We’d been round at a friends house for food and a catch up. Most weeks after the school pick up, we get invited and simply turn up. There’s usually between six and eight of us, from two families. There’s always great food and lots of fun, to be honest its just really easy company. This is a regular occurrence in our life and we love it… until recently.
A recent update from the UK Government meant that people can no longer socialise in groups of more than six (the “rule of six“). This announcement has scuppered the previous hope that the rules on social distancing could be lifted by the end of the year. In this blog I’m not taking an opinion or sides on this rule, rather reflecting on it in relation to friendships.
For some, this rule has had a limited impact. One comedian joked that this rule didn’t affect him. He said “I’m not really in that place, my social circle is so small, I couldn’t even get six mates to my funeral if Champions league was on”.
For others it was far more challenging. Large families unable to socialize in coming months. The moral dilemma of snitching on your neighbours. The reality that stopping and chatting with a group of friends (greater than 6) was now seen as a crime. For some friends it rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.
For some friends, the #ruleofsix rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.
For me, the one word I came up with was “inconvenient”. It wasn’t awful, I was sad my extended family wouldn’t be able to meet together. But I was also hopeful that it wouldn’t be for too long. On the whole, I’m creative and enjoy lateral thinking. This was a fresh challenge for me to grasp. There was no way we were not seeing friends and family again. So I just had to work out how we divide families into two, or focus on seeing friends in smaller groups.
But this attitude of inconvenience bubbling up from within really bothered me. I’m aware that many of us are on the edge, and anything stressful just adds to our already fragile nature. But I stopped and asked myself, are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?
Are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?
I’d been reading a book this summer called “Made for friendship”. The book starts with a quote from CS Lewis. “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it”. Over the summer I began to question what friendship really was. But to be honest in the busyness of life I’d not taken these thoughts any further. Ironically, as socialising is being limited, I think I might be beginning to learn afresh about the concept of friendship. In this season there is a unique opportunity to commit to friendships in a fresh way.
As I began to think through some of the implications on my life, I remembered that the number six is pretty good for friendships. I’m sure the number was chosen to slow the spread of COVID (and not based on friendship), but please hear me out on this one. I’d been reading an excellent book in the spring called “The Art of Gathering”. Priya Parker, the author is a “professional gatherer”. She says that when gathering people together there are magic numbers, one of them is six. Groups of six create a high level of sharing and intimacy. Compared to groups of twelve which offer some level of sharing but are far more diverse in opinions. (Groups of thirty begins to feel like a party, its has its own distinctive quality, but a single conversation is difficult within a group this size, and one hundred and fifty is an audience). This struck me that now, in this season, its a time for deep friendship, with high levels of sharing and intimacy.
So rather than fighting against what we don’t have, I want to be able to adapt and flourish with what is possible. This is a season where we can gather in smaller groups. According to Priya that group size is perfect for creating an atmosphere where genuine, real friendship can grow. For me, even in this strange season I’d love to learn to live like the Ancients “where friendships are the happiest and most fully human of all loves”.
If you’d like to read more about how we’re adapting to the Rule of six and seeing it as an opportunity to dive deeply into rich friendships in our church homegroup then click here. IFES student groups are focusing their strategy using small groups read more here
This blog post is written by Helen Taylor. This is part of a series of blogs written for weary gospel workers, see here for previous blogs.
September is a big month for a student worker – filled with trepidation at everything to be done before term starts, and buckets of excitement.
Showing new students it’s possible to have a conversation that doesn’t start with, “Where are you from and what course do you do?” and maybe even introduce them to Jesus for the first time is a joy.
Older students returning, bringing fresh energy to church life and opportunities for discipleship is what I live for.
But if you’re anything like me the last few weeks haven’t been filled with joy and anticipation in the same way. Maybe instead you’re already exhausted, already heart-weary and the prospect of an academic year on zoom – well you’re just not up for it.
Students can throw anything at you and we’re going to need to be more ready than ever to extend grace, to call people to repentance and to comfort.
Let’s be real though. That’s only going to happen if we’re willing to ask for help with those same things ourselves.
I’m yet to meet someone in ministry who’s not tempted to self-sustain, to become the rock to which everyone else clings, to be indestructible.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
So, will you go? If you’re lead to the rock that is higher than you, will you follow? Will you go?
What’s it for you? Netflix? Your spouse? Trashy food? Going on another run? Wherever you escape, there’s always something that will promise to be your refuge. But there’s only one place that will take your cries, your fears and the weight of your soul.
So will you go to the rock that is higher than you?
Will you celebrate and live within your limits?
Will you be careful to set zoom boundaries?
Will you have someone ask you about your mental health?
Will you take time for things that bring you joy?
Will you be diligent in protecting time in God’s Word and in prayer? And time for rest?
Will you ask for help?
Will you let the Lord take your full weight as you walk through this next season of ministry?
The students you’re walking alongside this term are not the only ones dealing with grief and confusion and anxiety and loneliness and fear, are they? Why bother pretending?
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.
Read. If you’d like to think more about student work and mental health then read this months Connect. A regular mailing for student workers created by UCCF.
In the ‘Passion for Evangelism’ (PfE) termly book club, we have been reading and discussing Aimee Byrd’s excellent book Why Can’t We Be Friends? Aimee reminds us that the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart.
“the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart”
Rather, she says, ‘It is by seeking the brother-and-sister closeness we are privileged to have as Christians. True, godly friendship between the sexes that embraces the family we truly are in Christ serves as the exact witness the watching world needs.’ As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!
“As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!“
There’s a particular need for this emphasis today. In recent years I’ve met many men and women that view Christianity through the lens of oppression rather than life-giving liberation. Through shows like Spotlight, The Handmaid’s Tale and His Dark Materials, many are hearing that the gospel is restrictive and controlling.
Karen Soole recently put it like this in her excellent blog post Equipping women to reach others for Christ: ‘Secular women, in particular, are suspicious of the Church. They hear church leaders arguing about women’s roles but what they see is an institutional church which has been guilty of abuse. They suspect that the Bible has an oppressive and misogynist view of women and are convinced its message is of no value to them. If the Christian message is presented only by men, then at first glance at least, this suspicion goes unchallenged.’
Raising up female evangelists is particularly important in our universities
The majority of students on campus are women. Some female students prefer to hear the gospel spoken by a woman, including many from global cultures. These cultures would probably include those of Muslim-majority countries, where it is difficult for women to attend a meeting which is perceived as being primarily for men. Amongst male students too, there is growing demand to hear female and BAME voices. If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.
If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.
Though many of us may wholeheartedly agree with these comments, consider: how many evangelistic events you’ve attended in the last year have had women speaking? How many women do you know that are confident and who have opportunities to speak evangelistically? Why are so few women speaking in this context – and what can we do to help women be courageous?
For many, the idea of public speaking is terrifying. American comedian Jerry Steinfield says: ‘According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!’
This quote aptly reflects the attitude many of us have around public speaking. And because public evangelism is a daunting task, and because there are so few female public evangelists, we set up the Passion for Evangelism conference and network in April 2019.
There are now 450 women in the network. Our aim is to encourage and support one another, to share prayer requests and give feedback on talks. We have a new mentoring scheme called The Greenhouse, through this two month scheme 8 women are equipped to communicate the good news of Jesus. It’s been exciting to see women from all ages and professions giving talks for the first time. At last year’s conference we had sessions on taking risks for the gospel, communicating Jesus to a weary world, an overview of women in the Bible and what they teach us, and how we might engage with feminism. Our hope was that each guest would go home and find opportunities to speak.
One guest tells this story: ‘Off the back of Passion for Evangelism, I approached my workplace and asked if I could run and speak at three evangelistic talks at work through the workplace CU. I suggested it as a summer series and the rest of the group were keen.
Passion for Evangelism conferences feature main teaching sessions, you can listen to the 2020 conference here. The bulk of the remainder of the conference is spent in small groups, where each delegate will present a ‘Passion Talk’ and receive feedback. Passion Talks are 15-minute evangelistic messages in which we speak about an aspect of the speaker’s own passion: why they do what they do, why they care, and how this flows out of knowing Jesus. Passion Talks allow us to show why and how following Jesus makes a difference in real life. There is an open door in many university, work and community contexts for sharing this kind of attractive and trustworthy gospel hope.
If you are a woman – or there are women in your network who’d benefit from this fellowship, please encourage them to join the Passion for Evangelism Facebook network.
3 tips for investing in female evangelists
Help emerging women evangelists get some experience Could you ask a woman who’s never spoken in public before to share their testimony or be on a Q&A panel? Give them the encouragement they need and be sure to debrief with them afterwards.
Community in a Crisis is an initiative that has been set up as a response to the pandemic. We’re passionate about relational church online. We’ve been helping churches get set up online through events, blog posts and training videos. We would like to find out what the experience of online church has been across Europe so are conducting a study starting on May 31st.
Church online experience survey
What has your experience of church in lockdown been? We’d love to hear from you, whether during this time you joined church for the first time, or whether you’re a regular attender or church leader. Our survey will be shared across Europe and our hope is that we can learn lessons from lockdown that will shape the future of the church.
The survey is anonymous and the data will not be shared beyond the Survey team. Survey results will be published only in aggregated form where individual respondents cannot be identified. The purpose of the survey is to help churches understand how they can best serve their congregations and visitors. It is anticipated that, in some countries, restrictions may persist for some time. These insights will also help church leaders to make decisions about routes out of lockdown which will best serve the needs of their congregations and visitor as restrictions are partially lifted. The survey has been translated into many languages so that we get a whole picture of what is happening across Europe.
Translations coming soon Maltese, Portuguese and Ukranian.
The survey team are:
Nay has been a staff worker, Team leader with UCCF and co-ordinated the Science Leadership Network, she now works for IFES as the Regional Training Co-ordinator setting up a network of Seeker Bible study trainers across Europe. Together with her husband they wrote Uncover Mark and were part of the team that created and launched it. Nay has set up Passion for Evangelism a network of female public evangelists. In lockdown as a response to churches being closed Nay with a team of friends has set up the initiative Community in a Crisis.
Dr Martine Barons
Dr Martine J Barons is the Director of the Applied Statistics & Risk Unit and the University of Warwick, UK and vice chair of the Christian Postgraduate and Staff Network, Warwick. Martine started her career in accountancy and after 20 year full time at home bringing up her family, she took a degree, Masters and PhD in mathematical sciences. Martine’s key research interest is quantitative decision support for decision-making under uncertainty and she has published research on health, food security, pollination and expert judgement. Martine has been part of Emmanuel Church, Leamington Spa since 1986.
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.
This post was written in April 2020, but it seems as important now as it did then. Enjoy…
For extroverts lockdown is a testing time. I’m a 98% extrovert I love people and I love community. I am really grateful for technology and how it is being used to build genuine community during lockdown. I run daily chats on conference apps for my daughters and their friends. This took a few days to get used to it, but now they love it. The 5 year old generally plays Pictionary, makes silly faces or does an extensive show and tell. My 7 year old and up to 15 friends natter for over an hour every day. Here is what some of the parents have said…
“Daily chats have helped my seven year old stay positive over these last very strange weeks. Thank you for organising daily zoom calls for her and her friends. I can’t thank you enough”
“It’s been so great listening to Aria chatter with her school friends. She has come out of her shell it has been such a help for her, it has given her a freedom of friendship even when stuck at home xx”
So for me being salt and light has taken a massive U Turn during COVID19. I’ve become an online party host on most days. But this seems to be what my friends need right now. The country is in isolation and we’re lacking real community. We’re unsure and afraid about what the future holds for each one of us. Yet as Christians we have something to say and now is the time to say it.
Priya Parker has written an excellent book called “The Art of Gathering. In this she says “I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is”. In this article I’d love for us to pause and think. I’d like us to think both how we gather and how we communicate our message online.
Eamon Holmes journalist and broadcaster was at the races in Cheltenham in 2009. He was chatting in a box with his friends. In the box were 11 men, 1 woman, all in their 50s. He says this. “They were all very confident and all very well fuelled with alcohol. They were chatting around my wife – who’s not my wife at this point. She’s loving it, and I thought ‘why isn’t she my wife?’ I thought ‘why have I not got that tied up” This annoyed him and inspired him to propose. So how did he propose? A man with money, influence and connections. Wait for it…Eamon wrote his girlfriend a six page text message.
Now stop a moment and ask yourself how would you feel if you received a marriage proposal by text? Or even worse if you sent a marriage proposal by text? What is it that doesn’t sit right with proposing by text?
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same.
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same. We’re going to explore some ideas here about relational online communication. I’d like to look at offering hope in a time of crisis. I want us to dream big. Remember what life was like before COVID19 and push technology to its limits. Relational online events done really well will push social distancing to its boundaries.
Friends are asking so many questions. What do you believe? Where do you find hope? Do you get angry? Friends genuinely seem to be interested in these questions that are so central to what we know in Jesus. But how do I communicate with them when I am in lockdown? Lets go back to Eamon Holmes’ proposal. For me personally it lacks humanity, it lacks relationship and its deeply unsatisfying. I would have been so disappointed not to have been asked in person.
I wonder if some of the ways we’ve previously thought about communication and online events have lacked a human element to them?
There are some excellent resources out there on reaching out to friends and offering hope in a crisis. Many of these are high quality, one directional live video communication. There are many benefits to this platform, you can have breadth and reach in a way that you might not have otherwise. I’m conscious though, that with online saturation being at an all time high, we need something more than this.
A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and gathering. We’re experiencing isolation, a lack of community and physical contact with people. It would be a shame if in our attempt to offer hope, we miss out on the best that communication technology can give us. Our events, friendships and conversations could be even better. Let me give you some examples of this. Firstly I’m not saying that you need slick, top notch equipment. In many ways my friends think that its a complete joke that I’m responsible for our new church COVID19 tech team. Jamie Haxby captures the same point in his blog post:
“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….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.”
Through Community in a Crisis I’ve heard stories from many churches. God is opening a new door. Churches across Europe have seen an increase in guests at their services, this is surely good news. William Wade from Life Church says this “Online presence for services have trebled/quadrupled. We use pre-recorded videos and put them on our Facebook page at 11am each Sunday (with daily encouragements throughout the week). One of the best outcomes of moving online has been to ask church members to send in a 1 or 2 minute video of encouragement. It has really served to remain in some small way connected. It also serves to give a voice to the many rather than the few”.
There are so many ways that we can creatively and publicly engage with our friends. My favourite to date was a facebook watch party that we held. Two friends came along both of them thanked me for the opportunity to hear more. One messaged afterwards “It reminded me of church as a teenager, I knew something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what until tonight”. The other friend and I ended up chatting on zoom and doing a Seeker Bible study. These watch parties are so simple and a great way to go from attending an event with anonymity to engaging your friend with the person of Jesus.
We have the most incredible reason to believe in and offer community and relationship at this time. We believe in a God that is relational to the core, from the very beginning of time he was Father, Son and Spirit.
I’m encouraged as I write this that I’m not alone in seeing this open door. There are some really helpful articles in Christianity Today talking about this opportunity and open door at the moment. One that really stood out was one entitled The Pandemic lockdown is a Godsend for the Indian church. Issac Shaw says “I believe the church has been ushered into a new age of growth and engagement with each other and with the world around us. We are witnessing a huge turning after God.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if church online could provide this in increasing measures. We have an open door to invite friends to our church services during this time.
In the rush and pressure of this new online life, lets not forget something essential to the gospel. The incarnational, human, relational aspect of sharing this good news with our friends. If the way the message is being communicated says something about the message itself. Then, maybe we need to rethink how can we use technology to its best potential? How can we create the most relational, warm, welcoming events and church in this season? How can we be praying daily for our friends? How can we love our friends and care for them at this time? We’ve not (in our life time) had to think about our ecclesiology or missiology during a pandemic. We’ve not had to think about public evangelism in a pandemic. What a great opportunity to learn some lessons and even take them into life after COVID19.
In this time of need this exhortation rings clearly from 1 Thessalonians “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Lets be people that love our friends, share our lives with them and speak the good news of Jesus.
Never before have my friends been so open with me, never before I have been so open with them. COVID19 is changing all of us and is changing our relationships too. I have had more opportunities in the last few weeks to show love to my friends, to pray with and for them and to speak of the good news of Jesus. Its been a great time for honest conversations between friends.
Watch: Community in a Crisis Youtube channel – Jamie Haxby from Hope Church Lancaster shares about his experience of how they are seeing many more people engaging with their church since being online.
Community in a Crisis
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.
I feel each day like I am living in a dream. I hope that one day soon I will simply wake up and return to my old life (termed by my husband as life BCV). Each day feels like ground hog day with attempts to bring routine and order in the absolute chaos.
It was a hard day today and tonight I have had enough of humanity. In the space of a few days I found out that some of the nearest and dearest to me have lost their jobs, been thrown out of their flats, had their car stolen and been scammed. At least three families I know have crossed the poverty line. How can all this be possible in the UK in 2020?
The sad reality is that today we are broken. We are isolated. And we are in a complete mess.
My attempts at home schooling failed within a week, our girls are virtually feral and things that don’t normally go wrong are going wrong every day. But tonight I decided to venture out. I cycled around the ghost town of Southampton, crying, and sobbing at the state of our world. Angry in many ways that we are where we are. It all just feels so surreal, as if I’m on a movie set of a film. It’s simply enough to make you want to give up on humanity. As I cycled I had so many questions; How can we be so cruel? Is there anything beautiful left in this world? How can we stock pile when elderly, vulnerable and key workers don’t have enough? Why do I care just for my small family and forget those friends I once loved? As I cycled over the Woolston bridge, the highest bridge in Southampton, I saw the Samaritans number. It was at that point I came to the conclusion that if man is the measure of all things, then there is not much point in keeping going.
As I raged around Southampton, it was dark and empty, eerily silent, yet strangely beautiful. As I cycled over the crest of the Woolston bridge it suddenly hit me, I heard God say to me. Nay…
this is not the end of the story. Man is not the measure of all things. I am the measure of all things, I love this world and I love you.
I heard him say I faced self- isolation for you. I was rejected for you. I was abandoned by my friends for you. At this point a sense of freedom entered my mind. I recollected what I knew from the eye witness account of Jesus life. Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life. I heard God say Nay you’re not in control. Nay this is not the end of the story.
Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life.
As I cycled home I felt freer, I felt that Its ok to wake up, however dreadful the situation. I remembered that Jesus was the one who existed before anything else and the one who holds all creation together.
I arrived home an hour later, parked my bike, still weeping. But noticed a friend with her teenage daughter carrying a large bag of food, we chatted (2m apart) and shared, with tears still in my eyes. I went into my home and shut the door again.
The coronavirus shows the very best and worst in each one of us. We’re not just broken but if we’re honest we break others too. The following evening on my daily exercise I cycled through the streets at 8pm for the first NHS shout out. As I cycled I joined in wooping and cheering with the hundreds of local families. My daughter couldn’t quite understand what was happening, she asked “Mum how will they know that we’re thanking them? They’re not here, on the streets”. I told her they’d know,. That our good friend the internet would tell them. So I cycled, celebrating friends and family who sacrifice for us and are fighting for us.
I was overwhelmed with the noise of pots and pans and again cried my way through another bike ride. But this time questioned. How can humanity be both so life affirming and so desperately low at the same time?
How can this virus expose more genuine love for friends but also an inner desire to control and hoard?
How do we recover from this even bigger problem? I don’t watch much of the news, as its so overwhelming. But the bit I look to each day is the recovered stats, 135 recovered today, 2,921 have sadly passed away. Imagine the relief of recovering from this virus. Finally this dreaded thing and potential death has now passed.
But there’s another recovery that I think we all need. I wonder if something deeper than this is happening in humanity right now. I wonder how we recover not just from the Virus. But how we recover from a self centredness that hoards and lashes out. An inward focus that retreats from those around us in need. How do we learn to love generously to anyone in need?
We can’t do this on our own, however hard we try. How do we recover from the deeper virus within our hearts? There is one who sustains and upholds the Universe in his hands and he is saying right now, this is not the end of the story. He gives us a clear offer, Jesus gave away all his privileges, he became vulnerable, he even gave his own life. And all of this for us. As we turn to him, confess this problem. We trust him to give us new life. So that we might recover from this deeper problem we all face.
“In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; This cornerstone, this solid ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all— Here in the love of Christ I stand.” Keith Getty
After leading our first ever Zoom church service I went away feeling happy. We’d gathered 80+ from our church together. We’d cared for those who found it a struggle getting online. We’d scrambled together a team and in the midst of crisis we built community.
We love our diverse International church. We have a high percentage of elderly folk from a South Asian background. We knew that if Zoom was going to work, we needed to work hard. Of course there were funny moments, much laughter and many mistakes. But I never expected the email I received a few hours later.
To put this in context. I’m passionate about raising up female leaders and evangelists. I’ve been praying and working hard for two years on a project called Passion for Evangelism. It’s strange to say, but the Lord is answering prayers in a way I never anticipated. The email I’m referring to was from our dear friend, a respected member of our church.
“Dear Nay, as I’ve reflected a little bit on this morning. Two things impressed themselves on me quite strongly:1. It’s wonderful to see a ‘generational shift’ taking place at church. Which is such good news for the future of Kingdom ministry in the church. The leadership, spirituality and confident assurance of the team, all come from a big shift down in the generations from a year or two ago. This is exciting and deeply encouraging. It poses the question for those of us nearer my generation. How we encourage and support you well as you take the reins more and more.
2. Secondly the majority input (at least in numbers) were of women. I’m certain that if we listen to the prompting of the Spirit. and release the God-given potential and gifting of our women, who are passionate in their love for Jesus, the church will flourish in new ways.”
So as you think about growing your new team to run online services. Be encouraged that the Lord is at work in fresh ways. I’ve written here on how to get your church together online. But I wanted to go into the details of building a team and what that might look like.
Like any service you need a team but in this season you need a bigger team
If we work on 50-70% of the population getting COVID-19 at some point then we need to plan this into our services. Potentially at any point 50-70% of the service planning team could be ill or looking after sick family. It maybe that someone’s work changes last minute or they’re struggling with suffering, anxiety or depression due to the current situation. I’ve lost count of the number of people who say they are now busier than ever before. So let us care for our church by preparing well. We’ve moved on from churches being run by a few people, we need to reconsider team leadership and grow our teams.
On Sunday we ran a service with 7 people; Speaker, Host, Musician, 1 Tech Host and 3 tech Co-Hosts. Working on the 70% statistic…
If you have a team of 7 then 5 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This leaves you with 2 to run the service online.
If you have a team of 14 then 10 will get COVID 19 at anytime. Then this will leave you with 4 to run the service.
If you have a team of 24 then 15 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This will leave you with 7 to run the service.
So multiply all your teams by 4 in order to care for your church.
So this week we’re going to be extra prepared and aim to recruit a team of 24. 7 of those will be put on the rota once a month with 17 on standby every week.
The document below shows our new team roles and job descriptions with a sample running order. Have a read of it now, what do you notice that is different?
You’ll see we had a shorter sermon, breakout rooms at two points, short testimonies from a key worker and a mum at home. You’ll need to rethink the structure of the service to adapt to being online. According to recent Zoom training by Intervarsity staff
“Its 10 times easier to tune out during online calls than in person”.
One way to prevent this dynamic is to make the meeting as interactive as possible. Change the learning style/engagement every 15 minutes. Encourage participation through the group chat. Encourage guests to respond visually with the interactive white board. There are some excellent resources here written by Intervarsity staff.
This has implications for the length of sermons, notices and singing. Make use of the breakout room function you’ll need to enable it in your settings. Group conversations work best with 4-5 people, so keep your groups small. There are many interactive functions for group discussion too.
By breaking into small groups, you not only keep attention but you encourage participation. We had a short sermon with small groups afterwards. Most of the groups worked really well. We thought it was important to check how they were going. So one of the co-hosts visited each room for 20 seconds to check everyone was ok.
When you split into small groups you can do this in a few ways. 1. Pre-assigned 2. automatic or 3. manual (all the info is here). For me as a 98% extrovert Its great fun entering a room, you have no idea who is in there! For those who are more introverted I have some more thoughts, but will save these for another post. Please keep the groups small so that everyone can chat. For those who struggle in this setting, you can opt not to join a group.
So do these groups work? Why is actual interaction better than just transmitting a message online? Here is some feedback from friends at church about the breakout rooms.
“Thank you all I really enjoyed that, especially enjoyed the discussion”
Wonderful time and great opportunity to talk to two others I’ve never chatted with before! Thanks guys! Be blessed and positively ‘infectious’ this week”
Great to have an opportunity to reflect on what has been shared in the service. Such a helpful way of engaging with the talk and helps for the message to stick in our heads.”
COVID 19 is changing us as people. Online church is changing our relationships. In this space of change and uncertainty there is an opportunity to build community in the midst of a crisis.
We all now face physical isolation. Yet as believers WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have the Spirit living within us an ever present help in times of trouble. Once again, as at various points in the church’s history, we are a scattered body (1 Peter 1:1). Isolated, yet not alone. Afraid but full of joy. There are so many opportunities we have now to build community and offer hope.
A time of crisis reminds us of our fragility and brings a new awareness of how things can change in a ‘twinkling of an eye’. When it feels like the end of the world we can remember that the church since Pentecost has always lived in the last days. This is the time during which according to the prophet Joel:
“Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
So let us continue to meet together in such a way that allows the voices of men and women, young and old to be heard – and all the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
We’d love to hear how you have done online church services. How have you encouraged participation, discussion, interaction in your church? Please send us any comments so we can learn from each other.
“When men are in the majority women speak 75% less”.
One Princeton research team set out to measure how much less women talk. Male and female volunteers were put to work solving a budget challenge. The study found that in some cases women, when in the minority, spoke 75% less than men did. But its not just speaking.
According to this research in the Economist… “Men are disproportionately more likely to ask the first question at a seminar. If a man has asked the first question – men are then more than twice as likely to ask a question afterwards. But when a woman asks the first question, men and women both ask around 50% of questions afterwards”. This article highlights the massive inconsistency in men and women asking questions in seminar groups.
This research intrigues me. I want to find out if these statistics are present today. I also want to see how this impacts women around me. I particularly want to focus on the church and what can be done to help both men and women flourish.
Katty Kay, author of The Confidence Code says “Do we (women) believe our words are less valuable, but we don’t have the nerve to say them? A man in a room with mostly women talks just as much as he always does. When men are in the majority women speak 75% less”.
So to start my research I posed an open question on my Facebook feed, using the subtitle above. Over 100 comments and many private messages came in. The majority said they identified with what I was asking. They then went into painful detail of their experience. Here are a few examples for you…
“I’m a physicist and have similar experiences! You learn to adapt in male-dominated environments. The default is that women’s voices and opinions are viewed as less important. Sometimes you have to be “difficult” to be heard“.
“What I find so interesting about this is that the accepted perception is that women speak MORE. I’ve actually wanted to record meetings and count words so I could challenge that stereotype. It is so easily thrown around – to demonstrate that the women present were NOT talking lots more than the guys in fact”
“I have seen and experienced this so many times. Women don’t want to be rude and talk over someone else, male or female. Men don’t necessarily strive to be rude but they’re used to being listened to. This has led to many conversations where I or another woman in the conversation stops speaking when interrupted. Even if she perseveres to finish her sentence, but I/ she then doesn’t interrupt the person speaking with her.”
Lets pause for a minute. Think back to your last prayer meeting, Bible study, leaders meeting or Q&A after a talk. Who spoke first, second or third?
I’m committed to seeing both men and women flourish in the local church. If these statistics & anecdotal comments are true, then leaders need to start asking some hard questions.
The answer is simple
Back to the initial research from Princeton, the statistics change when a woman goes first. If a woman asks the first question then men and women both ask around 50% of questions afterwards. On one level there is a simple answer. Academic lecturers have taken to directing their first question to a woman. Next time you lead a prayer meeting you could just simply ask a woman to pray first. Or maybe this is about good group dynamics or having a good Chair. All these things will help. But I’m not sure the answer is that simple.
Firstly we need recognise there is a problem and understand it within our own context. It is essential that we find out what women think and what their experience has been. We also need to look into the detail of how men and women relate to each other. Secondly we need a revaluation of how we relate to each other in the church.
How do men and women relate in the church?
This article by Jen Wilkin describes the three female ghosts that haunt the church. These are named; The child, The Usurper and the temptress. She describes more here “these three ghosts glide into staff meetings where key decisions are made. They hover in classrooms where theology is taught. They linger in prayer rooms where the weakest among us give voice to hurt. They strike fear into the hearts of both men and women, and worse, they breathe fear into the interactions between them. Their every intent is to cripple the ability of men and women to minister to and with one another”. I asked friends to see if they had experienced any of these ghosts. A wide range of women admitted they had been treated in this way , here are some comments…
“Yes – I have definitely felt at times like all three. In particular the temptress and usurper.”
“100% usurper. Particularly if I disagree with my vicar in a meeting or throw in completely left field ideas”
“all 3 at some stage. It’s only with certain males though not all. I find I have to play a fake role for fear of the guys thinking I am any of those 3”
If you’re still unsure what this looks like, then ask women around you what their experience has been. Then read these three check lists written by Jen Wilken.
Secondly we need to change our culture. We need to stop viewing women in this way and instead treat each other, with absolute purity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Take a look at how Jesus treated women (the Ursurper, the temptress, and the child). Or look at how Paul treated women as co-workers in Christ. Aimee Byrd says ‘It is by seeking the brother-and-sister closeness we are privileged to have as Christians. True, godly friendship between the sexes that embraces the family we truly are in Christ serves as the exact witness the watching world needs.’Why can’t we be friends.
We need to change our culture. We need to stop viewing women as a child, a usurper or a temptress & instead treat each other, with absolute purity as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together adorns the gospel and points to a better story! Would you join me?
In the light of the recent scandals in the Evangelical world its been said that the church needs Revival. What would a revived church look like in terms of; latent misogyny, the three female ghosts and women’s gifts being ignored?
We’ve got alot of work to do, but please, can we do it together?
Discussion questions for Pastors
Find out what women think in your church, send them this blog and ask them about their experience Have you ever viewed women in your church as a child, seductress or temptress? Imagine her now women in your church as sister in Christ. Ask her what does she need to flourish in the gifts that God has given her? How can you help her do that?
Discussion questions for women
Have you experienced any of the female ghosts? If so, please talk this through with a close friend. Read Romans 16, Luke 10:38-42, Mark 14:3-8, Matthew 9:20-22 how do Jesus and Paul view women? What change would it make if you viewed men in your church as brothers? Send this blog to your pastor/leader and ask them if you could discuss with them your experience.
Discussion questions for Men
Find out what your female friends think about this. Send them this blog and ask them about their experience. Have you ever viewed women in your church/workplace as a child, seductress or temptress? Imagine her now women in your church/workplace as sister in Christ. Ask her what does she need to flourish in the gifts that God has given her? How can you help her do that?
Over the last year God has opened a door for many women to communicate the gospel in public. Douglas Johnson in Contending for the Faith writes about the history of IFES. He says “one of the chief lessons of war-time was how little things of the Spirit depend upon material conditions. Both student and graduate evangelists showed to the full, their great resourcefulness in overcoming all sorts of barriers to the spread of the gospel”. In Passion for Evangelism (PFE) we have seen evidence of this during the last year. Although many churches have had to close their doors, the Holy Spirit has been opening doors for women.
PFE exists to empower, equip and encourage woman to share the good news of Jesus with God-given confidence and creativity. Lets pause for a moment. How many public evangelists do you know? Now how many of those are women? In 2019 Nay Dawson set up PFE. This was in response to a lack of women communicating the gospel in public.
In PFE we want to grow in communicating the gospel and we’re committed to seeing women flourish. We recently ran our annual mentoring and training conference. 80 women from across Europe gathered together.
One of the unique aspects of our conference is that each guest prepares and presents an evangelistic presentation. We then give warm but constructive feedback in small groups. We want to encourage creativity as we communicate the gospel into our culture.
This year the guests could choose to communicate the gospel in a variety of ways. These included; a talk, a blog, spoken word poetry, short video and even song. The aim of these sessions is to give women confidence to return home and find opportunities to share the gospel. Cat shared afterwards “PFE conference allowed me to try out a talk in a safe space but also refined it for actual usage!”. Annie said “Now I have a talk written, I’m looking for opportunities to use it at an event”.
We also had an opportunity to attend a variety of seminars focused on public evangelism. Liz said “ the conference gave me confidence and boldness to find my flow and style in social media and in preaching”.
Alongside our practical training we wanted to make time for the gospel to sweep us into Christs very heart. We don’t want to be people that only ever share the good news with others. We want to know his deepest heart for us. We enjoyed talks from Revelation and Johns gospel. We sang together and enjoyed true fellowship in small discussion groups. Sarah says “It was exceptional. The Bible teaching warmed my heart and spurred me on. It lifted my eyes off myself and on to Christ”.
If you’re a woman that wants to grow in communicating the gospel, then get in touch we offer training, mentoring and have a warm community of women from across Europe.
This is a new initiative that we’ve set up in our community to invite our friends to try prayer.
“When you pray, say: Father…” Luke 11:2
When thinking about prayer, what words come to your mind? Something detached, a thing to do or something you feel guilty about? We so easily forget that prayer is about a relationship with God. Mike Reeves in his book Enjoy your prayer life says this about prayer. “To know you are a beloved child of God protects you from thinking of prayer as a ladder to God or an exercise by which you work your way into his favour“. Its so easy to view prayer in this way, rather than approach God as a loving Father.
In Luke 11 Jesus wants us to know that the relationship Jesus has had with his father is now being shared with us. He teaches us to pray and to remember “when you pray, say: Father”. God shows us and reminds us of his character as we approach him in prayer. These words about God and who he is, are very dear to me “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” 1 Corinthians. Throughout this last year, God has comforted me as I’ve turned to him, my Father in prayer. But its not just me. During the pandemic many people have turned to God in prayer. I noticed this both amongst friends but also in our nation too. Read more here about this “British public turn to prayer as 1 in 20 have started praying during the crisis” May 2020.
As I reflect over the last year, so much has changed. One thing for me is the growing understanding that the church needs Revival. One key element to Revival through history has been prayer. Michael Green in his book When God breaks in says “Revivals never appear when all God’s people are apathetic, prayerless, unconcerned about holiness, flippant or despise the authority of scripture”. So for me as we ease out of lockdown, I wanted to commit afresh to praying for our community.
I invited 6 friends from 6 different churches to join me. Together we decided that we wanted to love and bless our neighbours by praying for them. I felt it was important that this initiative was about our community so we’ve intentionally kept it small. But we also felt that this was a great opportunity for unity across the churches. Mike Reeves says “Communal prayer is the Christian life in a nutshell. The family of the Father coming together to him to share his concerns”. We want to gather together as Gods family in our area and share in his concerns for our friends and neighbours. So, together we’ve started a new initiative called Try Prayer.
We want to gather together as Gods family in our area and share in his concerns for our friends and neighbours. So, together with friends we’ve started a new initiative called Try Prayer.
Try Prayer will offer anonymous prayer to anyone of any age, faith or background. We’ll gather once a month to pray for our friends, each other and our neighbourhood. We met on Sunday night and 13 Christians joined us from 5 different churches.
How do you promote Try Prayer?
In the lead up to our gathering I told my friends that we were praying for our community. I invited them to send us prayer requests. I did this publicly on social media and privately by whatsapp and conversation. I was amazed by our friends responses…
“thanks so much, that is so kind, I’ve not prayed since I was a child, please do pray for…”“thanks, please do pray for our community, for safety and individuals” “thanks for asking, I’m not sure, but I’ll have a think and get back to you“
We’ve printed our own postcards and bought copies of Try Praying. Over the coming months we’ll be giving these out to friends. We want to write individual notes and invite friends to try praying.
I’d been chatting with a friend (from another city) about this idea. He texted me a few days later and said… “I just spent the evening with 3 friends in our town. They’d all become distanced from church during lockdown. Thanks for the encouragement. Was meeting them anyway but praying together was wonderful”. I also heard of a friend that during lockdown put a whiteboard outside her house. She simply put “can we pray for you? please leave any comments”. They had so many requests from friends and a great opportunity to chat to friends in their community.
Our hope and prayer is that through this each of us would know and experience God as the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.
Order copies of our Try Prayer postcards here on my Etsy shop – Houses of Light Order copies of Try Praying books here or Mike Reeves Enjoy your prayer life We’d love to hear your story of inviting your friends to Try Prayer, please get in touch.
This guest blog is written by my friend Vanessa Baldwin
When the November lockdown hit in 2020 and everything closed again (except playgrounds!) my family decided to make it our mission to try as many new parks within our local area as possible. George age 5 and Kate age 2 were excited at the prospect of discovering somewhere new every week. We made sure we had good wellies and waterproofs and off we went!
I know visiting park during lockdown/Covid 19 is a very personal decision and we decided we were happy with the risk, we usually go early on a weekend morning and often have the parks to ourselves. We are excited to share our park life finds with you all!
1. Archery Recreational Ground SO19 9ER
Archery recreational ground featured a small play frame, swings, zip wire and several other apparatuses. The kids liked the park very much but unfortunately it was burnt to the ground in an arson attack. We do hope they rebuild it to its former state as it was a great park for a quick visit.
2. Bow lake Gardens SO50 6JL
This is a fairly new park in a new housing development. Parking is ok but it can be busy at the weekend. This park was a HUGE hit with the kids and we have been back several times since our first visit. The climbing frame with slide is perfect for all ages and has several ways up with varying degrees of difficulty. There was another standalone rope climbing frame with a frame they could sit in at the top. The Swings and round about were also well used as were the stepping stones (these also made a good seat for mummy). However the highlight of this particularly trip was the trampoline. As it has been raining heavily there was a lot of water underneath it and when they jumped it came up through the trampoline. George and Kate thought this was brilliant and were extremely disappointed when we subsequently returned, and it had dried up; It was apparently much more fun that when it splashed them!!
3. Chase About SO18 2ND
My 2 call this the colourful park as everything is painted in wonderful bright colours. We found parking tight but doable on nearby streets. The wobbly 4×4 was bar far the thing the kids played in most along with the zip wire. There are 2 climbing frames, one with a slide and a short ropes course. Kate insisted daddy try out the 2 different seesaws with her and we all went on the ropes thing (don’t really know how else to describe it but see picture) but be prepared for it to squeak a lot! The round about was very fast so make sure they hold on!
4. Daisy Dip SO16 3LR
Previously an old, run down park the Friends of Daisy Dip have been instrumental in turning this into an amazing castle themed park with something for everyone. This brilliantly thought out play ground has a small and large play frame with platforms, bridges, slides, treasure chests, ladders, rope ladders and more. There is a separate rope climbing frame with varying difficulties, several different swings, the vomit inducing spinner bowls, round about and rocking spring dragon and horse. We could barely haul the kids away from this park and if it wasn’t for the lure of lunch they would have stayed far longer. We will definitely go back.
5. Fleming Park, SO50 9NL
Fleming Park, SO50 9NL
There is free parking at the Leisure centre, but the closest parking is on Passfield avenue. Lovely little park with a large sand pit, see saw, swings, play structure with slide, pyramid ropes climbing structure and another park next door with more things for older children. There is also a small skate park. In the summer (Covid permitting) there is also a great outdoor paddling pool here too. It was just Kate and I checking out this park but she had a lovely time showing dolly all around the park.
6. Fryern Recreation Ground SO53 2LE
This park offers plenty of space to play in. Kates favourite feature was the big music player which she went back to several times for a good boogie. The tyre swing proved another big hit (there were normal swings too) and George mastered the ropes climbing frame quickly much to his delight. There is a large climbing frame and small slide and a roundabout. Both kids nearly made themselves sick on the spinner bowl but wouldn’t get out! There is also the recreation ground to explore but we didn’t get any further than the very muddy puddle which apparently was better than the park!
7. Grantham Green SO50 5EY
My sister told me about this little park that is popular with her 2. She walks but we easily parked on a street next to the park. The park is divided into 2 areas, one is better for younger children than the other. One half features a zip wires, a rope climbing frame, trampoline, swings and blue wobbly stepping stones connected by ropes that George managed to get stuck in and had to be extracted by daddy. The other area has a perfect Kate size climbing frame with slide, seesaw and more swings. George and Kate concluded their cousins were right that it is a good park
8. Hatch Farm SO30 3AL
Another new park on a new housing estate and what a brilliant find! We again found a parking spot easily on a nearby road and the kids ran to the park when they saw it. The play structure is fantastic and provides a multitude of challenges for various ages; Kate was reluctant at first but mastered it quickly. The kids had the usual go on the swings but we gave up on the roundabout as unless you are the hulk it is pretty impossible to push. The wobbly skate board (as named by the kids) even got daddy playing on it and the boys challenged themselves to the various balance beams/rope walks/board walks. Kate served ice cream from the shop and George solved the maze in record time. This park is definitely an all rounder and friends who have subsequently been have enjoyed it too.
9. Hitingbury Recreational Ground SO53 5NP
We parked in the car park and walked over to the Rec. The park opens out to a large rec which we told the kids there is no way they could run round in 30 secs. Naturally they heeded the challenge and we got 5 minutes peace!
There is also a skate park further down that had we known about we would have taken our scooters with us. The park itself has the usual climbing frame, swings, trampoline and rockers but it provided the kids with an hours of entertainment.
10. Itchen Valley SO30 3HQ
Itchen Valley is another of our go to parks. With plenty of (pay for) parking it is a short drive and plenty to do. The play trial provides plenty of different apparatus to challenge the kids and there are 2 parks to choose from. There is also a new area with a mud kitchen and shop. The park near the café is definitely more suited to younger children but both mine still love it. The bigger park has plenty of variety for the older ones but never to be up spurred by her older brother, Kate got stuck in to. We went after it has been raining and it was so wet and muddy but the puddles added to the kids enjoyment. The kids got so wet we went through 2 sets of full waterproofs each and 2 sets of clothes. They went home wrapped in blankets in just their pants! They still talk about the puddle park now and think it should be a permanent feature.
11. Lakeside Country Park SO50 5PD
This country park offers walks round large lake, a little train (when working) and an old amphitheatre the kids can run around to their hearts content, as well as a park. To get to the park you have to walk anti clockwise round the lake until you see a path and set of steps to your right. These take you up and over the railway track (look out for trains), through a gate where you will see the park. You can also access it through the Lakeside estate. There is a car park at Lakeside that is free at weekends. The kids always like this park. The little wooden train is well used for journeys into the past, the swings take them to space and there are several climbing frames of varying difficulty to keep them occupied. There is a balance beam and little stepping stones to challenge their balance and a little trampoline which usually causes arguments about who is the better bouncer! In better times we usually make a day of this and take a picnic and wave to the train as it goes by.
12. Leah Gardens SO50 9QX
This hidden little Gem is tucked away on a new estate. Between the swings, climbing frame, trampoline and play structure this park is small but perfectly formed. Parking is easy on nearby streets. The kids have requested this one a few times. Bonus is Costa is still open for takeaway and is a 4-minute walk away!
13. Mayfield park SO19 9HL
We loved this park and is great particularly for pre schoolers. There is a car park right outside it but as the gate leads straight onto the car park, we were extra vigilant. The large spitfire playframe provided hours of entertainment for George and Kate could not decide between the trampoline, small play structure or playhouse so darted between all 3! They also whooshed their way down the zip lines and argued over which side of the sea saw and roundabout they wanted to go on. We have re visited this park on numerous occasions and the kids haven’t got bored yet.
14. Mill Gardens SO18 3AJ
This small but perfectly formed park is perfect for pre schoolers with parking on adjacent roads. However George played perfectly happily here for over 2 hours. The climbing/play frame has several simple ways up and a slide down. There are several swings, a round about, trampoline and a tunnel to crawl through. However mine climbed on top and jumped down; this kept them occupied for at least 45 minutes! There is a climbing wall (which I am also told is great to play sea monsters with as you can out your arms through it!), as well as wood stepping stones and a wooden rope walk. Bonus is that it is opposite Haskins so when the café is open again we can stroll over for a sneaky lunch out.
15. Newlands Close SO53 4PD
The kids were thrilled there was another wobbly 4×4 and daddy took them on a drive along both bumpy and smooth roads. Swings were plentiful and the round about was very fast. 2 different play frames provide varying challenges with the reward a of good slide at the end. A skate board type thing (don’t know its real name!) proved mummy’s nemesis and daddy had to come to the rescue. There is also a little track running throughout the park which is perfect for scooters. We parked on a residential road adjacent to the park without issue.
16. North Stonham SO50 9RA
This is definitely one to visit and has been made for both older and younger children in mind. There is a sand area that has 2 little houses that Kate took up residence in. There is a huge slide which the kids climbed up and slid down to for well over 30 mins. The numerous swings, stand up see saw and the sprawling climbing frame we also well used. We have been back a few times so this one is definitely a winner. Parking can be found on side roads fairly easily.
17. Pirelli park SO50 5SQ
This brand-new park is built out of cable drums and parking can be found on near by roads. It is brilliant for slightly older children; not that this stopped Kate following George up the huge rope climbing structure. It also features several slides, climbing wall, roundabout, swings and steppingstones made of cable drums. If you have kids that love climbing, then this is definitely a good park to visit.
18. Sky Woods Road SO53 4HR
This secluded park isn’t obvious to find but worth the challenge. We parked in Barn Pierce, crossed over the main road (Sky wood Road) to a little cutway, followed this down and the park was just on our right. George held on for dear life on the round about as this one was very easy to push! The trampoline was popular with both of them and the small and large play frames were perfect for younger and older children respectively. George did the puzzle and hopscotch like a pro and Kate, George, Peppa and Dragon tried out the clever 2 or 4 person seesaw. Mummy and daddy tried the stand up seesaw which the kids loved watching and they also had a go. The one and only downside to this park was the lack of baby swing but there was a large bucket swing little ones can easily go in for a gently swing.
19. Somerset Avenue, Harefield SO18 5FR
A friend told me about this park and I am so glad she did. After parking on the road the kids tore off to the park. The planners have really used the limited landscape of this area to maximise and incorporate as much as they can into this park. There is a ground level boardwalk which incorporated huge great old tress which the kids loved running around. The big and small climbing frames were great for our different ages and they both took numerous turns on the zip wire and large slide. Kate and George loved the musical instruments and put on a performance for us; they took it very seriously. They both had a go on the pendulum swing but preferred the ‘normal’ type swings. However as there were so many trees in this park we actually played hide and seek for most of the time we were there. The big old tress on the hill made a perfect hiding place for mummy!
20. Southampton Common, SO15 7NN
We had heard fantastic things about this park and it didn’t disappoint! There is parking at the common (free on weekends) but it gets very full very fas;, however there are roads nearby you can park in. The kids zipped fast down the zip wires, played in the sand and climbed up and down on the 2 wooden play structures. My little feral Kate decided she didn’t want to wear shoes and then spent 30 mins climbing up down the slid barefoot in November! There are also swings and in summer I believe there is water play too. We have now been here a few times so definitely a hit. Remember to take a bucket and spade with you!!
21. St James Park SO15 5SD
A hidden in plain sight gem this provides a great variety of equipment for plenty of fun. The Huge play frame was a bit of a challenge for Kate but George helped her navigate the various rope bridges and platforms to reach the huge slides. The zip wire was too tall for our 2 but would be fine for more daring or older children. There were the usual swings, trampoline and spring seesaw but also a little shop/playhouse and play frame with a slide for the little ones, plus another tube slide. The unique feature to this park was the ‘paper’ as Kate called it. It was like a wobbly bridge you could walk across. Both kids (and big kid) really enjoyed running back and forth balancing on this. Again, we managed to park easily on adjacent roads but I think there might parking restrictions at various times of the week.
22. Weston shore parade SO19 9NU
George spotted this one when we went to RVCP and was desperate to go; there is a car park nearby. The kids had a ball in the wrecked pirate ship and it was great for playing hide and seek. George surprised me with just how confident he was with his climbing and of course wanted to fly into space on the swings. Its also right on the beach so great for rock skipping and a bit of kite flying if the wind is up.
“The propensity to dwell on failure and mistakes, and an inability to shut out the outside world are, the biggest psychological impediments for female players” Mike Thibault, Mystics basketball coach, Confidence Code.
Mike Thibault, legendary coach was in a unique position as he had trained both men and women at NBA level. Mike observed the differences between the players and the results were surprising. Even in one of the most aggressive and challenging professional sports that women can play there was still a clear difference. “Let’s say I have a bad game. I’ll think, Oh my gosh, we lost and I really wanted to help the team win, and win for the fans. With guys, if they had a bad game, they’re thinking “I have had a bad game” they shrug off the loss more quickly”. Its been said that after making a mistake on court it takes men a couple of hours to bounce back, for women its more like two weeks. Here is another example of how that plays out.
Katty Kay in the Confidence Code quotes a female research student from a top league University on how she internalised setbacks: “the other day a professor criticised my research paper. The guy I’d worked on it with just brushed it off. It didn’t seem to bother him. It took me weeks to get over it.”
Failure and rejection are part of life and yet our inability to handle it are a massive set back for many. For women they have already found it harder to offer themselves to serve in church (see my first blog post in this series – She doesn’t feel good enough to serve in your church). But once they have the courage to do this, they’ll need support. When something goes wrong, they’ll feel they have failed in some way. This could be; over thinking, replaying their mistakes or convincing themselves that someone better could do it.
So when failure comes, it is going to take women longer to recover than you may think. I often do talks for Christian Unions and afterwards have a deep sense of failure and shame. I question myself and my ability and often wonder if someone else could have done a better job than me. I can take two weeks or more to recover. In fact being honest, when my husband suggests I ask for feedback from a talk, I often avoid it incase its too crushing.
So how do you take an average person like me and help her flourish in your church? God has gifted men and women to serve their church. And yet in many churches women are struggling to use gifts given by the Spirit. One area we seem to be weak on is mentoring. There is often a lack of encouragement, feedback and support. You may think that we’re weak on mentoring for everyone, but from what I can see its far worse for women.
In many churches you hear the phrase “blokes worth watching”. This gives the impression that those that have value and a future in the church are men. As I look around yet another preachers club for young men is being set up, most of my male peers have now been sent to theological college, paid to go and have a clear way to serve the church. In many churches a lack of role models and clear pathways for women is a real problem. I’ve worked for decades with gifted women. So many of them once they leave a parachurch organisation find that certain gifts end up shelved and forgotten. I recently saw a women write this. “I’ve been asked to give an evangelistic talk for women, I used to do this regularly but since finishing my job as a student worker I haven’t given a single talk”. But its not just whether we mentor, it’s the kind of mentoring that we do.
Men don’t seem to mentor women and Women don’t seem to mentor men. Why is this? A desire for purity means that it could seem inappropriate to mentor someone from the opposite sex. Or maybe we put women in boxes for roles they’d like to serve in and consequently that limits the areas that we can offer mentoring in.
At this point I think we should pause and look into what the Bible says about mentoring.
Mentoring across genders is Biblical
In the Bible you see men mentoring men, women mentoring men, women mentoring women and men mentoring women.
As we see in the New Testament, both male and female believers have been called to discernment and to teach, encourage, and admonish each other (see Phil. 1:9, Col 3:16, and 1 Thess. 5:11,14). Take some time to look at these verses…
Priscilla, Aquilla and Apollos Acts 18
Naomi and Ruth – Ruth 1
Jesus and Martha – John 11
Jesus and the Samaritan woman – John 4
Jesus and Mary john 20:11-18
List of women Paul lifts up as his coworkers – Romans 16
Louis, Eunice and Timothy – 2 Timothy 1:5
Rachel Green Miller helpfully writes “In all these discussions, I wonder what the modern Reformed Christian community would make of Priscilla if she lived today. In Acts 18, Luke tells us about Priscilla and her husband Aquila. They were Jewish believers who had left Rome. Paul, who shared their occupation as tent-makers, stayed with them in Corinth. They travelled with Paul to Ephesus and stayed there when Paul continued on his missionary work. Verses 24-26 tell of how they instructed Apollos in the faith.” Is there a place for Priscilla in our churches?
In order for women to grow and flourish in serving the church, they need mentoring. I’d even like to suggest that for your church to mirror early church Biblical practise that women need to be mentored by men and men need mentoring by women too.
Three things that women need To be asked, to be given feedback, to be asked again
I set up Passion for Evangelism a few years ago to raise up female evangelists and help them flourish, at the time there were very few public female evangelists. We have a Facebook group of over 600 women. Initially I thought the reason there are so few female evangelists is because they’re not being asked. We often post and ask for women to write evangelistic blogs for us, and normally get only one or two people responding. However if I write and individually ask women, explaining why I think they could do this, then the answer is more often a yes. When I get sent the blog, I notice how often there is a caveat, don’t worry if this isn’t any good, please feel free not to use it!! When you’re thinking about helping your church flourish, consider the women in your church. Consider those who may not offer themselves, they will most likely be equally competent to others and will potentially say yes if you ask them. Within your own theological framework are their roles in your church that culturally have always been taken up by men? You may have gifted women, given by the Spirit to serve in these roles. Don’t presume they don’t want to be involved, just ask them, mentor them and ask them again.
In PFE we are committed to mentoring. Each term we run a project called The Greenhouse. The aim is to help women grow in communicating the gospel to their friends and the culture around them. We want to help women grow in both character and skills.
This term 11 women are part of the GH project. They’ve received training on producing short evangelistic videos. Five women from the network are responsible for the training and mentoring, so it’s a great opportunity for them to grow too. The mentoring takes place over 5 weeks and consists of; online training, small groups and live Q&A. Then on the final week all the women post their videos online. Here’s what Beth said… “It’s grown my confidence that maybe I can do it! We do our best trusting that God will use our efforts in his kingdom work”.
And when we do fail, we must remember what Jesus said to Peter before his failure:
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jon Bloom says this about failure “Peter was going to sin — miserably. But Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus’ prayer was stronger than Peter’s sin, and it’s stronger than our sin too. Peter’s failure did not define him. And ours will not define us. They are horrible, humbling stumbles along the path of following Jesus, who paid for them all on the cross. And Jesus specializes in transforming failures into rocks of strength for his church“. Jon Bloom. Jesus chooses and uses failures like you and me, but lets do all we can to help women in their failure to flourish in your church.
For church leaders In your church or organisation who is being mentored? Are you mentoring women? Are you being Biblical in how you mentor your church? For women How will you react to your “failure” this week? How will you seek help from sisters and brothers?
A letterbox gift does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a gift that can be posted through the letterbox. It’s a convenient way to send a present to someone and they don’t have to worry about being at home to receive it.
During lockdown, letterbox presents have become hugely popular. These gifts are great for those wanting to send a gift to family and friends while social distancing. In our area door step gifts have become a thing too! Whether that’s cookies from friends, popcorn for our weekly film club or a gift of Prosecco when life is hard. But its not just doorstep gifts that we’ve been making and receiving.
Through lockdown we’ve taken part in many local family community trails. We gave gift bags for those walking past and taking part. We wanted to give gifts that were fun and gifts that tasted good. But we also wanted to give gifts that left people experiencing something of Jesus, and left them wanting more. As Blaise Pascal says “Make religion attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is”.
Imagine this Easter if Christians across the UK gave generous gifts to their friends. Gifts that were fun, gifts that tasted good and gifts that pointed to the difference Easter can make in our lives.
Here are some examples from lockdown and ideas for what we’re planning to do. I hope they inspire you to do something similar in your community.
Gift bags for families
For the Halloween and Christmas trails we gave out gift bags. In the bags we put; sweets, glow sticks, tattooes and stories. I wrote and printed stories with my friends in mind. These are stories that raise curiosity about the person of Jesus, they are written for a family to read together. We gave them out to friends and also gave away hundreds from our driveway. Read these stories here Lucy and the bird and Superlight.
Gift bags for friends
I decided that I wanted to give something to my friends too. So I set about the task of writing a story called “Love in Corona”. The concept is that you give your friend a gift; bake a cake, buy some tasty chocolate or a bottle of wine and you include this little postcard and a copy of a gospel. Gifts like this are a personal and attractive way to share more with your friends.
I’d love you to read my curious stories. If you enjoy them and find they warm your heart, then please consider making up a beautiful, generous letterbox gift or a doorstep gift for your friends.
What about Easter?
I’ll be using the Love in Corona cards and delivering them with home made Easter biscuits. Why not write your own postcard and print it or write a message and add a gospel. Or have a look in the Easter section at 10 of Those.
From the 26th March, with a team of friends we’ll be giving out hundreds of Easter story gift packs. These will be free to pick up as part of an Easter windows trail. But you could just as easily make a load and drop them on friends doorsteps as Easter gifts over the Easter weekend.
Resources for our Easter pack designed by Flora Hinks (New Community church Southampton). Ready to download later this week.
You could set up a driveway giveaway for anyone walking past like my good friend Rosie did. Or you could download a poster like this one, colour it in and give away gospels, tracts, gifts or Easter colouring in sheets.
Please get in touch and share what you’ve been up to over Easter!
“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them” Hewlett Packard Internal report.
These statistics have been discussed and debated and the reasons why this is true put in question. Is this about confidence, a mistaken perception of the hiring process, or not wanting to waste anyone’s time? What doesn’t seem to be questioned though is whether this is true. Women seem to have huge issues in putting themselves forward for jobs, projects or ideas that they would love to do, but yet worry they are not sufficiently qualified for.
The implications of this research are far spread. But for me I want to apply it into the flourishing of men and women in the church.
I don’t think this just applies to job application forms. Many people feel that they need to be 100% perfect or competent before they offer themselves for a new project, an opportunity or simply an idea they’ve had. But it may also be that they don’t know how to play the rules of the game or rather the ethics of the culture.
Take for example B, a gifted woman. Whenever she prays in church or shares testimony her gifts abound. She points to Christ in a way that teaches me afresh each time. But when I talked with her she said she could never teach, even in a woman to woman setting, why? Because it takes her so long to prepare. She said “surely someone who is really gifted wouldn’t take that long, or be that nervous before delivering a talk”.
In many of our churches we have drifted so far from men and women serving and building up the church together. Maybe one of the reasons is that women don’t feel good enough or skilled enough for God to use us. Not only do they lack confidence, they have no experience in the process of preparing for or leading an area.
Imagine this scenario… A new team is formed, the notice goes out for others to offer themselves to join. I imagine someone like B thinking I’d like to do this, but there is no way I’m good enough. Maybe there are aspects I could do, but not all of it. I’m sure there is someone better than me and if I was really good enough surely they would just simply ask me. Add to this a culture of favouritism or elitism. The new team is formed with no thought of someone like B getting involved and so the cycle is perpetuated and the inner voice of courage squashed and replaced with “see this really isn’t something I could do”.
Have we misunderstood the kind of person that God chooses to work through? Have we forgotten that gifts are given by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1) not by the church leader and finally that gifts are given to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).
Have we misunderstood the kind of person that God chooses to work through? Have we forgotten that gifts are given by the Spirit not by the church leader?
I’d love us to pause and have a look at the life of Peter. Through Marks gospel you see Peter;
publicly proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah
publicly stating that he would never deny Jesus
rebuking Jesus in front of others
being rebuked by Jesus
being called Satan by Jesus
disowning Jesus three times
falling asleep on Jesus three times
If you were leading a project at church, would you choose Peter to be on your team? If you were Peter would you have offered yourself to be on a team at this point?
But this isn’t the end of the story for Peter. Later Peter is described as the rock on which the early church was built (Matthew 16:18). The early church that grew 40% per decade for nearly three centuries. So what happened to Peter? How was this passionate, impetuous, fickle person transformed into a rock?
Between chapters 14 and 16 in Marks gospel we see the death and resurrection of Peter’s friend, his Messiah. But we also see the words from the angel, go tell the disciples and Peter. The reinstatement of Peter shows us that God stretches out his hands both in rescuing us but in also using us to build his church.
Peter the one who denied him, fell asleep on him and even rebuked him was reinstated as his friend. Imagine the sheer relief at the inclusion and singling out of his name. The cross and resurrection show us forgiveness and restoration both for us and in our ministry.
The words found in Marks gospel show that the kind of people that God chooses to use are those who are far less than perfect. The inclusion of Peter’s name displays the nature of God. His generous grace and kindness in working through people like you and me. I wonder if lesson number one for women to learn is that God does not expect perfection from those who follow him. If God can work through someone like Peter, then surely you and I are not out of the picture either?
It seems to be that there are so many things that hold us back from serving God or offering ourselves for a project or maybe simply sharing a new idea. I think we feel like we need to be 100% perfect at everything we do inorder to serve God rather than trusting that God delights to work in flawed and broken people like you and me.
If it is the Spirit that gives gifts, gifts that are tools not jewels, gifts that build up the church of God. Then what is holding you back? This week have a go at offering yourself for a project, serve in a new capacity in church, share the good news of Jesus with a friend, even if you only feel 60% good enough or 60% ready.
If it is the Spirit that gives gifts, gifts that are tools not jewels, gifts that build up the church of God. Then what is holding you back?
Over last few months community trails and activities have been popping up across the UK. These have brought people together and have encouraged a warm community spirit. Running a Nativity trail was straight forward, but Easter feels a little tricky. Due to the current situation, its hard to tell what level of restrictions we’ll have in April. So I wonder if you, like me, feel a little unsure about what to do?
Attempts to celebrate Easter outside the church veer wildly between sombre and superficial. Yet, in this lesser known story of Easter, there is a message of hope and a message that needs to be heard. Sally Lloyd Jones in the Jesus story book Bible writes at the end of the Easter story…
“Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death come untrue?”
In a world that is more aware of death and suffering than ever before, this is a message that needs to be heard. Jesus offers forgiveness for the past, new life for the present and hope for the future. As I read Sally’s words it struck me afresh that this message of Easter is essential. For this is a message that changes everything. She writes in her lent guide…
“As we read this Great Rescue Story together, God wants us to remember: however we are feeling today, wherever we are today, whatever is happening in our lives today—however it looks, even if it looks like there is no hope at all—spring is coming. It may look like nothing is happening. It may even look like everything has died. But… Spring is coming! Easter is coming! Jesus dies —yes, but he comes alive again! And one day death and sickness and tears—they will be no more. Because God is making the story end happily for his world—and for his children!”
I hope this introduction shows that this unknown Easter message isn’t just sombre. Its a message of hope and new life, its a message that changes everything. So as you consider Easter, how will you share this message creatively? How will you do this in a way that raises curiosity and leaves friends wanting more?
Here are some ideas…
Run a community Easter trail – running a trail like this is great for building community and getting to know others. Here are some ideas; geocaching, chocolate egg hunt, nature scavenger hunt or QR codes Easter trail. Give out gift bags as prizes for completing the trail.
Easter gift packs – These could be collected at the end of any trail or hunt as the prize. You could fill this with; chocolate, a make your own Easter garden, craft sheets from Pinterest or use these ones from Sally Lloyd Jones.
Easter giveaway from your driveway – print out this poster and fill a box with Easter gift bags (chocolates and colouring activity sets) to give out from your drive or to friends.
Celebrate the resurrection – we’re planning to re-use the angel from our Christmas trail and give away some little gift packs that explain that Jesus is Alive again.
Letterbox gifts – I’ve written these little stories that raise curiosity about Jesus. You could buy some, bake some cakes and give them to friends with a copy of a gospel.
40 days of Hope – Jamie Haxby and Hope Church Lancaster are running weekly initiatives to love and serve their community. This will culminate in a series of online talks looking at the theme of Hope. Have a look here.
What are we planning to do as a community?
In our community we have been enjoying running large trails. Our next one is a half term lego challenge with 50 houses on the trail. We’re inviting Lego creators from across Southampton to submit photo’s or video’s. We’ve tended to go for a large trail so that as many as possible can get involved in.
From mid February we’ll be putting up a post on our community Facebook page. We’ll be asking for Easter ideas, then we’ll then take the best idea and start making a team. I’ve been in conversation with three local churches. Together we are creating a gift pack to give to every family in our community. We’ll be including; a variety of Easter craft activities, a make your own Easter garden and colouring sheets. For us this works well, we want to share the message of Easter to as many people as possible. But we also want to involve the community and build a sense of togetherness in these difficult times.
Building community and engagement
Since November with we’ve run 3 trails and various community initiatives. Some have worked and others haven’t. Here are some reflections on how to build community and engagement in a pandemic…
Create communitybetween events – this can be done simply with a whatsapp group or a facebook group. I set up our local community Facebook page in November. Since then its had a reach of 40k people.
Create events that encourage engagement – we ran a Halloween trail which had hundreds of visitors. We also invited everyone to submit a photo of a Halloween carving or colouring onto our page. We had nearly 200 submissions and gave out prizes donated by local businesses. It was a great chance to get to know local businesses and support and promote them at this time.
Grow a team from your community – after the success of our first trail we then put up a post asking for more help, we had over 40 people respond offering all the skills we needed.
Ask for ideas from the communityfor future trails – in January a mum got in touch and said that she thought a Lego challenge during half-term would be a great idea. Since then we’ve been planning and preparing, the Lego challenge starts on Fri. We have 50 houses on the trail and some of our posts have a reach of 6k. We are also inviting Lego creators across the city to send in a photo or video of their Lego creation.
As a community show love – individuals have set up a local food bank and a gift bag of thanks for local NHS staff. Creating a community like this, means you have plenty of opportunities to love dearly throughout the year.
In a world that is more aware of death and suffering than ever before, this is a message that needs to be heard. Jesus offers forgiveness for the past, new life for the present and hope for the future. How will you do this amongst your friends? I’d love to hear from you.
The Half term holiday is fast approaching. Reflecting over the last few weeks, I am so grateful for our school and all that the teachers are doing. But like everyone else I’m exhausted at the prospect of another 5 weeks of lockdown life.
We always mark the end of term with a huge cake sale, kids come into school ladened with cakes that their parents have bought, made and decorated. On the last day at 3.30pm the school hall is full of sticky yumminess, we pay our pound, fill our bags and then go to the park and play. But this term there will be no cake sale, no crammed hall and no park.
So many parents and kids are struggling at the moment and so we decided we wanted to do something. We wanted to make the kids laugh, have some fun and show that together we’re getting through this.
Determined to mark the end of this half term and show that we’re stronger together we decided to run an online disco for our kids. Many friends around the UK have been in touch to ask how we’ve done it, so I thought I’d write it up. Please get in touch if you have questions.
1. Planning the party
Get other parents involved – firstly I formed a group of enthusiastic parents, one from each year group. We then met once a week to plan.
Decide what kind of party you’d like to host – we wanted to get buy in from as many as possible. So we asked parents to vote for what kind of party they’d like. We used an app called Sli.do and had 72 responses, 93% said they wanted a disco. So we knew we had guests and we knew we were planning the right thing.
Invite a DJ – we approached a local DJ to ask if he would DJ for us and he jumped at the chance, thanks DJ Andy.
Create publicity – we created a nice image using Canva.com (see above) and started to promote it widely on Facebook.
Collect details – we collected information from interested parents, you could do this by email or with a google form. As our school is large I made a simple sign up sheet using google forms. We asked for the name of parent, number of kids, name and year of the kids and email address.
Promote the disco safely – next we promoted the disco and the sign up sheet. We did this within the closed parent Facebook groups. This was to make sure that only our school parents signed up.
Make your Zoom call secure – we then set up a Zoom call with the correct security settings. For more info on making your call safe read below.
Communicate well with parents – once we collected all the details we emailed all the parents with all the information they needed.
2. Pre party hype
We wanted the kids to get excited before the party so we asked them to choose which songs should be on our playlist. We used Sli.do to get them to vote for their 3 favourite songs.
We decided that all great parties have a party bag. So we made up bags for each child including; glow stick glasses, sweets and tattoos. The bags were available to pick up two days before the party from two locations.
At the party bag pick up we created a photo booth and balloons for the kids to take photo’s of themselves. We wanted to communicate that this is no ordinary Zoom call, that despite this being online, this is actually a party!!
3. Running a disco on Zoom
You’ll need someone confident with Zoom to run this and some friends to be tech support, the key thing is to make sure you keep it secure.
Here are my top tips…
Don’t share the link on social media
Make sure you check that all the email addresses are parents from the school
Enable a waiting room
Disable the screen sharing, chat, renaming function
Make sure that guests can’t unmute themselves
If you don’t know how to do this, read this blog post here Zoom bombing protecting your event written by my friend Beth Butler. If you’re sharing music and videos for the first time then read this blog here.
Are you are getting bored of meeting online? Wondering how to inject new life into your gatherings? In my line of work I help students and staff across Europe communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. We often run online topical events gathering people from a diverse background. But is there any point in running events like this with so much Zoom fatigue and screen exhaustion? Can we create something online anywhere near as good as what we used to be? In person gatherings feel like they are a long way off and a distant happy memory of a life once lived. So what are we going to do in this inbetween time?
How we gather says something about the purpose of our gathering. But it also says something about the message we want to communicate. So the question I want to ask… “Is it possible to create online gatherings which communicate goodness, beauty and truth?”. Priya Parker a sociologist of professional gathering says “every event starts with the invite”.
As you plan an event, which of these triad do you spend most time preparing for? A helpful essay by Andrew Fellows reminds us that goodness, beauty and truth are realities that point to God. But are these all possible online? A friend Fearghal recently said this about inviting people to events. “Inviting people to online events is both easier and harder than inviting to in-person events. You can’t exactly arrange to walk with someone”. I think he’s right, with a click of button you can invite someone, but what do you do next?
Back to the invite as that is where the event starts. Priya says “bland gatherings cannot be saved by one-off interventions and tricks that are disconnected from the context of the gathering. A gathering’s blandness is a symptom of a disease. That the gathering makes no effort to do what the best gatherings do: transport us to a temporary alternative world.” But can we transport people to a temporary alternative world online? I’m sure if you’re like me its beauty that gets dropped in our events. Andrew Fellows says something here which reminds me of Priya’s words. “Through Beauty we are led to a joy which belongs to another world”. More than anything we need to hear how Jesus can do this. So how do we invite people in a way that communicates something of the heart of the event itself? How do we invite people in a way that communicates goodness, beauty and truth?
Each week in lockdown I’ve gathered parents from school together. Have a look at these two invites, what do they communicate to you about the event and which would you prefer to go to?
I’m sure the second is more appealing, but why? Well it communicates that friends are coming together, to relax, to chat and to have fun. And thats exactly what we do. Every week 4-8 of us meet and chat, for hours and hours on facebook rooms. We use facebook rooms from within our facebook group of 90 parents. We do this because it opens up a room in a community that already exists, this makes it really easy for anyone to join. We could send a zoom link, but we don’t, the time lag means conversation is more stilted and its one more step away from where our community exist.
Seven top tips on inviting a friend to an event and making them feel welcome throughout…
Invite enthusiastically – Create an invite that communicates how good the event will actually be, then send it personally, online or in the post with a message of why you want them to come.
Invite warmly – Send event snacks ahead of time, or order some ice cream to arrive by Uber Eats during the talk. Communicate with your generosity the heart of the message that is being talked about. We run a weekly film club for our kids, three families take part. Each week we take it in turns to drop off boxes full of treats; cakes, popcorn, movie glasses and anything fun that we can find. Consider if you were to run this event in person, what snacks would you provide that would add to the atmosphere and communicate something of the purpose of the event?
Here are some photos of snacks sent in the post to accompany events.
A 3 course meal sent in the post to accompany an event on “Where is God in a COVID world?”
Snacks – brain filled jellies, love hearts for friends joining me at the FEUER conference. This conference is meant to stretch your brains but also to give you a heart for others.
A friend was sent pastry and coffee mid event recently by Uber Eats!
4. Attend an event together – Check in with your friend before by text or phone. A friend recently went for her first COVID test. Knowing she was nervous I sent her some extra instructions, a photo of the signs, what happens on arrival, how it would make her feel. Maybe you need to think in the same way for your friend.
5. Check in with your friend during the event – I love making an event whatsapp. I usually set up a group specifically for the event, then we chat as we watch an event together. This makes it much more enjoyable and gives you chance to discuss what is being said.
6. Check in with your friend after the event – a quick phone call, a walk around the park or text message asking how they found it.
7. Love your friends for the long haul – the apostles in 1 Thessalonians say this so helpfully “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us”.
For most of us, we still have a few months ahead of us where we’ll be gathering online instead of in person, whether this is for a birthday celebration, a community group or regular chat with friends. I encourage you to give this a go and see the difference it makes.