Heading into 2020 there was a lot of hope for what God might do amongst us. Over a number of years we have been developing our ‘engage ministries’. These were ministries which gave opportunity for our church community to engage with our area and invite people to things we ran through our ‘evangelism ministries’.
At the end of 2019 we were seeing people become Christians and others have their faith in Christ awakened. There was a fresh excitement to what God was doing. Some new families also joined us at the beginning of 2020.
With all this momentum we moved into 2020 which concerned me because this was the year I planned to take long service leave. There were capable people in place to continue on, but it still had the potential to interrupt the momentum. I couldn’t say Covid was my greatest fear because I would never have dreamed anything like this would have happened while I was away. We had neighbouring churches (especially St Michael’s Wollongong) who were helping with our preaching while I was away. When we shut down, the church decided to tune into St Michael’s service. We closed all ministries except for our Mobile Community Pantry (in partnership with Anglicare) and moved our small groups to meeting on Zoom.
Coming back from LSL we decided it was important to get our Sunday Service online as quickly as possible. We did this well and were surprised, like many others, how many we were reaching through going online. The live aspect of our services were our Zoom meetings. We continued to strengthen and encourage our small group leaders. I meet fortnightly with our small group leaders and it is a chance to make sure everyone is cared for in the church community. Each small group has regular members and then has other people, who don’t attend the small group, but whom the small group is committed to praying and caring for. We developed our pastoral care team which helped reach people who were not connected in with our small group network. A number of people also had a focus on caring for people in our local nursing homes, delivering videos of our service and helping them get online.
This time has certainly been unsettling. There is the ‘unknown’ of what things will be like when we return. We were having some financial difficulties in retaining our assistant minister coming into this time. He was involved in ministering to youth/children along with our engage areas of ministry. We were praying that in 2020 we would see God grow his church and we would be in a financial position to maintain our assistant minister’s role. This of course has not been the case and he has now moved on. Another significant retired couple also moved away to pursue another ministry endeavor. The leadership team are tired from the length of time we have endured these changes and not knowing when restrictions will end or change. Now we are in a place where many of our neighbouring churches are in different places as far as coming back goes. We have been cautious in coming back. While many are thankful for our approach some feel frustrated as they see other churches already meeting back physically.
However this time has provided us with great opportunity as well. We have been able to use this opportunity to teach how we might live ‘beautiful lives’ (1 Pet 2:12) in this time. One of our engage ministries is what we call ‘play and chat’ which is a type of playgroup. It was more of a gathering of all types of people around a playgroup. One of the people who usually attended (not a member of our church) organised an informal gathering in a local park. They invited the church to join them and now this is a regular meeting where the intention behind our program is still being achieved. The relationships we have with our community are strong through the love of our church community. We are moving back to a hybrid Sunday gathering where we are encouraging people to stay online as we work out how we can gather physically. People who are gathering are those involved in serving in some way in our Sunday gathering. We meet half an hour before our service and work out our roles in anticipation for what God might do as we gather. Our hope is to slowly invite more and more people onto our serving teams until we reach capacity. Then we will divide and start another service. Our hope is that we don’t just come back to the place we were before Covid, but come back better reflecting the church God has called us to be. So we are hoping there will be a new mindset of arriving well before church in order to serve in anticipation for God using us to build his church. We want to move back in a way that challenges our old practices and culture.
Personally this time has been a huge challenge to me. I am reminded that very little is in my control, but God is gracious and will continue to build his church. It has been wonderful to see how God has transformed lives through this time. It hasn’t been ideal and I really feel the brokenness of our world, but I continue to trust God and continue to learn to trust God more. It is his church and we serve him in the comfort of his grace. I continue to discover what that means more in practice.