a letter every Wednesday on how we can be praying for our church family and the wider world. Our older members have recounted to me how much they appreciate getting these letters via post as it keeps them up to date with everything going on! We also have a Zoom midweek meeting on a Wednesday evening where someone shares a short devotional thought which we discuss together, and then we share how we can be praying for one another and various other needs.

With pastoral care, we have sought to build a culture at Great Vic where every member feels the responsibility to care for others. Our elders certainly take a lead and give shape to this, but we try to be facilitators of member-on-member care rather than just taking it all on ourselves. We’ve encouraged our folks to call each other, and we’ve encouraged younger members to offer shopping help to older members. It has been so encouraging to hear stories of this happening organically. We’ve also created a second WhatsApp group called ‘Stay connected’ that exists for people to offer help, share needs or share a wee word of encouragement along the way. Let’s not forget so much care is done via the preaching and prayer ministry that I’ve outlined above. But these additional measures are helping us to feel like the family that we really are in Christ.

Until that day when we gather again physically, we’ll be here in the midst of lockdown doing what we’ve always done. We’re trusting Christ to bring blessing through his word faithfully preached; we’re seeking God’s blessing in prayer as we endeavour to reach our city and the world for Christ; and we’re seeking to shepherd the Lord’s flock under our care by loving one another in Christ. Though in some ways a lot has changed due to lockdown, in other ways nothing has changed at all.