My friend Krish and his wife Miriam are foster parents. Krish tells of how, one day, the phone rang, requesting a placement. “Do you have space for a three-year-old?” they were asked. “Parents have gone AWOL. We don’t know much about him, but apparently he’s a biter. Are you okay with that?”
On hearing this, Krish winced. Not just at the imagined pain of being bitten – but because of the label placed on the child. A whole life was boiled down to a single negative word: biter.
This episode encapsulates the harshness typifying aspects of society today. Politicians are judged not on the basis of policy, but on trivia. Celebrities are publicly shamed for their sins. As in the case of the three-year-old boy, one word judgements are issued without any understanding of a person’s broader story.
Those of us who’ve felt labelled in this way know how devastating it can be upon our mental health. It’s not necessarily that people are saying things that are entirely untrue; it’s that our worst characteristics are being singled out to be the final word.
Even when these comments are made in jest, they sting.
Our capacity for this kind of hurt indicates our universal need to know kindness and mercy – to know love, welcome and a future, even when we’ve publicly fallen short.
My younger son is called Toby, which means ‘The Lord is kind.’ My wife and I chose this name because we’ve come to know exactly this kindness and mercy from the living God revealed by Jesus. Time and again, Jesus refused to treat people by their worst moments or characteristics. Jesus shows that God has a bent towards mercy and kindness. As one of my favourite Bible verses puts it, ‘God does not treat us as our sins deserve.’
He might have pointed out all of the ways I have fallen short – and left me in my condemnation. Instead, though he knows the cost of my failure better than anyone, he chose to take its consequences upon himself, dying a shameful death my place.
God chose to show me kindness. He no longer defines me by my worst
Because kindness characterises the heart of God, kindness is written into the fabric of reality. Society thrives when we show one another kindness. Justice must be done, but justice never excuses shaming people because we perceive ugliness in them. One beautiful Bible verse says that love ‘always hopes.’
Miriam and Krish modelled this in the way they related to their foster child. “I was not OK with looking after a child known as a ‘biter’,” Krish later wrote. “If something so terrible has happened to him that he feels he has no choice but to respond by biting, then I would do everything in my power to look after him and help him lose the label.” Just imagine the effect of this attitude on this child’s perception of his self-worth.
Knowing the kindness of God also allows us to be kind to ourselves. Lockdown may have shown us new things about ourselves. Many of these new discoveries may not have been pretty. Yet to someone with perfectionist tendencies and who has struggled with body image issues through life like me, God’s kindness allows me to gradually silence the inner critic. I’m accepted, I’m welcomed, I’m loved – at great cost.
Kindness will be especially important in the coming weeks: as lockdown shortens our fuses, as we make different choices around our children’s education and ‘the new normal’, and as we continue to break our own resolutions for lockdown life.
Our temptation will always be to judge – to write off ourselves and others – but, even when we’re sure we’re our judgement is right, let’s choose instead to extend kindness.
As we do so, we echo the heart of the living God.
Peter Dray is married to Linda and has two sons, Samuel and Toby. They live in Leeds, and watching live sport and getting outside. Peter works for UCCF, the British university Christian Union movement, but is currently on furlough.
Community in a Crisis hosted a training event for youth and children’s workers. We had a panel sharing their experience of online church in #COVID19. The panel included; Tamar Pollard from Grace Church, Phil Moore from Cornerstone Nottingham, Katherine Trollope from Above Bar Church Southampton, Liam Brocken from Christchurch Southampton, Jess Ann Jenner Jubilee Church, Naomi Simpson from Lighthouse Southampton, Josh and Hannah Kirby from Reach Puppets, Luke Parker from Christchurch Newcastle.
I’m at home on a warm spring day. I’m sitting in a deck chair on my new fake turf. The paddling pool is set up and the BBQ coals are on. But I’m struggling to enjoy myself. I know I’m not alone in this, many of my friends are asking similar questions. How we can sit and relax at home when so many sad and terrible things are happening beyond my front door?
There are times of joy in our week. We recently hosted a Talent show for 30 families. Each child submitted a video of their talent. During the show I lost myself in the joy of what was happening. Laughing, dancing and chatting. I came off the call, happy and grateful for our community. We finished with a short disco for the kids, singing the words from Dance Monkey.
I said oh my g*d I see you walking by. Take my hands, my dear, and look me in my eyes. Just like a monkey I’ve been dancing my whole life. But you just beg to see me dance just one more time. Dance with me dance with me dance with me oh oh oh…
For a moment I was lost, like a good story, I was taken elsewhere. But like the other times I’ve sung this song in lockdown, as soon as the song finished a pang of guilt hit me. Nay how can you dance when others are working hard on the frontline? How can you enjoy your family when others have lost a family member? The moroseness hit again and I asked myself one more time can we enjoy ourselves in a pandemic? Can we dance and sing when others are just so sad?
As humans we need to sleep and relax, we need to dance and sing and read, for this is part of what make us human. And yet we feel guilty when we do these things. It seems to suggest to me that as humans we need to express our humanity, in order to be ok. But if thats true why do we feel so guilty enjoying ourselves during this time?
CS Lewis wrote a wonderful essay called Learning in War Time. He writes about the validity of study during war. Although we’re not in war, there are many parallels to life in a pandemic. His essay is so helpful and helps us answer this question whether its ok to enjoy ourselves and dance in a pandemic. Two of his points here seem particularly timely.
1. This isn’t new “The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been on the edge of the precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself! We are mistaken when we compare war with normal life” Life has never been normal we’ve just forgotten how fragile we are.
2. War is never all about war, even for soldiers Lewis goes on to say “before he went to the last war, he expected his life in the trenches would be in some mysterious sense, be all of war. In fact the nearer you got to the front line, the less everyone spoke and thought of the allied cause. War doesn’t obliterate the human life, soldiers are still men.” Lewis goes on to say “The war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object, and therefore intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of the human soul”. Lets remember what it is to be a human today, don’t let the pandemic oliterate the human life.
Later in his essay Lewis asks this very same question that we are asking “How can you be so frivolous and selfish to think of anything but the war”. Lets look again at the essay for some help he talks about three enemies to work, human life and flourishing in the midst of a war. They are excitement, frustration and fear.
Excitement – This is the tendency to think about war when we had intended to think about our work. This is even more possible today. Even before the pandemic many were struggling with an obsession with the news. Leading to an overwhelming, crushing sense. With constant access to news from across the world. Many are now advising that you limit how long you watch the news for. It is certainly easy to constantly watch tv and to become obsessed with the latest stats, curves and deaths. So lets not let excitement become an enemy to human flourishing.
Frustration – The feeling that we won’t have enough time to finish. I certainly feel that every day. Whether that’s work, cleaning the house or home schooling, the days really don’t have enough hours in anymore. Lewis sends another reality check here. He suggests that pretty soon for all of us will come a time when we start saying “no time for that” “too late now”. He suggests though that we commit our futures to God. Happy work is best done by the person who takes their long term plans lightly and works from moment to moment.
Fear – Lewis says “War threatens death and pain”, we certainly see that in this pandemic. He goes on to say “But there is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that. What does war do to death? It doesn’t make it more frequent, but it may quicken when we die….The reason why cancer at 65 or Demensia at 70 don’t bother us is that we forget them”. We forget these awful things until a family member or friend has a diagnosis. Yet war makes death and suffering real to us. The pandemic has made death and suffering real to us. Whether it’s the pop up mortuary 3 miles from my home, the daily count in the news or the fact that death is trending on Google. The pandemic forces us to remember death and pain.
But the stats aren’t just out there. We may have experienced the death of a close friend or family member in lockdown. If not we’ll certainly know someone that has. If we had foolish hopes about human culture, about humanity’s ability to be God they are now shattered. COVID19 is bringing into focus a clarity on who we are and how fragile we are.
In this fragility and time of survival, can we really enjoy ourselves? Can we take time to dance and sing? If the answer is yes, then why do these simple things make me feel guilty? Lets go back to the question of guilt. For me this false guilt reveals that all too often I base who I am upon what I can do.
For me this false guilt reveals that all too often I base who I am upon what I can do.
If I was a frontline worker would I feel better about my existence right now? I’m doing what the government says. I’m staying at Home, I’m caring for my kids. But I don’t feel proud of my contribution to this pandemic if anything I just feel guilty.
At this point I hear God speak. I hear him say, I turned the guilt system on its head. Even if others play this game of making you feel guilty, even if you buy into it temporarily. I want to offer you something different.
There is an offer of a relationship free from guilt. One where the values and relationship are not dependant upon what you can do or who you can be, but the relationship is based on love. By taking up this offer of love as a basis for my life, there is no room for guilt or pride in who we are or what we do. The Apostle John says this in 1 John 3:20 ”If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”.
Its not about how we feel about ourselves or about what we do or don’t do in this pandemic, its about who God is and what he says.
If we understand God for who he really is, then we don’t need to feel guilt when we dance. Here are four reasons not to feel guilt. 1. The guilt system doesn’t work – “feeling guilty” does nothing for anyone. 2. There is one that has offered to remove genuine guilt from us forever. 3. Who we are is not dependant on what we do. 4. We were created to live not just survive.
So in our current existence, which can feel like every day is a Ground Hog day. Lets choose torecieve this offer of a guilt free life and truely live. What song will you sing today? What book will you pick up and enjoy?
Early in the days of Covid19 lockdown, like others, I had a lot of concerns, particularly as we are away from home on a sabbatical in Vancouver. The worst times for me were those days when things were changing fast, every three hours it seemed, as decisions to keep ski slopes open or ferries running or borders open with appropriate adjustments, moved swiftly to complete closure. Once I knew that our planned trips were cancelled and that we were unlikely to see many of the friends we hoped to visit over these months, my anxiety reduced and I arranged Zoom calls or phone conversations with some of them.
As things settled I thought about my business and how it might look in the months ahead and realised, once again, that there’s never much point worrying about things as most of them never happen! Paradoxically, few of us EVER thought of worrying about a pandemic!
I am a self-employed declutterer and organiser. I go into people’s homes and help them get their stuff, and sometimes their life, in order. Whether it’s because of illness, bereavement, arrival of children or something else, many clients find they are pushing through a thick mud and making no progress, so they call me in. I’ve heard a number of friends confess to this same problem during lockdown; plans are made and tasks listed but a lack of direction or motivation draws them back to checking more news bulletins or binge watching something mindless – after another visit to the fridge.
Some people have recognised this as an ‘ideal time’ to do some sorting out, but have admitted that in spite of ALL this time at home they have become ‘stuck’. While you might expect that spending a lot of time at home would make us WANT to make it more homely, more orderly, more restful, it seems we are unable to make the changes. That untidy drawer is just too much to face, that stack of paper looks unconquerable. So maybe I just needed to be still.
During the process of decluttering, I work with the client encouraging them to let things go. There are so many decisions and most things are tied up emotionally with memories of people or life experiences. Parting with sentimental items can be so difficult, we want to pass them on to a family member or someone else who will treasure them and give them a good home. Other things are treasured because they cost a lot of money, but they are no longer needed or liked and yet it seems too difficult to get rid of them.
An essential part of decluttering, therefore, is re-evaluating. I have found with all my clients that the choices they make will bring to the surface what they really value.
What do we place great value on? Can you imagine selling everything you have to buy something of immense value? One of the parables Jesus told was about the ‘pearl of great price’ – a beautiful thing beyond description. The merchant in the story sold all that he had (a massive decluttering!) so that he could have this great treasure.
In Matthew chapter 6, verse 19, Jesus is teaching his followers about storing up treasures. He reminds his listeners that things on earth decay or may be stolen by thieves. ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ where there is no decay or theft, ‘for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
What have we treasured? The many things cluttering our home? The numbers of ‘likes’ on our Instagram feed? The career that has come to a standstill, the car that sits idle outside the door, the two holidays each year? All have come to nothing. That is why we may be stressed, malfunctioning, lacking quality sleep. Most of all we may find that we are devoid of hope.
A greater treasure can be ours: an everlasting life, an invitation offered by Jesus to all. A promise illustrated by the rainbow, signifying God’s faithfulness and constant care; a hope that is not something fluffy or ethereal, but built on a sure faith.
‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Matthew 11, 28 The Message
Gwen lives in County Down, Northern Ireland with her husband Monty and cat Smokey, where their home overlooks the sea and provides refreshment between ministry trips with Monty who serves on the European IFES team.
With her business Sorted by Gwen she has decluttered and organised domestic clients since 2007 and spoken about clutter from a Christian perspective since 2013 to a variety of audiences. She is currently in Vancouver with Monty on sabbatical with some excellent hiking trails nearby while everything else is shut down. Her hobbies include hospitality, gardening, card making and paddling adventures in their Canadian canoe.
I was used to moving around. This time, I moved to a completely new city for work. It was a great job, therefore I didn’t mind the unsociable hours. I honestly couldn’t work out what was wrong.
The waves of intense emotional pain were sudden and crippling. I would curl up on the floor and whimper. They were unavoidable and overwhelming.
I had huge misconceptions about loneliness
I once assumed that with good social skills and a lot of effort I would never be lonely again. (Humble – I know). As if I could overcome loneliness with some witty banter and local pals.
Admitting I was lonely to friends felt like I was telling them “you’re not doing enough.” Or worse than that “you are not enough.”
I felt desperate and needy. These are not good traits if you want to build friendships. So I stuffed those feelings way down, thinking it would help me in the long run to ignore them.
In reality, no matter what I did, I couldn’t escape the fact that something inside of me was broken.
The opposite of loneliness is not popularity.
A quick google search will tell you the antonym to ‘lonely’ is ‘popular’. Which is obviously rubbish. Popularity can make people incredibly lonely.
Ed Sheeran’s song Eraser is more than great track. He says “I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs. I chased the picture-perfect life. I think they painted it wrong. I think that money is the root of all evil and fame is hell…. Ain’t nobody wanna see you down in the dumps. Because you’re livin’ your dream man that s*** should be fun.”
The opposite of loneliness is belonging.
The problem is in our culture you have to earn your sense of belonging. You have to build a reputation. You want to be popular? Show us on Instagram that you are worth following. You want to show you are capable? Get the top job. You want us to be impressed? Do something exciting.
When we’re flying high – it can feel exhilarating. But when it falls apart. Or we grow weary. The loneliness inside us aches. I suppose you might think the answer is authenticity. If everyone was real with one another, we think, then we wouldn’t have this problem.
Yet we know this has limits. We only show people elements of who we really are. There are always details of a story which we hold back for fear of people seeing what we really think. Because we know people would reject us if they knew the whole truth. We long for someone love us truly. For who we are with the masks off.
Yet who could possibly love us as who we really are?
Fully-known AND fully-loved
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8
The gospel message starts with telling you straight: You suck. No really. You’re a terrible person. A terrible person who has been impacted by other terrible people. You need help.
It tells a story about the God who made the universe. The God who made you. He came up with the idea of you. (Indeed, he was having a great day when he came up with that idea!)
He decided to enter into this mess of a world. Live as a human being. Die the most painful death to repair that relationship. For no other obvious reason other than love. There is a God who knows everything about you.
The God who knows the very worst about us, loves us. The God who knows the very worst about you, loves you.
Have you ever known love like it? I haven’t.
Rosie lives in Norwich. Her new routine involves exercising with Joe Wicks on a Monday morning. Outside of lockdown you would be most likely to see her at local open mics.
This blog post has been written by a guest contributor who has elected to remain anonymous.
Trigger Warning: Alcoholism and domestic abuse
To all the men, woman and children in domestic abuse settings during lockdown searching for hope.
Dad* was drinking again.
As per normal, he went to my sister’s room to verbally berate her. The speech contained threats, ‘advice,’ and warnings. Normally she would put up with it. But this time she snapped back at him. Told him to leave her alone.
Dad walked away downstairs for some more wine. Then we heard the roar.
“I’M GOING TO KILL HER!”
The fear for her life was a legitimate one. I helped her to run to another part of the house for a hiding place. We heard a crack on the landing. Suddenly everything went dark.
He’d punched the light switch so hard the plastic casing snapped.
He ran to my sisters’ room and began tearing things apart trying to find her.
He moved systematically around the house and looking in every possible hiding place. Lifted the lid of a wooden laundry basket in the spare room. He brought it down so hard it shattered.
He eventually found her. She was on the way to the garage.
I could hear the screaming.
Looking for freedom
I thought I already had hope.
My sister and I hoped that 18 was this magical age where freedom would come to us. We could earn our own money and walk away.
We were going to rescue ourselves.
We had good reasons to believe nothing was going to change the situation.
It was unlikely our wider family would believe us.
Dad didn’t fit the stereotype of an abuser. In films abusive men wore white tank tops. They lived in a caravan and wiped their nose with the backs of their hands.
But dad worked in an office. He wore clean pressed blue shirts. We were financially secure. Dad was well liked. He went to dinner parties and told funny stories.
Besides – unbeknown to us we didn’t have the language to describe what was happening as abuse. I only had the words dad used. Like ‘playfighting.’ Or ‘playing a game.’
No child should have to make their own rescue plan. Yet here we were.
Road to freedom
Surprisingly, a friend and I had been allowed to go on a church retreat. The big draw was having a whole week away from home. I couldn’t be more excited.
I knew some things about Christianity but not much. God seemed as distant and unavailable as any other adult. I intended to show Him some respect, give Him space and I hoped He would leave me alone.
What I learnt turned my tiny insular world upside down. Not only did the adults at the retreat have more love and compassion than anyone I had ever met. But God was nothing like I’d expected.
The great rescue
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world … In love, he predestined (meaning pre-determined) us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ… in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1)
Father. I learnt that was one of the many names God gives himself.
I heard about a God who, before the beginning of time, set in motion a rescue plan for humanity. To save us from a messed-up world (and family) and to restore messed-up people.
Part of this plan was to build me into a wider family. A new family.
There not a single part of my life which has been left unchanged by this truth.
If you were here right now, face-to-face outside of lockdown world, I would tell you story after story. Of security outside of physical constraints. Of a hope which was beyond just turning 18. And church has made up for what I lack in family in extraordinary ways.
We eventually did leave at 18. Of course, we should have been out much earlier. There were many failures at different levels which led to that.
But I cannot deny: the truth about Jesus liberated me long before I left home.
Puppets… aren’t they just for kids? That’s a question that we’ve heard so many times! But we’re convinced that although they may often be aimed at children, the big kids (a.k.a. the adults) love and learn from them too!
Many different ideas will come into your head when you hear of puppets, whether that’s Punch and Judy, Sooty and Sweep or perhaps the more popular Muppets. This can sometimes be a barrier to using them in church (virtually or for real!). But if you go through these assumptions, we’ve found that puppets that are done well can really help teach the gospel to every age in a way that is fun and exciting. Sometimes with a “normal” talk, the barriers are already up against what is being said and so people do not listen. But with puppets, even those who have never been to church often remove those barriers because they are enjoying being entertained. Then, when the barriers are down, they are open to hear the gospel.
Although normally we’d be doing the puppets live during our church service, during this time of being online we’ve changed to creating videos of puppet sketches and songs. They work surprisingly well on video! The videos are uploaded to our brand new Reach Puppets YouTube channel so that they can be shared and watched by our church community during the week on social media. The main way they are being used, though, is through our Messy Church. The videos help to explain the story or point being made in a way that really engages the kids. We (or maybe the puppets!) even had some fan mail this week from a child who is excited to watch Messy Church because their favourite puppet characters (Jack and Polly) are going to be there!
We’re not keeping the videos for ourselves and would love others to use them (either via the YouTube channel or drop us an email for the raw video). It does take time to make the videos so it’d be great to see them used in as many contexts as is helpful. As well as online events like Messy Church and the main Sunday service, we think they will also work posted on social media to encourage and evangelise during the week. Also, if you would like a video on a particular topic then just get in touch and we can do our best to come up with something!
So what is our motivation in all of this? To reach up to God in praise whilst reaching out to people with the gospel – and online who knows how far the gospel will go!
Josh and Heather Kirby
Josh and Heather Kirby. We’ve lived in the North East of England now for about 10 years and our home church is Christ Church Newcastle. We started doing puppets in church 3 and a half years ago and now they are taking over our house!
This guest blog is by Steve Sturman a Neurologist specialising in Neurorehabilitation
It used to be just unlucky people caught up in accidents, terrorist attacks or distant wars but things have changed. All the givens have been moved and now life is strange and different. How do we react? What does this all mean for my relationships, my future, well, for everything?
This pandemic is incomprehensible. There is nowhere to run to and everyone is affected. And we’re all tired. Will somebody please change the music? But they can’t. It’s there, on the one hand weirdly fascinating, on the other, emotionally toxic.
I must have watched thousands of people grapple with brutal life changing events in my career. This all seems just too familiar, except it is global. I recognise though,some of the reactions of people as we are caught up in this.
There is subliminal denial. ‘This isn’t really happening, or if it is, we’ll just get on with things’. Until one day in your kitchen something poignant reminds you, that you are lying to yourself. The word ‘liminal’ has to do with thresholds, doorways. Don’t duck it, liminal stress exists. We are all going through change, and we will all be experiencing stress because of this. Denial wont work and will ultimately be damaging.
Then there is the need to take control and find solutions. This has a more sinister dimension than the ‘let’s hit the rehab button’ that I am used to in clinical practice. ‘Keep your distance’ fuels contagion phobia and xenophobia. An ugly assertion of ‘my need to protect’ can be just under the surface. I’ve watched the fear grow over the last few months, affecting even people I thought were ‘together’ types.
Maybe, more commonly, contagion phobia results in withdrawal and an agoraphobic response. Our local park seems massive now, having been indoors for six weeks. And do I really want to go back to work or whatever ‘normal’ used to be with the hassle of travelling and interacting with people? Stay safe, stay at home, protect… me. But it wont work, it will only alienate, propagate fear and ultimately damage me and others.
Many people I have watched over the years professionally however, start to make the journey from ‘restoration’ ie. unrealistic determination to get back to normal, to ‘transformation’, that is, adapting creatively to the new normal. This is more than dull acceptance of the way things are, (which is really more a sullen hankering for ‘the way things were’). These people and their networks often surprisingly discover post-traumatic growth, as the ordinary and the menial become precious and valued. This has to be seen close up to realise it is not just a platitude, a sort of ‘consolation prize’. It is not readily comprehensible in our image obsessed culture.
But what of faith in Christ? What difference does the gospel make? Jesus tells us that his teaching applied, is like a rock when everything else is liminal, changing (Matthew 7:24). His teaching gives a stable lens through which the complexities and uncertainties can be framed. This changes the narrative.
And our God is determined to take us through a process of change with a goal that transcends the immediate and now. As we see and trust him in our circumstances then by his Spirit we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). The resurrection is the prototype for transformation and post traumatic growth.
So I ask myself, not, ‘When will this end, and go back to normal?’, but rather ‘How are you transforming me Lord, to be more like you? Contagion phobia yields to contagion growth, in Christ.
Steve Sturman is a Neurologist specialising in Neurorehabilitation in Birmingham,UK. Steve is the Associate Head of Doctors’ Ministries at Christian Medical Fellowship
Can you think of a situation where you’ve tried to learn something new without taking the advice of experts? This is me all over. My lack of patience plays out in many ways. One of these is an unwillingness to read instructions. This has resulted in many failed attempts at new recipes and DIY projects. My latest disaster was a lockdown hair cut for my husband 3 days before he preaches on Zoom. I’d confused number 1 and number 10 on the clippers, leaving an accidental Nike stripe in the back of Jon’s hair. The children were crying and the house was covered in hair. My daughter looked at her father and said Dad are you actually going to leave the house looking like that? At that point we went back to the instructions and started all over again.
We’ve had to think through how we do church and mission in a pandemic for the first time. But now the UK is over its peak. We’re beginning to see other countries coming out of lockdown. Questions are beginning to emerge about church online after lockdown. What has God been saying in this time of intentional interruption? When this is over can we go back to normal? Is there a new normal?
I really want to think about this. Do we even want to return to normal?
We know that the “old normal” is a long way off. Open air cafes might just open in the summer. Schools might open with a staggered approach with the youngest going back in October. Churches in Germany will open soon but they might ban singing. There is a lot of uncertainty. But in this space of uncertainty I’d like to ask a few questions. Do we really want to return to normal? Was normal really that great anyway? Could we even have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than before?
I’ve read many articles about church life after lockdown. In each of them I hear a repeated sentiment that seems to hint that this hasn’t been real, that this hasn’t been church and that this couldn’t be permanent.
Billy Kennedy in his excellent post on 3 reasons to stay online says this: “Church is community and community is expressed when people meet together… Sure, we can do some of this online but nothing beats the face to face interaction, the hug, the handshake or the huddle.”
Tim Hughes talks in his interview about The Blessing and online church. He says “If our only interaction is online, that’s not great, because that’s what I’m missing as a pastor. There’s so much nuance you miss. Body language and just being around people. And I miss the joy when you’re in church and hundreds of people are all united singing these songs. That’s powerful and you can’t quite replace that through endless Zooms!”
I agree with so much here. But what about for those for whom this isn’t the new normal, they’ve been doing online church for decades. And for these, after lockdown has finished, they still won’t be able to leave their homes and go to church because they haven’t yet found a church that is accessible. 20% of the population have disabilities and yet many of our churches are not accessible to this people group. Lausanne tells us the most unreached people group in the world is the disabled community with 94% unreached.
I think , the established church could learn so much from this community about how to do church online. For this community churchessuch as Disability and Jesus, London Internet Church, Pixel Church and iChurch have been doing this for years.
Here are two questions I’ve been asking as I’ve thought about this:
1. Was normal really that great anyway?
I’ve begun to see that the body we had, just really wasn’t that much of a body after all. I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.
I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.
One of our church is housebound due to disabilities. This is what her daughter said after our first online church service:
“Bringing the church service to our home has meant that mum has been able to be ‘at church’ for the first time since before Christmas. Wonderful. This is amazing. Thank you. Praise God”.
Initially I thought that was wonderful, a way in which online church was working to improve church. But as I look back I am sad that it took a pandemic to wake me up. When one of our members can’t be part of the body, the church gathered, there is something not right with our body.
Emma Major writes about her own experience with church and how she and others have felt: “Many thousands of disabled persons have been excluded from so many churches for so long. We’ve been church online for years. This is because the established church often isn’t a place where disabled people can meet together in person with other Christians”.
Malcolm Duncan, now pastor of Dundonald Elim Church in Belfast, says in a recording made some years ago for an Enabling Church conference: …“A church that doesn’t have disabled people in, is disabling itself”
2. Could we have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than ever before?
The disabled community are 20% of our population. And yet I wonder if they make up 20% of our churches. I wonder too if our churches and events are accessible, warm and welcoming to all? Would you join me and listen to Malcolm, Kay, Emma, and others and learn from them at this time about being the body of Christ?
Kay, told me that social media posts about disability are shared 1/3 less than other posts. I asked her what it would look like to listen to the disabled community. She said: “I long for people to have the ears to hear, and by ‘hear’ I don’t mean a nod of agreement. I mean a hearing that leads to action and a church where all can belong.”
Emma Major writes about the irony of lockdown and the churches response. She says “The fact that physical churches are now exploring how to find relationships online without thinking to ask those who’ve done it well for years is intriguing.”
On a similar theme Kay Morgan Gurr says “It’s taken a pandemic for the church world to catch up with this. Yet today I still see ministers and congregants alike saying that online is second best and they look forward to getting back to ‘real’ church.”
The disabled community have been doing this for years and could teach us about church online, if only we would listen.
Right now I want to repent that I was and am so unable to see to an entire people group.
Right now I want to listen. Malcolm Duncan talks about how we’re all broken and marred, that even Jesus himself limited his capacities in becoming human. I want to listen and be taught by those who are the experts in thinking through being the body online.
Right now I want look at accessibility issues in the areas I have responsibility.
Zoom is a service that allows lots of people to connect to each other at the same time. It works on a computer, a laptop, a tablet or a phone.
If you have a microphone and a camera, other people can see and hear you too (depending on the settings.
There are lots of other similar websites and apps (such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Hangouts, Houseparty). If you’ve used one of these before, Zoom is very similar. If you have never used one of these before, don’t worry! It is not too difficult to get started.
What do I need to get started with Zoom?
You need a desktop computer, a laptop, or a tablet. You can also use a smartphone, but a bigger screen will make it easier to see what is happening on screen.
Speakers so you can hear what’s going on. If you have a laptop or tablet, these will be built in.
An internet connection. If your internet connection is slow, you might have problems joining the meeting.
If you use your mobile phone data to access the internet, remember that our meeting will probably use quite a lot of your data, and it might be expensive.
Helpful, but not essential
Headphones. The sound is often easier to hear if you use headphones.
A microphone so that you can join in the conversation. If you have a tablet or laptop, this will probably be built in, or there may be one attached to your headphones. If you don’t have a microphone, don’t worry – you can still hear what is going on.
A camera connected to your computer (sometimes called a webcam) so we can see you. Most laptops and tablets come with these already built in – look for a black dot or hole near the top or side of the screen.
If you have a desktop computer you might need to connect one.
Step 1: Sign Up
Before you can use Zoom, you have to sign up. Signing up is completely free.
It’s better if you do this ahead of time, as it can take a few minutes to get set up.
If you have a laptop or desktop computer:
Open your internet browser and type zoom.us in the bar at the top. This will take you to the Zoom website.
Click on the orange button at the top, that says “Sign up, it’s free”
Enter your date of birth when asked.
Enter your email address. (It will ask for your work email, but it can be any email address that you have access to).
A box will pop up asking you to confirm you are happy to receive emails from Zoom. If you click Confirm for now, you can change this later.
You will then need to open your emails and find the email from Zoom, with the subject “Please activate your Zoom account.” In the email there will be a blue button with the words “Activate Account”. Click the button.
This will take you back to the Zoom website. You will be asked if you are signing up on behalf of a school. Click on the circle next to the word ‘No,’ and then click ‘Continue’.
Fill in the rest of your details, including a password that you will be able to remember. (Your password needs to have at least 8 characters, and it has to have at least one letter, at least one number, and at least one capital letter). When you have a suitable password, the instructions should turn green.
Once you have filled all the boxes, click the orange “Continue” button.
The next screen will ask if you want to recommend Zoom to your friends. For now, you can just click the grey box that says, “Skip this step”.
Congratulations, you have signed up to Zoom! Now you need to download Zoom…
Step 2: Download Zoom
You don’t have to download Zoom to use it, but it is much easier to use if you do. It will work on most laptops, computers and tablets.
2. Click on Resources in the top right corner of the page:
3. A menu will appear. Click on the top item, Download Zoom Client
4. On the next screen, the top option should be “Zoom Client for Meetings.” Click on the blue “Download” button to transfer Zoom to your computer.
6. The next part will be slightly different depending on your computer or laptop. But you will need to click on the downloaded file, and then keep clicking continue until the process has finished. By the end, you should have this symbol on your computer
You can join the meeting from around 7.45pm on Sunday. If you try to join the meeting before then, it won’t work.
Click the link in the email (the underlined section in blue). This should open up a new window.
If you see a box that says, “Open zoom.us?” click the button that says “Open zoom.us.” It should open up Zoom on your computer or tablet.
If you are asked for your log in details, enter the email address and password you used when you signed up.
If you are asked for the meeting ID or password, you can find these in Tom’s welcome email.
If you see a box asking for access to your microphone or camera, click “OK.”
If you see this message, you just need to wait for a few minutes. This is a bit like taking a seat in the waiting room before you are welcomed into the meeting.
Please wait, the meeting will let you in soon
When you join the meeting on a laptop or desktop, you should see a box like this one. Click “Join with Computer Audio.”
On a tablet, you will need to click the “Join audio” symbol, and then select “Call with Internet Audio.”
Hooray! You are now part of the Zoom meeting!
How to control what other people can see
If you are using a laptop or desktop computer: You should see controls like this at the bottom of the screen:
You can ignore most of them! The main ones you need to worry about are: Mute If you don’t want to be heard by anyone, you can mute your microphone. Just click the microphone symbol. If your microphone is muted, it will have a red line through it. This means that no-one can hear you.
If you want to be heard, you will need to unmute your microphone. Click the microphone symbol again, and the diagonal line will disappear.
The host can also mute your microphone to make sure everyone can hear OK. If this happens, you will need to wait for them to unmute your microphone before you can speak to the group.
Start Video / Stop Video This turns your camera on or off. If your camera is off, there will be a red line through the camera symbol. If you want to turn you camera on, click the symbol again. The red line will disappear when your camera is off.
Leave Meeting If you need to leave the meeting, click “Leave Meeting.” The rest of us will be able to continue the meeting, but we won’t be able to see you any more, and you won’t be able to see us.
If you want to rejoin the meeting, you will have to click the link in Tom’s email again.
If you are using a tablet: You should see controls like this at the bottom of the screen:
You can ignore most of them! The main ones you need to worry about are:
Audio If you don’t want to be heard by anyone, you can mute your microphone. Just click the speaker symbol (“Audio”). If your microphone is muted, it will have a red cross next to it through it. This means that no-one can hear you.
If you want to be heard, you will need to unmute your microphone. Click the speaker symbol again, and the cross will disappear.
The host can also mute your microphone to make sure everyone can hear OK. If this happens, you will need to wait for them to unmute your microphone before you can speak to the group.
Start Video / Stop Video This turns your camera on or off. If your camera is off, there will be a red cross next to the camera symbol. If you want to turn you camera on, click the symbol again. The red cross will disappear when your camera is off.
Leave Meeting If you need to leave the meeting, click “Leave Meeting” in the top right corner. The rest of us will be able to continue the meeting, but we won’t be able to see you any more, and you won’t be able to see us.
If you want to rejoin the meeting, you will have to click the link in Tom’s email again.
How to control what you can see
There are two main views in Zoom: Speaker View, where you see a large picture of whoever is speaking.
Gallery View, where you see small pictures of everyone.
You can choose which one of these you prefer. Usually, if you are having a group discussion, it is better to use the Gallery view. If you are listening to one person (e.g. the host of the meeting, or if someone is preaching), it is better to use the Speaker view.
The host of the meeting can choose to Spotlight one person – this will make a large picture of that person appear on your screen, and they will stay there until the host turns off the spotlight.
It is also possible to share your screen – this might happen if someone wants to share a picture or video with everyone.
Switching between Speaker View and Gallery View
If you are using a laptop or desktop computer: Check the top right corner of your screen.
When you are seeing Gallery view, it will say Speaker View in the corner. Click on this to switch to Speaker View.
When you are seeing Speaker view, it will say Gallery View in the corner. Click on this to switch to Speaker View.
If you are using an Android tablet: If you can only see one speaker, swipe left with your finger to see more speakers. If you want to go back to speaker view, swipe right until you get back to seeing only one speaker.
If you are using an iPad The controls are in the top left of the Zoom window. If you can’t see the controls, tap your screen to make them appear.
If you are in Speaker View, click on Switch to Gallery View to see lots of people.
If you are in Gallery View, click on Switch to Active Speaker to see lots of people.
What if I am nervous about appearing on screen… The first time you use something like zoom, it does feel a bit strange! But you will get more comfortable very quickly.
When you see lots of faces on screen, it can seem as if everyone is looking at you, but really they can see lots of faces too! It’s more like sitting around a big dining table, rather than standing on a stage in front of everyone!
And you won’t be expected to speak if you don’t want to. And, if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can turn off your microphone or your camera and just watch and listen.
Top tips for Zoom meetings
If there is lots of background noise, everyone will be able to hear it. So try to sit somewhere quiet (turn off the radio and TV!). Or turn off your microphone.
Try to find a place to sit where light will shine on you from the front or side. If you have a bright light behind you, or no light, we won’t be able to see you!
Gareth is a science teacher at a secondary school in Dorset. In a former life he worked with Friends International and UCCF, supporting Christian students and helping the rest to think through big questions about life, the universe and everything.