Becoming all things

Author: The Revd Paul Wilkinson

Published on: 4 May 2021

March 2020 was undoubtedly one of the most confusing, stressful and strange times any of us can remember.

The nation was told that all unnecessary social contact should cease, and we went into lockdown. Until the official announcements came, we talked loosely about some of the issues, but little could be planned. Suddenly, we were recording a service in the church building on Friday night to broadcast it on the website on Sunday only to learn we couldn’t go into the building at all anymore.

Plan B formed rapidly. We would have to record the services at home in sections and edit them together. A team of people who ‘knew something’ about editing video took on new roles, the focus of administration shifted towards the social media and website provision of the online content we produced. Kidz Klub, no longer able to go to schools or run Saturday church for kids, began producing video content that kids could pick up at home. The Youth team started filming ‘The Episode’ including interviews with bishops, Bible teachers and evangelists, running online hangouts and worship group practices on Zoom. I started recording a video ‘Thought for the Day’ for social media and website. Initially, it was only going to be for a few weeks but there have now been over 130.

The first few weeks were a hectic mixture of learning new skills and straining to meet inevitable deadlines. Slow broadband speeds hampered uploading and downloading and then we realised that not everyone has access to the internet. We began to produce audio-only CDs of the services to distribute to those who live offline.

It took a few weeks, but things slipped into a slightly easier rhythm although the hours of work the team put in often went beyond ‘regular’. Initially, activity sheets were produced for parents to download on Sunday for children, but an informal survey revealed that they weren’t getting used very much so Kids Church was born. A fun, interactive, lively video for kids to watch while parents ‘went’ to the Sunday service at home. The Youth group continued to hangout on Zoom at 11am on Sunday mornings. Several weeks in, Noah’s Ark, our parent and toddler group, began producing videos with stories and a bit of fun for the very young. Online Alpha started too with mixed success because of the technical challenges presented by shaky, rural broadband connections.

The feedback began to illustrate the value of the work quite quickly. We discovered that a number of people were watching who don’t normally go to church and more recent emails made us realise that when we go back to normal there might be a few new faces in our midst. Some who struggle with Sundays because of health issues or other commitments tell us they have loved being able to participate at home. About 50% watch the service at the normal time with the remainder catching up later. Our own Kidz Klub also managed to run a holiday club for the children online too. They sent out lots of pencil case packs to help the children engage with the online activities post.

We have now begun to install cameras, upgraded the broadband and are working towards live streaming Sunday services in the not too distant future. Those without broadband will be invited to come and be a socially distanced congregation along with a different home group each week as numbers and regulations permit. We’re also encouraging households to meet together for church to restore the fellowship aspects of Sunday so far as is permitted while we await further relaxations of the rules.

We were conscious that giving would probably drop during lockdown so we’ve encouraged people by adding a slide into the service during the obligatory notices to remind them of the ways they can do that. We’ve also offered online giving for the first time.

It has become very clear to us that normal won’t be the same as it used to be but it has presented us with opportunities that we continue to embrace in the hope that, as the Apostle Paul said, “even a few might be saved” (1 Cor 9:22).

The author...

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The Revd Paul Wilkinson

Licensed clergy - Incumbent: Senior Minister, The Fountain of Life (Benefice)

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