Church under Coronavirus: Sevenoaks, Kent

I’m involved in ministry in Sevenoaks, a commuter town in north west Kent, where I’m the Women’s and Children’s Worker for Grace Church and 4 O’Clock Church.

I think it’s fair to say that COVID-19 has had more of an impact on day to day life in the UK than it has in Australia. We went into strict lockdown very quickly in late March, and restrictions have only eased very slightly in recent weeks. We still have a long way to go! And the way we do gospel ministry has been affected quite significantly.

Yet it’s impossible not to notice how God is working. I’ve had a lot of conversations about God’s sovereignty and the reality of death. We know that a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown.[1] And in terms of our own church practice, it’s really allowed us to return to first principles, and to remind ourselves of what we’re here for and what’s most important.

Our staff team has said from the beginning that it’s not fully church if we’re not physically gathered – though, of course, we still want to be enabling God’s people to feed on his word. So we’ve tried to make very intentional choices about what happens on a Sunday. And this has been such a great opportunity to think theologically, together with our lay leadership teams. We have continued with some elements of church using YouTube Premiere to get the Bible reading, prayers and sermon out to people in their homes. But we have left other elements out for the time being – the Lord’s Supper , for instance. Singing and confession are both important, but we can’t do them corporately right now, so we’re framing them differently. And we’re having those wonderfully awkward Zoom coffees after the YouTube video on Sundays. These have actually been a great encouragement, as people have willingly shared openly and have very naturally turned to prayer.

We are praying that parents would become more confident in family discipleship at this time. We’ve very much encouraged our families to do church together at this time, so we’ve been providing a range of activities each week to help children listen to and learn from the sermon. They’ve been listening for and recording particular words and ideas, drawing to show their thoughts and responses, creating word searches, cracking codes, and deciding what’s true and what’s false according to the Bible passage.

We’ve also been recording age specific teaching for our various groups, and producing material for parents to help them discuss, respond, and pray together with their children.

Pastoral care has been at the forefront of our minds – we want to use this opportunity to speak God’s words to one another. Outside of Sundays, this has taken place mostly through Bible study groups as they meet via Zoom, and also through regular phone calls, emails and messages, especially to particular individuals and groups. It’s been such an encouragement to see some of our leaders really taking up that opportunity. Some of the teachers of our children’s groups have also been involved in a coordinated letter writing effort, so that our church children have now received two letters from a teacher they know, encouraging them with biblical truths.

We’re continuing to think about how we might best equip singles, couples and families to make the most of this unique time—both in terms of their own discipleship and Christian maturity, and also in seeking to serve others. So we’ve been recording some semi-evangelistic ‘Music Time’ videos with Bible stories for preschoolers, some devotions in Psalms for families with primary school aged children, and some short evangelistic videos called ‘Hope in the Face of Fear’ for people to share with friends, family and neighbours. We are praying for more in-person opportunities as time goes on.

As many are finding just now, we don’t really know who’s engaging with what we’re putting out online. We hope and pray that there might be many curious outsiders joining in, alongside our regular church family. Once we’re gathering together again (possibly, God-willing, in the autumn) it will be something of a revelation to see who’s there and how they are doing spiritually!

We’re not really sure what our gatherings will look like then—we may run multiple meetings every Sunday, or encourage people to gather in small ‘house church’ groups to watch the video together, sing and pray, and perhaps share a meal. It’s still quite unclear to us at this stage. However, we have seen so many encouragements already, both in the personal growth of individuals and in the gospel opportunities they’ve been taking, and we know that we serve a God who is working to unite all things together under Christ. So we will continue praying and speaking God’s word, in his strength, and we will watch him continue to work!