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.
Each year, over the Easter Holiday break, our church runs our annual kids holiday club for primary school children to come and have fun while exploring the Bible together. This year was no different as we were excited to launch our week under the theme of Superheroes.
Of course, this was all before the great pandemic descended and everything began to be cancelled. But, in the Lord’s great mercy, COVID 19 only served to produce a greater opportunity for our church holiday club: Superheroes online.
In our initial planning, for the first time, we had chosen to cap our numbers to 80 children and only accept pre bookings to provide the appropriate level of care and attention for the children to engage based on the team we had. These children would have been coming predominantly from within the church and the local area, having spoken to local schools. But, as the Lord told Isaiah, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”, it seems God’s plans for this particular holiday club were bigger than for St Thomas’ church, Lancaster. By the week of holiday club, we had over 300 children signed up from all over the country and even across the world, stretching as far as France, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pakistan. Children that were now watching and taking part with families, many who would never normally go into church. COVID 19 didn’t tear down holiday club, it just built it in each home.
So how did it work?
Each morning at 11am we went live on Youtube; think an (amateur) combination of Blue Peter, Veggie Tales, Prank Patrol and Cbeebies Storytime, if you will. We had about 40-50 mins of challenges and messy games, action songs, question of the day, our memory verse, a dramatized Bible story, testimonies from the church, an interactive prayer response and of course our annual holiday club would not be complete without gunging our leaders in slime to end. We then had various crafts and activities for each day posted on our website for children and families to do at home throughout the day based around our usual holiday club set up of; ‘explore the story’, ‘create zone’, ‘chill out zone’ and ‘challenge zone’.
I certainly had an awful lot of fun in the lead up to the week writing and filming Bible stories, building blanket forts, making my own Twister game, reflecting in prayer and being gunged in my garden but by far the highlight of each day for me was to see how the children and families were engaging; to see photos, videos and stories sent in each day of how children and their families were taking part, hearing the gospel and bringing the stories and truth of scripture alive in their own homes every day. One family said:
“It was the highlight of our day each day this week to watch it. What a ray of sunshine Holiday Club TV was, coming into our homes each day during the second half of the Easter holidays in lockdown. The wonderful mixture of zany silliness with a deep unshakeable hope in Jesus was so uplifting.”
It certainly wasn’t the Holiday Club we were planning for and expecting but how grateful I am that even when “many are the plan’s in a person’s heart, it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”. I have been so deeply challenged by the truth of this, that even in times of darkness, God is working all things for our good, his plans never fail, and he will bring his gospel to the ends of the Earth.
Abi is originally from just outside Southampton but moved to Lancaster as a student in 2014 where she has lived since, now working as a staff worker for UCCF supporting Christian Unions around Lancashire.
Our guest blog comes from Tim Dennis. For other blogs in our online evangelism series look here.
The adventure started about 4 weeks ago…
‘I’m stuck at home, and I’m missing people— friends we laugh with as we stand on the sideline, freezing and watching our lads play football; the pals who make me wait till after I’ve normally gone to bed to start eating curry; the mates I go to the pub with once a month to celebrate my wedding anniversary (long story).
I’m not sure how people are feeling. I want to share hope with them, but I don’t know how. Some of them I’ve never spoken with about my faith before. What do I say, and how do I say it?
Turns out it’s way harder than you think. You think you’ve finally nailed the script and set up the shot, and someone starts mowing their lawn. So annoying!
But I did it. It was way too long, and a bit too intense (I need to learn to smile more), but I did it.
Time to sit back and watch the views come in, or not. But then a friend suggested (she might be called Nay), challenged me to invite people to connect—not just to post stuff in the social media ether, but to invite people to chat about it. It made me feel uncomfortable, but we did it. We texted WhatsApp groups and shared the invite with friends. Sadly, for various reasons no one took us up on the offer, but the whole thing got me thinking….
What if there was a way to help other people connect with their friends? What if I could produce something that others could share, to help them share hope
I’m so grateful for the people who were willing to write blogs for the site when all that I could say was that ‘I’ve had an idea!’ But by God’s grace, just over two and half weeks ago we launched, and nearly 7,000 people have visited the site, with 20,000 page views.
This whole experience has taught me so much, but here are 4 brief lessons that I’ve been reminded of over the last few weeks:
1. Don’t drop and run
It’s easy to share a link and then hope that people see it. It’s like posting a flyer through a letterbox, or putting a poster up, which isn’t a bad thing, but let’s aim for better! Why not tag people or send people a personal message, or host a watch party. It’s all risky and might feel uncomfortable, but if you’ve done the hard work of relationship building, you will win a hearing from some. People are bombarded with stuff online (especially now) so they will easily scroll on if there is not a personal connection.
2. Don’t worry if other people are making better online videos
Do I really want to do a video? What if it’s rubbish? Well, my first video wasn’t great, and the 2nd one was only marginally better—at least it was shorter! But, whilst there is a place for wonderful professionally produced videos—they are a great resource for the church, your friends would rather hear from you, not some random they don’t know.
Some people have mentioned they’ve felt overwhelmed by the amount of resources that are available to use or share. But your friends don’t see that—they just see your timeline. So don’t record something if you’ll feel sad if it doesn’t get many likes from Christian friends—just record something for your friends.
3. Say something, not everything
To use Becky Manley-Pippert’s phrase, we need to ‘cultivate curiosity’. Sometimes it feels like the desire to share the ‘whole gospel’ with people in one go (by that I mean the crea-tion, fall/sin, the cross and resurrection) comes more from a desire to ease our con-sciences than a desire to properly connect with people. If we’ve said everything then my job is done. But that’s not how relationships or conversations work. Commit to people for the long haul, trust that God is sovereign, and that if people are interested the Spirit will move them to come back and speak with you more.
4. Engage with the questions people are actually asking
That has been a guiding principle behind the website. Yes, of course people need to know how we can be sure that Jesus is God, but that’s not what people are worried about right now. Aim to connect with people’s anxieties and desires; show them that the Christian faith speaks into their lives, confronting and comforting and pointing them to a certain hope. And you might actually find they want to hear more.
Now I just need to go and ‘practice what I preach.’
Tim is currently a Curate in Winklebury & Worting in Basingstoke. Before training and ordination, Tim worked with UCCF for 10 years. Tim is passionate about connecting people with Jesus and regularly speaks or leads evangelistic courses. Tim is currently working on a new evangelistic course called LifeStory, which will hopefully be published soon.
When lock down started, as a pastor of church with a good number of older folk, I realised that two things were going to be true of them over the coming months: they would be lonely, and they would be desperate for good teaching. So, I decided to start a daily devotion on YouTube. Nothing fancy or in -depth, just a few minutes reflection on the Bible. An encouragement.
Both young and old in the church have valued it. It seems to give us a sense of unity each day. Also, unexpectedly, friends from around the world started listening in too. One of the things about the internet is that distance is no longer a barrier. And so, with the knowledge that more people are watching, I have started to try and think through sound quality, increasing the file size and making the film a bit more interesting than my wonky nose.
But as I realised that this time of isolation was going to be longer than first anticipated, I started to wonder what I should share each day. That is, should we be considering something specific at this time. Or to put it more bluntly, are there particular things that God wants us to think about.
You see, Covid-19 is the biggest and most significant interruption that our generation has ever known.
We’ve all been breathing the air of bigger and better. We are travelling more, working more, and spending time on social media more. Everything is more. Our world has been speeding up to a pace in which many of us could no longer stop and think. The art of meditation and reflection had all but extinguished….unless it was done for an Instagram post.
I wonder, before 2020, had we started to miss true life?
God is going to use this time for our good. He can bring good out of all things, even bad. The question is, how? My greatest fear is that once we find a vaccine life will go back to normal. Like someone who loses weight too quickly, vows they will never eat another kebab, but then is back in the take-away within weeks. Whilst we are all saying the world will be different….will it? The world is simply the result of our actions, and our actions are simply the reflection of our hearts.
Has the coronavirus changed our hearts?
Could it be that God is going to use this time to help us re-set our faith, and therefore our lives?
I feel it is my duty as the pastor of a local church to help my fellow church members start to work that out. I don’t want to look back to 2020 and say, ‘hey, I learnt to make vlogs and make home-made humous’ (I haven’t). I want to look back to this year and say, ‘God completely changed me….from the inside out.’
God wants us to experience a fresh faith in these extraordinary times. The Lord wants us to look out for wondrous things in the lock down. Our Father wants us to ponder His ways in the pandemic. I’ve been reflecting and I think there 13 things that God wants us to perceive anew in this pause. There are probably a lot more. Some of them are obvious like creation and compassion. Others may be a little unexpected, like conviction and crying. Some are welcome like children and comedy (often together).
Over the next 3 weeks I hope to use my little 5 minutes each day to help us pause and ponder. This time has created a window of opportunity to spend time every day with my church. Time that would have been filled with commuting, spending, wasting and whatever else we used to do. But now, for however long it lasts, people are willing to tune in every day.
Home. It’s one of those loaded words isn’t it. As soon as we hear it our thoughts flood: memories and mealtimes, Christmas and birthdays, growing up and growing old. Moments we love to remember, moments we desperately fight to forget.
Whatever home conjures up inside of us, it’s probably taken on a new spin recently: sofas turned offices, kitchen tables turned school classrooms, a place of comfort and rest turned into a growing trap. Maybe you’ve even had to move out to protect those you love; for others, deep fears of being stuck in a certain place are all too real.
It’s often said that home isn’t a place, but people, or a feeling. A quick google search reveals the hundreds of craft items you can buy with those phrases etched on, ironically to hang in the place you call home. It seems like we’ve always known home is more than our saved Amazon addresses and if there’s anything the current crisis has revealed, it’s that the walls around us may be our houses, but they’re not always our homes.
Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist said this:
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Home has always been about more than bricks and mortar. We idealise homely fires, cosy living rooms and hot drinks. But we want the things beyond this don’t we? The things that Maya speaks of: real welcome, full, safe embrace and knowing that whatever is happening, home is where you can come, really be you and be totally accepted.
Perhaps part of what makes it so hard currently is that those hopes and desires of home aren’t always realised, even when we’re ‘at home’ all the time. If your lockdown experience has been anything like mine, there’s been precious moments of unexpected joy but there’s also been real sadness, struggle and aching for those things I miss so deeply.
I’m home, yet I feel homesick. Homesick for community, homesick for a full house of friends and laughter, homesick for a safe world to step back out into. A few years ago on social media Melissa Cox described this aptly:
“I am homesick for a place I am not sure even exists. One where my heart is full. My body loved. And my soul understood.”
Even when all our time is spent at home, we still feel this right? Even with those moments of family fun or quiet contentment? We still feel this home sickness, this longing for a better, permanent home. A place of real welcome, true acceptance, lasting security.
The Christian story speaks into this in a beautiful and profound way. During his lifetime, Jesus often told stories to address some of these big ideas and desires that humanity has always felt.
One such story presents a father and two sons. The eldest has spent his life working hard on his father’s farm. The younger, in stark contrast, asks for his inheritance money and goes off to live his wild, extravagant life.
Until the money runs out. And in utter desperation he takes a job feeding pigs. Culturally, as a Jew, this was unthinkable.
And so he prepares his speech. Imagine him walking home, covered in pig muck, practicing over and over, hoping against hope it would be enough for his father to let him in. His mind must have been whirring!
Then, Jesus delivers the parting punch:
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.’
Running for grown men in this culture was shocking and dishonouring. But the father runs, embraces him and kisses him. He sends for the best calf to be roasted, lavishes him with good gifts and begins to celebrate.
Wouldn’t we love this? A family, a place where we are welcomed back, even when we’re covered in dirt. A home that fully embraces us and throws a party for us. Somewhere where those feelings of homesickness are met with real answers: we are full, loved, understood.
As Jesus tells this story, he uses it to show something significant of who he is and what he’s about. Someone who loves to welcome people, even in their mess. Someone who provides true and permanent fullness. Someone who gives peace. Someone who answers our homesickness and welcomes us properly home.
As lockdown life grows more challenging, as your house becomes more of a burden than a joy, why not use it to ask the question: What does real home look like and how am I homesick for it?
And let that question take you to Jesus. Ask it of him, along with your other best questions. See what he has to say and whether now more than ever, it might be worth listening to.
Andrea lives in Huddersfield with her husband Jamie. She works for UCCF with students in West Yorkshire. She loves good music, bright colours and trying new varieties of tea, preferably with accompanying cake.
As I sit down to write this today it is exactly one month since I set up ‘Together at Home’ a facebook group to share resources for church families to use during Lockdown. I knew that I would be producing packs for the children in my own church and thought I would share them more widely. One month on the group has over 2500 members and I now also have a website which has already been visited over 2000 times. As a Christian I really believe that God can be a source of hope during these difficult times and I wanted to produce a resource to offer hope and support to those having to say goodbye to friends and family members during lockdown.
“Saying Goodbye” is a sheet designed to help children explore their own feelings as they deal with the loss of a loved one. There are so many things we take for granted that children will have access to when somebody dies – friends, wider family and teachers they can talk to, a funeral to attend – Covid-19 has changed that.
For parents, the responsibility to help their children understand and navigate grief might seem overwhelming. There are so many incredible resources out there for families but even searching for them might seem like too big a challenge. Parents, do not feel guilty for this struggle, take care of yourself as well as your family and recognise that being isolated together may have removed our sense of privacy or the space we might have found to process and grieve.
Here are the top pieces of advice I have collected:
Be honest with language
There is a lot of metaphorical language associated with death – we may talk about ‘losing’ somebody, the ‘other side’ or ‘passing on’. This language can be confusing to children particularly when we have already been adjusting to separation from loved ones and promising our children that we will be together eventually. Although it may seem blunt, we should try to use simple and honest language when explaining that somebody has died, this will help prevent confusion.
Be honest about emotions
Children pick up on the emotions of those around them, make sure you are looking after yourself and don’t feel like you need to keep your emotions in check for the benefit of those around you. Children need to understand that everybody is feeling different emotions, that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Try not to be hurt if your child doesn’t express sadness or tears when they hear about a death, allow them to unpack their feelings in their own time.
Make time for memories
A funeral is a wonderful opportunity to join together in community, to celebrate the life of the person who has died, to share memories of happier times. Funerals during the pandemic are being carefully controlled, numbers are limited, and social distancing rules still apply.
It is important to set aside your own time to celebrate and remember the person who has died. Why not collect photos or items that remind you of the person who has died and share your stories together. Help children to feel connected to any online funeral or celebration event that is held, find ways they can contribute and share too.
Understanding God’s Big Picture
It is so easy to question or blame God when somebody dies particularly against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Amid our anger and disappointment however, we can still hold onto God’s promise that there is a place prepared for us in heaven. As a Christian I believe that this broken and hurting world was not the one that God intended for us, instead through Jesus, we are offered eternity in heaven, in perfect relationship with our loving Father God, in bodies that feel no pain or sickness.
Jessica-Ann Jenner is a Children and Families Worker for Jubilee Church, Bromley. She has a Masters in Applied Theology with Children, Families and Community Work from Moorlands College, UK. Jess runs ‘Together at Home’ whilst living with Jeff a bearded dragon and a large collection of glove puppets!
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Two and a half weeks ago, someone asked me ‘should we do some evangelism during lockdown?’ and I laughed and said ‘how?!’. We are now a few days after our first Questions In Crisis Sunday and are frantically plotting our follow up Alpha course. God is good.
Here’s how it went, and how your church or group can get started if you want to do something similar.
The idea is really simple. Questions In Crisis” is the name, once a month, with a relevant question each time covered in three ways
– a pre-recorded, shorter talk
– a pre-recorded Zoom interview with an interesting person in our church
– a live Q&A webinar on Zoom
It’s all sitting there at Church Central if you want to see but this time we went for “How do I find peace in the pandemic?”, and I spoke on how knowing Jesus helps within the experience of everything changing, of an uncertain future, and of being separated from loved ones.
Then I interviewed Zoe, a doctor and mum in our church for 20 mins on their experiences with fighting for peace in all of this. She was gripping to listen to.
Then we did a live Q&A on Zoom. We used the webinar setting, which enabled people to attend live but without their cameras or mics being public. Only hosts could see who was on, and people could interact using the chat function if they wanted to, but were also free to keep their heads down.
It was brilliant. We had around 120 people on the Zoom webinar, at least 15 of whom were from outside of our church. We know that all of them watched the talk and interview ‘as live’ as well as several others who didn’t come on to the Q&A. This makes it comfortably our biggest guest event (except Christmas carols and baby thanksgivings) that we’ve done since I’ve worked for the church (summer 2016).
“One of my friends who’s not a Christian has been struggling with the uncertainty of this time and has asked questions about God. She tuned in this morning and particularly appreciated the interview.”
“My friend has found church a tricky place for years now, and has tended to stay away. This morning’s talk, interview and Q&A was ‘just what she needed’”
“Thank you so much for inviting me this morning, it was a really thought-provoking and inspiring experience, and I really enjoyed it – worth getting out of bed for! I found a lot of what you said really resonated and stuck with me over the day.”
“That was so calming. It is so useful to know I’m not on my own in how I’m feeling. So much of what was spoken about both practically and spiritually has gone in. I’ve been really struggling with my mental health but the advice and listening to others feeling the same has brought a sense of peace over me. I thank u again, I will look out for further videos.”
Now over to you. If you’re a big church with a big budget, you probably don’t need a helping hand on this stuff, but if you’re a small-ish church, or one that is just a tired after the first month of lockdown, I recognise starting something from scratch can be really daunting.
So, here’s a simple guide to doing something similar one Sunday. 5 steps.
1) Talk – the ideal would be for someone in your church to speak, God has placed you there for such a time as this, not me. But if it gives you a week off, and simplifies things, you are free to use my pre-recorded talk as your talk if it helps you. Just get in touch, and I’ll send a file without our Q&A phone number on it etc, and you can use that.
2) Interview – line up someone who a guest would feel a resonance with – we chose a very down to earth Doctor and mum who speaks from the heart. She was perfect. You don’t need a world-famous apologist. You need someone who loves Jesus and has a story to tell. Also, authenticity helps. Someone who hasn’t struggled one bit is probably not your best choice for this role. It’s great for low-tech people as well, you just zoom call, hit record, job done. No one cares about low quality because it’s on Zoom and even Have I Got News For You are doing it.
3) ‘Host’ – again, we used our best welcomer at the start of the video, to set the tone, and she also hosted the Q&A – enabling a cohesion to the whole morning. Whoever will most put people at ease.
4) Envision the church to pray – we urged people to lean hard into God and pray, pray and pray some more. This is a time for God to break in to your friends lives. Let’s go for it!!!! Let’s seize the opportunity!
5) Envision and equip the church to courageously invite – I directly asked every member of our church to give me their courage for the four days leading up to it. I asked them to utilise the time to do two things. First, personally and directly invite some people (that’s so much more effective than the blanket share). Second, DO THE BLANKET SHARE! One of the stories above came from one of my friends who saw the image on my post and it just resonated, and she messaged me and asked if she could get involved.
Go for it. Or do something different and better. But whatever you do, please deliberately do something to get outsiders hearing of Jesus.
If you want the flyers, promo vid, advice, or want to use my talk, head to Churchcentral.org.uk/questions, scroll down, and just fill in the form and I’d be glad to send you everything.
Peace from Birmingham.
Rich lives in Birmingham and is part of the team at Church Central, a small family of churches across the city. He’s married to a Ruth, a paediatrician, and they have two daughters, Grace who is 3 and Rosie who is 1.