Lockdown Day – will life ever be the same again?

Our guest blog in this series on death and grief in COVID 19 is from Kath Coulson

23 March 2020 – Lockdown Day for us all here in the UK.  And we wonder, we worry – will life ever be the same again?  But, we don’t know.  No one knows. 

However 23 March is a day for me, every year, when I am reminded that life will never be the same again.  This year, I had just got back from a long afternoon walk in the New Forest with my husband,  Mike, when the news of lockdown broke.  It wasn’t unexpected, but it certainly was unknown and it was uncharted territory for anyone I knew.  There was no one to ask how this was going to work.  

23 March 1994 was the date that is etched in my mind forever as the pivotal day in my life with a most definite ‘before’ and ‘after’.  This was the day that our seven year old son Philip died very suddenly from a brain haemorrhage, having been ill for only eight hours.  So each 23 March we go out to find space to be with our thoughts, our memories, our heartaches – time alone, time together, time with God.  Philip’s death wasn’t expected, but it certainly was unknown and uncharted territory for anyone I knew.  There was no one to ask how this was going to work. 

Life for me has never been the same since 23 March 1994 – but with the benefit of hindsight and a whole heap of other stuff, I can reflect and know that life can be rebuilt, there is hope, there is purpose, there is a future and God is good.  I took a photo of the sunset in the New Forest on 23 March this year and added it to my Facebook profile with the words ‘grateful for God’s blessings’ because, despite everything, I really am.   

I am no stranger to death, my first memory of loss being the death of my Granda when I was just eight years old, but I was kept away from all conversations and ceremonies surrounding that.  I remember a girl from my year at school dying suddenly and seeing the tears and emotion of her closest friends and form teacher as they left school to attend her funeral.  The death of my uncle very suddenly when I was a student was the first death that I remember needing to really process personally, and not understanding why tears would often come uninvited.  Then the sudden death of my father-in-law when Philip, our firstborn, was only three weeks old, brought not only deep grief, but some very practical challenges, not least of which was making a 300+ mile journey.  I needed to be there to support Mike, as the only surviving member of the family, in making arrangements for a funeral, sorting out a house and 30 years of belongings to get it ready to sell.  And all with a three week old baby!   

The sudden death of my own Dad only days after my 40th birthday brought into focus my own mortality, the very deep grief of my Mum losing her soul-mate after 54 years of marriage and the need to support her.  Then the news of her death nine years later, very poignantly as we sat on the steps of Sydney Opera House, brought into sharp focus that the whole of that generation had now gone. 

Losing a child for me was certainly in a league of its own, but has over time taught me to recognise that there is no hierarchy of grief – your worst loss is your worst loss.  And that, whatever the loss, it is a difficult thing (and for me I think an impossible thing), to face alone.  Grief is something which the vast majority of us, as relational beings, need to do, to some extent, in community. 

Our support came from many different sources including those who we lived and worked amongst, since we were living on site where Mike was manager of a Christian activity centre.  Philip was a part of everyday life there and, as such, they shared his daily life and so shared our grief.  The school community were devastated and there was a huge sense of loss amongst the children and families as they had to navigate worries and fears amongst the children in the school.  Our church community and that of our previous church just 20 miles away, where we were when Philip was born, were both rocked by this news, as well as many friends and family, locally and all around the world.  No one expects to hear the news of the sudden death of a healthy seven year old.  Each one of these individuals had a personal journey of grief to travel, but many chose to do it alongside us and as such brought us company, encouragement and hope.  And alongside this was an overwhelming army of practical support carrying us through those first few months.  In hindsight, I can see how very blessed and well provided for we were. 

But what about those currently bereaved facing similar, although different, stories to ours: sudden loss, lives lost way before expected, elderly people reaching their more natural end of life, those who have suffered long and painful illness over many months and even years, who finally lose their valiant battle against cancer or other terminal illness.  Where can they go for help and support? How can they find honouring ways to say goodbye to family and friends?  Those who are bereaved are now facing so many more challenges than dealing with just the grief of losing someone special due to issues of self-isolation, social distancing and the inability to meet together in groups of any size to remember and give thanks. 

The need remains the same, but for those supporting, for churches facilitating the expected rituals and ceremonies of saying goodbye, there is now a great need to be creative, to research, to think more widely and think long as well as short term. 

There has been a huge surge in sources of ideas, information and opportunities to signpost in the recent few weeks, such that it would be foolish to try to write it all down here.  So it seemed much more prudent to act here as a signposting service to helpful organisations and websites, which are being updated regularly with the latest guidance and changes in procedures.  These will hopefully be the best ‘go to’ for churches and individuals who are looking for the best way to support families of those bereaved by COVID-19, as well as any other deaths, expected or sudden. 

But let me reassure you that good support that is there in the early days is invaluable, as we all know.  Grief isn’t something that mends like a broken bone so that there is no longer sign of injury; we bear the scars for life, even though life can be good and fulfilling.  Friends who still remember, who know that there is still a gap in our lives even after 26 years, are like gold.  Those who walk beside us long-term are the most precious of friends who we are truly thankful for. 

Other Sources of Help: 

Care for the Family: 

Funerals during the COVID-19 crisis 

Other bereavement support organisations in the COVID-19 crisis 

Kath Coulson

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Kath Coulson has been married to Mike for almost 38 years.  She has 4 children, who live in Brighton, Bristol and Bournemouth (as she also does).  Philip now lives in heaven, having left this earth far earlier than anyone expected.  Normally she works for Care for the Family as Bereaved Parent Support Coordinator, together with Mike, but is currently on furlough and missing her colleagues and volunteer team very much.

Finding beauty in the COVID-19 chaos

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Our guest blog comes from Sophie Tresidder

Where are you seeing glimmers of beauty in lockdown? 

For me, it’s been in the daily walks, seeing the blossom trees and the golden hour light. The total joy of being able to have meals al fresco. I’ve found myself longing for the next opportunity to get outside during isolation. Binging on the US Office deserves a mention too- a different kind of beauty! 

What about you? 

Maybe it’s the sound of clapping, pots banging and community spirit as NHS workers are celebrated. Or the classic zoom quiz nights. Or fancy dress Fridays with Joe Wicks. Or maybe it’s a sense of solidarity through a conversation with a fellow shopper in the Aldi queue?  

Finding beauty in the everyday. 

But what about on those grey days when there’s no garden lounging? When loved ones get sick? When the selfishness of others means the vulnerable and elderly are left without basic essentials? Or within ourselves, the countless times we’ve taken our frustrations and disappointments out on the ones closest to us.  

In this unprecedented moment in history, there is ugliness in the uncertainty. There is confusion, pain and disappointment as the reality of COVID-19 is realised.  

It might be easy to say that beauty is irrelevant during this time. But why is it often that these moments give hope and purpose to the every day? 

Why do we still look and long for moments of beauty? How does the Christian story make sense of this? 

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we see how God brought the world into existence. We see God as creator, bringing life, order and beauty in abundance. He made a world where we can know and experience beauty.  

This beauty points to and reflects God, it is intrinsic to his character.  

“But what went wrong”, you might be thinking? There is brokenness and pain, disorder and chaos. Especially during COVID-19.  

Well later in Genesis we see how humanity rebelled, wanting to assert for themselves what beauty is. The perfection of the garden was ruined. But is that it? Does he abandon them? No, God sent Jesus to bring beauty from disorder. This is why we can still sense and know beauty even when there is pain and suffering. The central claims of Christianity hang on the death and resurrection of Jesus who brings hope, restoration and reconciliation. The people who turned their backs on him can now know God personally. That’s us as well! 

And the Christian story is one of hope. 

Philosopher Gregory Ganssle puts it like this: 

Beauty points beyond the realm of our experiences to something more permanentbeauty is not God, but God- the source of all beauty, has instilled a desire for beauty within us. Beauty is a signpost 

Beauty points to something so much better. Beauty points the way home.  

Don’t we long for normality to resume, vaccines to be found, for death not to have a hold? 

This devastating pandemic has shown us even more how the world isn’t as it should be. 

But Jesus promises that one day, the world will be made new. A world with no more pain, no more death, no more tears. Where moments of beauty are not fleeting but permanent. Where we were made for. Home. 

Isn’t that the world we all want? 

Sophie Tresidder


Sophie is married to Tom and is a UCCF Staff Worker in Birmingham and
Worcester. She loves brunch, all things creative, good design and the
Peak District.

At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building community during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page, Twitter and Youtube. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events.

Three Lessons from Iran for COVID-19

Our guest blog comes from Jamie Haxby

Stripping the Church

In Iran, the church is growing at an extraordinary rate in what is most likely the greatest awakening in all of history.  They have no centralised organisation, no bank accounts, no buildings, no official recognised status.  On top of this, the majority of their leaders are women from broken backgrounds, ex-drug dealers, ex-prostitutes or former radical Islamists. 

Let’s be honest, before lockdown, many of us spent time, at least wondering, if not carefully planning, how to make our church look slightly more appealing, have slightly better worship music and more engaging preaching.  Meanwhile in Iran, with almost nothing, they make our efforts look like a complete joke. 

Just before lockdown, we watched the film, ‘Sheep Among Wolves Volume 2’ by FAI studios: it’s the incredibly moving tale of the way in which God is turning Iran, a radicalised Islamic country, upside down.  ‘What if I told you, all the mosques inside Iran were empty?’

Full film:

As we ended the film, some of us in tears, we knew it had changed us; little did we know how much it was preparing us for lockdown.  The inspiration to know that with no building, no centralised meetings, no physical face-to-face interaction, no coffee, no worship band, no PA setup or stage, we had everything that we needed right there in the scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s fair to say, God is stripping the Church of a lot of the rubbish that’s contaminated us.  Whilst COVID-19 has been extraordinarily painful for our communities, it’s fair to say that in the midst of that, I have loved the freedom it has brought to our church ministry, and I can’t wait to see what will happen when we are unleashed again. 

Here are three things God taught us from Iran for this time.

Lesson 1 – Make Disciples Not Converts

In Iran, they have this process called DMM; this is the way they do ministry: they don’t plant “churches” in the way we might describe them in the west, but they create DMM – Discipleship Making Movements.  The way it works, is that once they meet an unbeliever, they don’t start by explaining the mechanics of the gospel, they start with ‘come follow me’ and they teach that person how to follow Jesus.  Once they have done this with two or three people in a community, they consider that to be the start of a church plant.

This is hard to replicate, being from a CU background, my initial reaction is to get people to fill out a feedback form and tick ‘count me in’.  How do we disciple people, both individually and collectively, before that moment?

City-Wide DMM

One way we have done this, is at a city-wide level.  As soon as public gatherings were banned and all the festivals cancelled, we called people across the city to volunteer to help vulnerable people get prescriptions and shopping, and had an overwhelming response.  Within a week, our initial post on Facebook was shared nearly 300 times, reached 20,000 people and 1400 people joined a Facebook group asking to help. 

We developed a system (more on this in a minute) to link volunteers to people needing help and quickly starting processing requests for shopping and prescriptions.  On some days, we are hitting 30 requests a day, and amazingly some of the more urgent requests were being answered in under an hour by willing volunteers. 

Most of these people were not from our church, or any church.  We were leading the way in showing huge numbers of people something of what it means to follow Jesus, in some small way leading them in an apprenticeship to him.  James 1:27 says that true religion is caring for the orphan and the widow. If Zondervan brings out a COVID-19 translation, it’ll probably say: ‘true religion is caring for those on the shielded list’. This true religion is what we are teaching our city.

Further to that, we’ve now partnered with the local authority COVID-19 helpline, who choose our volunteer system over many others, including the NHS GoodSAM system, to become the exclusive place they make referrals from across the district.  This was a ministry that didn’t even exist a few weeks ago. It’s amazing and beautiful to be in this position of leading the way, creating disciples first not converts. 

To be really clear, I’m not saying that this counts as people becoming Christians, or that they will all come to our church when this ends and make commitments, but I am saying that we are now leading the way in the city to show people what it looks like to follow Jesus. Teaching them to be kind and compassionate, bringing together the community.

No doubt this will be followed up with thank-you meals and award-giving to volunteers in the months to come when we are allowed to do such things. We’ve formed many relationships and connections in the process. We might not see the eternal fruit of this for a few years to come, but wow, God is moving.

Lessons 2 – God Uses Anyone

One of the things Nay said in an earlier blog post, Church Uploaded was that we need to be open to new leaders and using people in new ways.  You see exactly the same thing in the Iranian Church, the most unlikely people doing the most extraordinary things.

Credit where credit is due, our amazing volunteer system only got off the ground because one of our guys, Tim Morris, stayed up all night and designed it from the ground up.  I kid you not, the local authority said the NHS system or any other system they tried didn’t ‘hold a candle’ to what he managed to develop with his desktop computer in his parent’s dining room. Don’t get me wrong, Tim is a fantastic guy and super talented, but I did not see that coming at all. 

We were even more surprised to be asked by someone from the BBC to feature in an article they were writing;

In Iran, it’s prostitutes and radicalised Muslims that are planting churches, in Lancaster, it’s Tim Morris in his parent’s dining room putting the Church at the centre of the COVID-19 response.  God specialism is turning things on their head.

So two key things we’ve learnt: firstly, your best leaders in this time might be the most unlikely people; secondly, as an existing leader, you might be the most unlikely social media influencer. However, in both circumstances, the same thing is true: God can use anyone.

So firstly, think outside the box with who you ask and appoint quickly. We’ve appointed a YouTube ‘pastor’ and an Instagram ‘pastor’: people to take a lead on these platforms to innovate and find ways to use them to create new disciples.  We’ve even got one of our youth hosting a vlog on Instagram Stories describing life in lockdown, it’s been a hit! Just give people an opportunity.

Secondly, just get out there yourself on social media, you can be an influencer too.

The key is to forget about it being professional and slick, you’ll never win on that front anyway, and people value authenticity.  Just hit Facebook LIVE and trust God. 

We’ve been doing that almost every day. I’ve done devotional thoughts live on Facebook from the treehouse in my garden amongst other weird places; it’s never well-produced: it’s just shot on our phones, but it does engage with people.

Let me stress, we are not a big church, we are not well equipped with tech equipment, quite the opposite.  But we are creating 8000 engagements a week on Facebook alone: this is comments, likes, shares, reaching 50,000 people in the last 28 days.

The result has been many new people watching on Sundays and telling us that they have been watching, people getting in touch asking us to phone them up to tell them about Jesus from a variety of backgrounds.  There are some amazing testimonies starting to come to the surface.

Lesson 3 – Just Be Bold 

I was really moved by the story of one Iranian in the film who came to the USA to escape persecution in Iran.  However, she decided to return to Iran as she felt like the spiritual threat was greater in the USA than in Iran; what a wake-up call for us in the west, that those in Iran would consider the persecution we face worse than theirs.

This only makes sense when we realise that death, even martyrdom, is not a great threat in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.  It’s this bold trust in the resurrection that is giving confidence to the Iranian Christians to approach others and tell them about knowing what might happen to them.

It’s for this reason that we’ve thrown everything at making sure we are not hiding.  There is no right or wrong with how you choose to do Sunday mornings, but our personal choice was to be as high risk as possible. 

Every Sunday, we have gone live on Facebook as a group, with a service leader, preacher, worship leader and occasionally guests as well. Initially, we used Zoom to do this, but then we moved to StreamYard which is a far superior platform for this.  (*See note below on StreamYard)

The result is, firstly, because it is not pre-recorded, there is nowhere to hide: it is real, authentic, unedited and unfiltered, with real-time audience response and a sense of community.  Secondly, it’s basically street preaching, but with a rent-a-crowd from Church.  


Some would laugh at the fact that this is facing up to spiritual persecution in our age, but let’s be honest, it’s social media that curates much our cultures ideas, and the platform is totally geared towards feeding the idols of hyper-individualism, the same idols that Iranian women ran from in the USA.  By going live on Facebook, we are basically doing church right in the middle of the temple of Baal.

Not only that, but we can easily underestimate the courage it takes to share your church’s live stream on Facebook, especially for those not from a Christian background. Many people have 1000+ keyboard warrior-ready friends on Facebook, all waiting to give their opinions and thoughts; sharing the live stream so they can all watch, is actually fairly daunting for some. Who isn’t scared to share their faith with all of their friends and family, past and present all at once?

But we’ve got to be unafraid. Whatever you are doing on a Sunday morning, at some point during the week, give digital street preaching a go and encourage people to share it.

We get somewhere in the region of 800 people dropping in and out of the service throughout, some staying for less than a minute, some staying longer, but all catching snippets a bit like they would on the street.  10s of people are telling us that their friends are watching and are engaged, some telling us that they will come on a Sunday when things go back to normal.  It’s unbelievable, the service itself is pretty rubbish, the only thing good about it is Jesus,which is partly intentional. 

Our challenge in recent weeks has been thinking about how we turn these two-minute viewers into disciples.  We’ve been following updates from Nona Jones on this, she is Facebook’s head of faith and is rapidly rolling out new features for churches, including discipleship tools for Facebook groups. (see some of her work here:

One of the things we’ve tried, is Zoom meetings straight after the service: we head into two Zoom meetings, one for 1-1 prayer ministry (using breakout rooms) and one for post-service refreshments (grab a coffee and just catch up with people).  Amazingly, we’ve even had new people coming for prayer ministry in recent weeks. Again, be bold and try something.

Another thing we’ve tried is contacting people from all over the country and asking them to do podcast interviews with us that have an evangelistic edge.  Again, we’re just trying something and experimenting! 

So far we’ve had people talking about suffering, anxiety, weight lifting, home schooling and most recently Greg Downes talking about rediscovering humanity during COVID19. You can watch that latest one here.

We have everything we need

I’m so excited by the impact that our church is making at this time, but I want to stress that this has nothing to do with us.  The one good thing about our leadership team is that we are unafraid of mistakes, but that’s only because we have made so many we kind of got used to it.

Truth is, there is a silver bullet for making disciples but it’s not a new program or ministry.  The silver bullet in Iran and the silver bullet during COVID19, is a simple and child-like trust and belief in the power of the word and spirit.  That Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell (or even just our own front doors) will not prevail against it.  So learn from our brothers and sisters that have been underground for years; give new leaders a chance, believe God can use you and be bold.

………………………………………..

*StreamYard allows you to broadcast live to Facebook and YouTube simultaneously, so everyone can watch, it then displays comments (when you bring them up) on screen from viewers on YouTube and Facebook simultaneously, so everyone gets to engage wherever they are watching and so there is a sense of community across platforms.  You can also add custom lower third announcements, overlays, scrolling tickers, custom backgrounds and a whole host of different layouts. 

Jamie Haxby

Jamie lives in Lancaster with his wife and daughter, spending half his working time as centre team leader for Friends International and the other half leading missions and outreach from Hope Church

At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building #relationalonlinechurch during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page or on Twitter. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on; Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church, Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders and Getting your church online through Zoom.

When death trends on google

What questions have you been asking in this crisis? I have so many questions right now, did our government handle lockdown in the best way? When will the schools reopen? Will I get sick and be ok? Will my kids get sick and be ok? Do I have job security? What happens to the economy after the crisis? There are lots of questions right now both within and outside of the church. A quick search on Google trends shows some fascinating reports at the moment. You’ll see the spike below for the three words; Jesus, prayer and Bible. Some of this can be explained as its all around Easter time. Some of it can be explained because we’re all now online. Either way lets be encouraged. It was reported in Christianity Today that Easter day was the Bible app’s biggest day ever.

Yet we as a nation are grieving and mourning for what has happened in our world and to those we love. The Guardian reported on a special report of the lives that have been cut short. It was harrowing to read about Aimee O’Rourke a 38 year old, with three girls. It could have been me. I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. Its sobering to hear of deaths rising around the world, its sobering to hear of pop-up mortuaries just a cycle ride from your house. I started to look at google trends for the word death and the results were striking. The graph is a look at the word death across the world over the last five years.

Death feels like it is all around us like never before. Death is trending on google searches. My own most harrowing experience of death in COVID19 is in seeing a young, close friend die last week. I knew she was dying, she had a terminal illness, but death in COVID19 was worse than I could have imagined.

Today we’re sad, but we’re grieving with hope. My friend, like the thief on the cross said “remember me” just three days before she died. She found peace before she died.

We need to remember that death is not the end of the story. We have a powerful message to bring to our friends. As friends of Jesus we can have peace in the face of death. The reason for this peace, is that we believe in resurrected bodies. The empty tomb on Easter day points to a resurrected Jesus. And he is the firstfruit amongst many. His physical, resurrected body gives us hope that death is not the end. As a Christian I believe that when we die, its described as going to sleep. That one day we will be raised with Jesus once again. We’ll live with God for ever in a new earth. We’ll live in a real place with no more pain, no more crying and no more suffering. The message of the empty tomb is this. This is not the way it should be. This is not the way it will be. Because God is love and love will win. This love would follow you where ever you go.

As I think about the coming months, its easy to be overwhelmed. We’re caring for lonely friends, those on the edge of death and confused children. However, today I’m reminded of these verses from John 17. Jesus is with us and is praying for our friends as we seek to not only share the gospel with them but our lives too.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus is praying for our friends. Jesus is praying for us. We’re not alone in this. Evangelism is still about passing on a verbal message. As the message is spoken Jesus is praying for those who will believe. Jesus is calling us to be united as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our unity in and of itself points to God. As we’re united and our friends see God, they see a relational community; Father, Son and Spirit. Then, the world will know that God the Father loves them. This love is the same love that he has for his Son. A love that was there from the beginning of time. That’s how much you’re loved today. So lets go in peace as loved children of God. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Community in a Crisis has been set up to help churches get online in during COVID19. We’re passionate about relational church in a crisis. Register here https://bit.ly/2VR7S9U for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on;

Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders
Getting your church online through Zoom.

Some thoughts on bereavement

Our guest blog in this series on death and grief in COVID19 is from John Symons


How do we cope with death, with losing a loved one? I want to share some thoughts on this, and my thoughts will be influenced by the fact that I have lived in Africa (mostly Zambia) for 24 years as well as in Britain. I am also a Christian so some of my reflections will be influenced by that. People in Africa and Britain cope very differently with bereavement. In Africa a funeral lasts several days at the home of the deceased, during which the bereaved wife (for example) constantly receives visitors who weep and wail with her as she recounts, for every group that comes, how her husband died. Many are Christian so the church family will take over running everything for many days; a large fire is burning day and night outside over which cooking for the hundreds of mourners
is done. Food is provided – paid for by the church plus family and friends, In the evening things really get going! Church choirs appear, preachers come with a word from the Bible, various ones take part. Comfort comes, then, from getting it all out there – weeping as she tells group after group her sorrows and pain: it comes from her friends, from the Bible verses shared, from the sense that she is not on her own at this terrible time.


In Britain things are very different. When a person dies the automatic feeling is that the family don’t want visitors to upset or disturb them. So flowers are left outside the house in some cases, cards are sent, emails sent, some close friend/family will telephone. Normally some close relative handles the practicalities – funeral home contacted, arrangements made, bank accounts dealt with, people informed etc. Whilst this is generally true in this culture I do want to say that I have seen wonderful examples of genuine Hope in the face of tragedy, particularly among real Christian believers. I will
never forget Gill, whose 43 year old husband dropped dead on a beach near Cape Town, on the occasion of the funeral service. She was astonishing! I have never seen a radiant face like hers on such an occasion. She was comforting others! I will also not forget the passing of my own father, a devout Christian. My mother and 3 sisters were around his bed. Of course he was ‘at peace’ because he was on morphine, but when he actually passed from his body there was such a look on his face of amazement and wonder as his eyes opened wider than I had ever seen in him before! Three days before I had asked him what he was thinking about, and he told me he was meditating on the events
of Jesus’s resurrection. I believe what he saw was something of the glory of heaven itself. There is an interesting verse in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 4:13) which says:

Brothers we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

Surely at this time we need such genuine Hope that those believers had.

John Symmons

I have worked in full-time Christian work for many years – 24 years in Southern Africa, 15 years as a pastor in Southampton and now I help in the church my wife and I attend, Southampton Lighthouse International Church. My wife and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary earlier this year and we have four children, all born in Zambia, and nine grandchildren.  Two of our children live in the UK and two in Africa, South Africa and Zambia. 

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We hope this song sang by Katie Shaw will encourage you as you Christ will hold you fast

Register here https://bit.ly/2VR7S9U for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on;

Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders
Getting your church online through Zoom.

Online church and disability

Our guest blog post come from Kay Morgan-Gurr

A friend of mine, Bex Lewis, tells me that to most people today there is no difference between the realities of the online and offline worlds. Each is as real as the other.

It’s taken a pandemic for the church world to catch up with this, and 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. Many have quoted bible verses to ‘prove’ that to be a real church we have to meet in person…. In a building… and do everything we have done before and in the same way.

My heart is screaming NO!

We cannot and should not go back.

There has been much written in the last few weeks on this, showing how online church is a very real church so I won’t add to it.

But I will ask however; why was online church always seen and put down as ‘lesser’ before this pandemic hit us?

Take a look into the reality of disability and you will see that online church is necessary and very real. There are millions of people around the world for whom this isolation is their permanent reality, and many have been saying ‘welcome to my world’.

Online church has been around for a long time before this and has largely been an invisible church of people who either can’t physically get into buildings, or for whom pain and fatigue makes attendance in person impossible. It’s been there for when families have been asked to leave their church because of having a child with additional needs who is considered a ‘safety’ risk. It’s there for the many people of any age who just can’t engage due to the sensory and people overload that church is for them. This online sanctuary has also been a place of safety for those with mental health struggles when church has been less than safe.

 There are many more for whom online church has been their only lifeline when then their own churches have either rejected them, refused to do things like streaming church services because ‘It can’t be done’, or just seen them as being too needy.

When you look at this situation and the fact the church has had to adapt and learn very quickly how to work online, is it any wonder that those with disabilities are largest, unreached with the Gospel people group. The figure is 94% unreached, and it is that high because many disabled people need an online fellowship to connect with, because church – for many reasons, is not accessible to them.

Even with the online church now being more prevalent, we need to remember there are still some who cannot connect easily due to not having the technical means, or not being able to cope with the sensory overload it can sometimes bring.

We also  need to remember that for some this virus has widened the chasm of difference and difficulty in society, especially for those who have complex and multiple disabilities. For many there is no support, no care, and no ability to shop due to being overlooked for shielding. They are completely alone and need The Church to reach out practically.

But, for online church there are now lovely stories of people feeling more connected to their churches than they have ever been before.

I’ve been hearing from parents that their autistic children are engaging with online church in a way they have never engaged with physical church before, which means parents are able to worship alongside their children too.

Disabled people are talking about being able to reconnect with church families they had missed for many years.

Adults with learning disabilities are able to find a few people doing online services that they can understand and engage with.

There are services with BSL interpretation, and some You Tube services that have closed captioning enabled to help those who are hard of hearing (not to mention helping us to understand a heavy accent!)

Disabled people are being asked to serve their church families, to read, pray, even teach when in the past they were overlooked. The internet can be a great leveler – disability in many instances becomes irrelevant in a way it should be without a lock down in place.

And a few church leaders have apologised in the public space of Twitter for not realising how they had excluded and damaged so many people with disabilities by refusing to do for them what their congregations are now demanding.

But amid the good news stories is a worry. When isolation is over, will they have to go back to having no fellowship, no teaching and total isolation? Will their gifts be once again ignored? Will families with children who have additional needs have to go back to being told they can’t come to church…even online, because ‘we don’t need that anymore’.

I hope not. I don’t want this massive and previously invisible church to return to that state of permanent isolation.

I don’t want the Church to hanker after what was, but instead to look up, then forward and become the place of belonging it should have been all along.

Kay Morgan-Gurr

Kay is chair of the Children Matter coalition and co founder of the Additional Needs Alliance. She also serves on the Evangelical Alliance council and is the disability and additional needs advisor to the Spring Harvest. Kay was originally a Paediatric nurse specialising in additional needs and disability before training with Scripture Union as their very first intern. She is married to Steve, loves to knit and crochet and gets around on wheels (a powerchair called Pippin) rather than on foot.

Reaching out in lockdown

In the leadership team at my church, we’re just catching our breath. What about you?

We’ve spent a few weeks chasing our tails somewhat, trying to rethink pretty much everything we do for this new moment and get moved online. One particular strain (or entertaining challenge depending on your temperament) was that in the Lord’s providence, we had cancelled all small groups at New Year ready to relaunch with a total new structure post Easter. Suddenly, COVID-19 hit, and it felt like some form of midweek small groups were going to be the bedrock of our church and yet we didn’t have any. None. Nil. We were starting from scratch. All the fun. I’m sure you’ll know the feeling.

But within the challenges, two things are standing out to me right now.

First, the incredibly flexibility of most people in our church to just jump on board with the new vibe, throw themselves in, and make it work (and forgive all the tech glitches!). Said small groups are up and running with unprecedented buy-in, a few fringe members are on 100% attendance, and the group my wife and I lead has a brand new woman from Poland who we’d never spoke to and we aren’t sure if she knows Jesus but she prayed out and I cried a bit but no one saw because our camera is poor so it’s all good.

Second, it’s that I haven’t gone a single day yet without hearing of a member of my church having a meaningful, actual, proper, genuine, real life conversation about Jesus, prayer or hope with someone who isn’t a Christian.

I haven’t gone a single day yet without hearing of a member of my church having a meaningful, actual, proper, genuine, real life conversation about Jesus, prayer or hope with someone who isn’t a Christian.

That doesn’t normally happen. In fact, as an evangelistically-minded Christian leader with an eye on the outsider, who also has a tendency towards both activism (LET’S DO ITTTT, COME ON EVERYONE!!!!) and depression (nothings ever gonna work, why do we bother?), I’m often discouraged by the seeming lack of personal evangelism that goes on. Another week, another term, is anything happening?

But I think this crisis is doing something. It’s certainly making Christians more aware of the riches they have in the gospel. Hope. Community. Something stable to live from. Right now I don’t seem to need to gee up the “we have so much to share” bandwagon. The church seem more than aware.

I also think it’s making Christians more bold. It’s as if the feeling that the whole planet’s falling apart, that nations are yelling at each other, that we’re all going stir crazy in our homes, is somehow making Christians care less about ‘awkward silences’ or ‘people not replying to my invite’. We still want to be sensitive and not drone on at people, but I’m loving the courage I’m seeing to step out and speak!

But perhaps most encouragingly of all, it seems to be making some people who don’t know Jesus, a substantial amount more open.

Friends of my Community Group members are listening to video messages, worship songs they’ve been sent, initiating conversations asking if they can be prayed for. A friend in church has a neighbour who has now said ‘please can I come to church with you when all this is done’. An Alpha course that was happening has continued, with a few attendees now joining Sunday morning gatherings.

With all of this, we’re trying something, and I mention it here to offer the low-budget (but who cares, we’re in a crisis) resources if you want to use them.

On Sunday 26th we’re going to do a Questions In Crisis morning. We’ll pre-record a 20 minute talk, this time it’s me on “How do I find peace in the pandemic?”. Then I’m interviewing a GP and mum on Zoom about work strain, home strain, and how knowing Jesus is helping in the midst of all that. Then we’re trying a live 30 minute Zoom Q+A webinar.

We have made a simple promo that has no dates, no branding or anything on it, that if any other church or organisation wanted to use, they’d be more than welcome. It’s stock footage that’s legal to use online and music that’s free to use too, so it’s all good for social media. People can edit the attached image if they want to add church logo or specific details. The font is League Spartan and it’s free to download here: https://www.fontsquirrel.com/fonts/league-spartan

Please pray, who knows who’ll watch or come, if anyone. But we’re hoping it’s a resource to help the church, a provocation to remember the guest, and maybe a vehicle for people to seriously find hope in this time.

If you’re a church or CU or anyone really who wants to do something similar, the video is here, feel free to knick it, edit the ending, I’ve left all specific details and branding off to enable you to steal it if you want. The footage and music is all okay for online use.

If you want to use the same font to throw an image together, feel free.

Peace from Birmingham

Rich Pitt

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.

From the Classroom to the Computer: Engaging an Audience in a Preoccupied Climate

Preoccupied

This guest blog post comes Bekah Wilson

Lockdown has been extended for three more weeks. That is at least three more weeks of empty church buildings, online services and isolated congregations. In this time of uncertainty, anxiety and alarm, my mind spends a lot of its time preoccupied. I think of figures, the weekly shop, my family – I am almost constantly distracted, and I know I am not alone. I am not 100% present when I turn up to church on a Sunday – I am trying to drown out that need to process everything going on around me. As the potential novelty of online church wears off, how do we, as online church leaders or hosts, ensure that congregations are still engaging?

I am by no means an expert on this matter. I do however, have some experience with engaging potentially pre-occupied individuals. I am a secondary school maths teacher. I love my job – I find joy in the challenge of motivating and teaching maths to a room of 30 young people, most of whom are thinking about the trending Tik-Tok video, their upcoming language exam or simply whether they can get their favourite pasta from the school’s ‘Pasta King’.

eight practical tips that I have learnt from others on how to deepen the level of audience engagement…

I want to share eight practical tips that I have learnt from others on how to deepen the level of audience engagement. The difference is my students do not always want to be in my maths class, but we do usually want to turn up to church. It’s just that it’s a challenge, now more than ever, to stay focused. Christ is compelling. He offers hope in this dark time. He is good, and kind, and exciting. That good news should be our sole motive behind being as engaging as we can be on Zoom. These are not a one size-fits all, but I hope they can be useful in this unique time.

  1. Participation is key – we engage with what we participate in. How could you add interaction to the service? You could try using a visual prompt such as a photo, a question to think about, a thought to write in the chat, Zoom’s poll function or three questions to discuss in small groups in a breakout room. There are lots of ways to engage the audience, you can try what works for your church – participation online is crucial.
  2. Think length – Research[1] shows that video engagement drops off dramatically after 2 minutes, and then again at 12. Think carefully about the length of your service, and your sections. You will need to break it into 2 or 12 minutes chunks. This feels uncomfortable – many churches are used to sermons being half an hour or longer. What do you really want the audience to hear? Could you break it up into sections? Think creatively.
  3. Language – the joy of church on the sofa is that many people who have not been to church for a while, if ever, are tuning in. Resist the use of christian jargon, or explain what it means. For example, don’t be afraid to use the word ‘sin’, but explain what it means each and every week.
  4. Maintain eye contact – this study[2] showed that during video calls, eye contact greatly increased the likelihood of the participants retaining what was said. The same goes for church – where should you look on your computer to ensure maximum eye contact with your audience? Your screen? Camera? You may want to video yourself and see. Ensure if you are using notes that they do not cause you to look down too often, or too dramatically.
  5. Challenge your ideas of ‘non-verbal’ communication – When I teach, I do a lot of my teaching with my hands – but learnt quickly that on camera this is potentially distracting. If you see me with my hands flapping around, this will be magnified on your screen. This means I have to do those non-verbal cues in another way – focus on your facial features. Smile often.
  6. Practise what you preach – practise, practise, practise. My husband and I host online church. He likes scripting what he’s going to say, I hate that. It’s about preference. Whatever the case, you must practise. If you’re not scripting, write down key points and practise them. If you are scripting, practise so it doesn’t seem wooden.
  7. Analyse your setting – in the classroom, the golden rule is to have an uncluttered wall around your whiteboard. The more clutter, the more chance for the students to get distracted on things around you. Think about your video setting – try and make your background as clean as possible. It may help to stand, rather than sit. Light from in front of you will help make a cleaner picture.
  8. Laugh your way out of it – sometimes, things go wrong and that’s okay. You are human, and it is important that you can laugh at that. We are doing our best in a never before seen church setting and that is all we can do.

Most importantly, Jesus is there with you while you do this. Look to him constantly. We cannot do this in our own strength. I wish you all the best, but be kind to yourself – it will not be perfect, and that’s okay. The service is not in a building, but it is still church. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” – even online.


[1] https://wistia.com/learn/marketing/optimal-video-length

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16081035

Bekah Wilson

Bekah Wilson. Married to Rich. Loves family. Secondary school maths teacher. Rabbit enthusiast. Fantasy Football addict. Attends and loves Lighthouse International Church in Southampton. Proudest achievement to date was convincing 20 of her friends to dress up as chickens and go to Nando’s on her hen do. Would be lost without Jesus. 

Made for More : Connection in a COVID World

This guest blog comes from my friend Helen Taylor

I’m quite picky when it comes to Instagram… I have pretty high standards about who I follow because I just get bored of the trash that fills up my feed and stories roll. But one person who made it into the exclusive club of ‘people Helen follows‘ was Clemmie Hooper.  

Clemmie, aka mother-of-daughters, filled my feed with adorable pictures of her four kids, her midwifery stories, fashion and interiors inspo… she also has, in my opinion, amazing hair.  But Clemmie hit the news back in November 2019 when she was outed for creating a fake account – trolling other users, and eventually even close friends. In her own words, Clemmie “got lost in this online world”.  

There’s so much that can be deceptive and dangerous about being connected online… fake accounts, catfishing, sexual predators.  

But if there were ever a time for us to celebrate the benefits of online connectedness it is now.

I’ve loved connecting with friends and family online… although I don’t think I’ve ever done as many quizzes in such a short space of time.  

But I do miss conversations where our attention is on each other, not on the child clambering to hold the phone, or on the untidied pile of paper just to the left of the screen.  

I miss the conversations where I’m not so distracted by my random bit of hair sticking up, or how my glasses are seemingly always wonky. 

I miss just sitting with someone. 

I miss the honest and vulnerable conversations with friends where tears come freely, because we’re face to face, not face to screen.  

Because our virtual connectedness is, at least in part, just that – virtual. And our lives are bigger than this. We’re made for more than this. 

And I can’t wait to hug my Mum again, but I’m made for more than that too.  

The main thing that’s brought me comfort, hope and sanity during lockdown isn’t my daily walk, or online connectedness or my lockdown buddy – but connecting with Jesus. 

Jesus Christ’s whole reason for living was to make God knowable – to show us what God is like, and to invite us into relationship with Him and Jesus died so that that would be a possibility for us.  

Getting it into my head that God is powerful, that he’s working for my good, that he knows me and loves me can be painful, draining and long. It’s like I’m breaking an addiction to the illusion that I’m in control and know what’s best for me. But it’s the best thing I could ever do for myself. It’s transforming my everyday, online and real, in the flesh, connectedness. It lets me be honest about how I’m doing, and what my hopes and fears are.  

I’m spending a looot of time online… I’m battling my way back up to champion of our weekly quiz with friends from church, and secretly keeping up with the Kardashians, and zoom calling family all over the world.  

But my heart was made for more than this… my heart was made for more than even my best friends and family. 

I was made to be known and know God, to be loved and love God.  

And you are too.  

Helen Taylor – Helen Taylor is married to James and works for UCCF with students in the Midlands. She loves to feed people good food and dance to good music.

Jesus ruins death – what do you think?

This blog is part of our series on grief and death. This guest blog comes from Andy Shudall.

I’ve stood beside too many graves in my life. Growing up an altar boy in Catholic Liverpool, I attended hundreds of funerals between the ages of 7 and 17. The tragic deaths of children and young parents, the untimely deaths of people through accidents, the deaths of men and women taken after protracted disease. I don’t remember the ‘it was her time’ comments that I’ve come to hear later in life, among more comfortable and well resourced friends whose elderly grand-parents have lived well and now come to the end of their race.

Stephen was the first person I buried as a pastor. He was young, small, and had definitely died before his time. Even before he’d seen the sun or drawn a breath. He was taken at around 21 weeks of gestation. The first child of his parents, his death underlined the fragility of life. Then just a few weeks later I was burying a woman after a months long battle with cancer, another man who had faced a few of years decline due to Alzheimers…

Death is no friend, it is not polite, considerate or kind. It doesn’t ask when to come, it is a visitor who brings complications and pain, sorrow that lasts for years, decades even.

Death is no friend, it is not polite, considerate or kind. It doesn’t ask when to come, it is a visitor who brings complications and pain, sorrow that lasts for years, decades even. Yet death is a visitor that we are all guaranteed. There is an appointment in the future – sudden and unexpected, or slow though uncertain, which each of us must keep.

This last year my mother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin have all had their appointments with death. Death comes, to young and old and seems currently to stalk the earth and reap a harvest that is shocking the globe and reminding us of the inevitability of death, not as an abstract thought, but as a real threat to each of us.

Each time, every single time, at funerals, the thought comes to me “Jesus ruined every funeral he attended, including his own”.

In the gospels when we see Jesus at a funeral he spoils it – the deceased are no longer so when Jesus leaves. Jairus’ dead daughter is up and playing when Jesus leaves the funeral party. The widow of Nain’s son helps to bring back the funeral bier that he was being carried on. Lazarus hops out of his tomb at Jesus command, and somewhat Mr-Bean-like, has to be awkwardly unwrapped by those who were there to mourn his passing.

Jesus himself put spoilers on his own funeral. As dead as could be, having been lain in a tomb, he rested until on morning of the third day after he had been crucified then he simply disappears from the grave – so cataclysmically that the cloths that had enfolded him collapse under their own weight, without Jesus body to keep them in place.

Jesus rises from death – not as one resuscitated and needing support, but as Life itself – defying physics and philosophy, fulfilling scripture, and delivering promises. He brings forgiveness, having emptied out the accusations of the Law, nailing them to the cross and taking them to the grave. They collapse, emptied out, like the grave clothes Jesus leaves behind. The Risen One bears the scars of death but none of the cost of it – set free through death, accomplishing all that God promised. Jesus who walked on water now walks through walls and breathes out God’s Spirit to impart the seal the deal of Life itself that outlasts death, The Holy Spirit.

There will come a day that every tomb will be emptied and startled ex-corpses will stand before the Eternal Risen Son of God. He who raised the girl, the lad, the man and is Risen himself – will call everyone from their graves, tell us all to wake up and get up. There will be judgment and salvation. Justice, mercy, Eternal sorrow and eternal joy anchored in Jesus and our faith response to him in the here and now.

The week before his death and resurrection, Jesus prepared the band of men and women who traveled with him for what is to come by waiting before leaving to go to the then dying Lazarus.

“this sickness will not lead to death” he says. As is so often the case, those around him completely misunderstand. They hear “he’ll get better…”. Though Lazarus dies – though grief comes – this sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory. So much so, that we still see God’s glory in the incident two thousand years later as we read the account in John’s biblical biography of Jesus.

Every single funeral I’m at I think of Jesus who ruined death and ruins funerals. In tearsat my mothers funeral and in leading funerals since, anticipating the funeral of my uncle and cousin next week – the same thought confronts me. Death is not a welcome visitor but it points us now to Jesus – who took on death for us, who defeated death for us, who lives today for us. If only we would trust him and receive from him this extravagant gift of eternal life; Jesus becomes our all in all and our Great Hope, death a hurdle.

The Apostle Paul wrote after becoming someone who trusted in Jesus for this gift of eternal life: “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. He did not want to die, but death held and must hold no fear for those who live in the Risen One.

We face a pandemic and a tsunami of death. Jesus continues to ruin funerals and bring eternal life that out lives death. This makes our close brushes and inevitable appointments with death no less of a loss, but Jesus snatches victory from the grave. This sickness does not lead unto death, but to the glory of God.

Andy Shudall is the Senior Pastor of Titirangi Baptist Church, Auckland, New Zealand. Born in Liverpool, Andy became an accidental Christian at 17 – long story – and at uni in St Andrews, discovered confidence in the gospel (and married Ines, from Germany) that led to a passion in student ministry. A year on the first year of UCCF’s Relay Programme led to a year out becoming a calling – Andy worked with UCCF for 12 years, the last five as Relay Coordinator. In 2005 Andy and Ines and their three kids moved to New Zealand to serve student ministry there, In 2015 the move into pastoral ministry finally meant that after 22 years the ‘year out’ was over. Andy and Ines have three adult children, two of whom are in the UK – Andy and Ines’ first grandchild Oliver is currently growing up on the same council estate where Andy grew up. Titirangi Baptist have been discovering the joys and frustrations of church online over these last few weeks – all are welcome to join.

We have other posts in this series on grief and death in COVID19. Read Beauty in the clinging written by Beks.