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 BVC 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.
This Kingfisher wasn’t certain of the definition of ‘infographic’. That is until I met Joanna for the first time, on a chilly November morning when we met for our ‘paired’ socially distant swim during Lockdown #2 and we enquired about each other’s professions.
The story doesn’t start here though. As Joanna’s beautifully simple and informative creation shows, our story began on 18th May when Naomi Dawson presented a request on Facebook for someone to keep her company: “Anyone fancy a socially distanced morning river swim with me? I jumped in on my own this morning, although it was fun, I’d much prefer to do it with a friend. Any takers?” (18th May 2020). I was running down to Woodmill with my towel flying behind me as soon as I saw Nay’s post! So, to give accompanying detail to the graphic, we now have a Facebook Page as you can see!
Our WhatsApp chat has 25 members, we adhere to social distancing guidelines with the aid of a Doodle poll so that we can book our swims in pairs. Swimmers have been recruited through friends of friends and directly from the riverbank. We continue to be awed by sightings of the beautiful kingfishers. We see them flying up the river as if it is their runway and perched singularly or in a pair, quietly allowing us to float reverently passed. We have an official photographer, Claire Melville and Steve Clift also shares his amazing photographs with us. We have held two socially distanced events.
The Evening Bat Swim involved approx. 6 swimmers, 2 families, 1 friend and the amazing bat expert Lisa sharp. The land-lovers accompanied the swimmers downstream whilst we all learnt bat facts from Lisa.
The Festive Swim was a spectacle to be beheld (please look at the photos on the December post). An amazing procession of swimmers in fancy dress, a canoe decked out with Christmas decorations to transport those musicians brave enough to take to the water, the star of the show…. the inflatable pink flamingo and a joyful ensemble on the riverbank consisting of the remainder of the musicians together with family and friends. All of this completed twice on the same afternoon to accommodate the COVID-19 rule of exercising in a group of 6.
As a group, we are all firmly agreed on the amazing benefits that regular outdoor swimming in our beautiful River Itchen has afforded us. Joanna has recorded the recruitment process and the initial friendship groups superbly. The reality is, we have all established warm friendships within the group and to quote one of our amazing NHS workers: “Can’t wait for the day that we can all jump in together and then have a massive picnic!”
2020 has been a hard year, but I believe there is hope and no better time to discover that then now. Together with friends, I’m creating a map of #christmas2020 activity trails across the UK. This article explains a little bit about why this matters.
“If there was ever a year that needed Christmas, this is it“. Boden
This recent Boden advert says exactly what many of us are feeling and have been experiencing, this is the year of all years that we really need Christmas and yet Christmas has been cancelled.
For some, Christmas started really early. There have been numerous reports of decorations and lights going up even as early as March, like Tanner Huber’s garden below. Hashtags like #christmaslights and #lockdownlightup have been trending, throughout the pandemic.
For those who didn’t turn on their lights during lockdown, you can’t have missed what’s happening at the moment. Last Sunday my social media feed was full of tree’s, decorations and Christmas cheer. But Its not just me saying this. Christmas tree growers have reported that wholesale business is already 24% higher this year. It seems to me that Christmas is trending. But what can Christmas really offer us this year?
For Christmas 2020 all the usual parties, secret santa’s and grottos have long gone and the hopes of a family Christmas is seemingly impossible. Yet we’re still decorating, still switching on lights and still buying. In ancient times, people decorated their homes with evergreen branches. During the dark days of winter, they brightened their homes to remind them that life would return in the springtime. Christmas for many is a time of comfort, bright lights and good times. But could it offer even more?
Well Boden is saying that we really need Christmas and I couldn’t agree more. However much I love the Boden advert, the only way I will get the Christmas they’re offering is to spend lots of money. Sadly, I simply can’t afford the Christmas they’re offering. It looks beautiful but its completely exclusive. Even if I could buy their clothes, where am I going to wear them anyway this year? Could it be that the Christmas we all really need is completely different to one we’ve experienced before?
Maybe the answer is to be found in the recent Tesco advert? The well known rhetoric of Santa has been srcapped this year. Normally Santa only gives gifts to those who have been good, however Tesco in the light of the pandemic have scrapped the naughty list. Tesco has started the #nonaughtylist, finally everyone can get presents! At first glance this sounds great. But could there be something even better than this? You see denying the presence of naughtiness doesn’t remove it from our lives. It only takes five minutes in our household to realise that Tesco’s ethos just doesn’t reflect the reality of my life. Could there be another message still where gifts are given freely rather than earnt or deserved?
You see, I need a story a message, that is not only good, beautiful and true, but one that works in reality. One that brings light into my darkness and one that isn’t dependant on me.
I love this bit in the Lion the witch and the wardrobe stories. The presence of Father Christmas, shows the weakening power of the white witch.
“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr. Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” And then they were all at the top and did see. It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness... “I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.” Narnia
Imagine a Christmas a bit like this story. Imagine a Christmas that could bring light into our darkness and spring into our winter.
Imagine a Christmas that could bring light into our darkness, spring into our winter.
This is the story of the nativity. For centuries and centuries a prophecy was told about a child with great destiny, a child who would become King. A child that was given as a gift to bring light and hope into the world.
If ever there was a year that needed Christmas, this is it. Communities across the UK are running nativity trails and Windows of Hope. Why not take this time to pause, slow down and see the story afresh. What kind of child could bring spring out of our winter and light into our darkness?
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
2020 has been a hard year, but I believe there is hope and no better time to discover that then now. I’m creating a map of #christmas2020 activity trails across the UK. Please get in touch if you’d like the link to add your trail.
For local friends in Southampton, here is a map of Christmas activities across Southampton.
If you don’t have a trail in your community why not join in with this Christmas bake along with Faith in Kids and Great British Bake Off Martha Collinson
Passion for Evangelism is a network of female evangelists who would like to grow in communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. PfE was set up by Nay Dawson in partnership with IFES Europe. Our first conference was held April 5-7th 2019, read more here. The purpose of this network is to pray for and encourage each other in engaging, creative, public evangelism. We want to stretch our hearts and minds, grow in our ability to communicate the gospel and see others come to know Jesus. Read more about encouraging female evangelists here.
Its safe to say things look different now to what they did last January. Its nearly been a year since life as we knew it completely changed and for many of us we are feeling weary and fed up with the way things are.
The aim of this event is to encourage and inspire us to find some energy for evangelism in lockdown.
It will be hosted by Kate and Dave, two tired and unimaginative evangelists, just like us. And they will be joined by a panel who will be sharing ideas of what they have been doing to tell others about Jesus at this time.
To sign up get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
2. PfE blog
Follow our new evangelistic blog – Stories of Hope. It features current, evangelistic articles written by women from the network. These articles would be great to share with friends on social media.
3. PfE Training and mentoring
We are running an five week mentoring scheme called The Greenhouse starting March 1st. This term we’re focussing on creating short evangelistic videos. Get in touch if you’d like to take part in the next Greenhouse (email@example.com).
“There is a real need for female evangelists in this country. There are always opportunities in which women could speak. Training opportunities for women are rare which is why events like this are GOLD” PFE Guest
“The New Testament clearly shows that women were significant in the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church in the 1st century. I’m therefore really encouraged to see how Passion for Evangelism is equipping women for the work of gospel proclamation in the 21st century. This is a strategic initiative that I warmly commend”. Michael Ots, University Evangelist
The New Testament clearly shows that women were significant in the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church in the 1st century. Michael Ots
“There is a tremendous need for the gospel to be publicly proclaimed on campus – not just conversationally and in small groups, but also in the public square. I am thrilled to commend the Passion for Evangelism initiative which will help women cut their teeth in this important ministry and help give them the confidence they need to share the gospel boldly and winsomely.” Peter Dray, UCCF Head of Creative Evangelism
“Passion for Evangelism is a really timely and strategic project which prepares women to publicly engage curious (and sceptical) audiences with the message of Jesus, both on campus and beyond. It’s led by top-notch practitioners and is a huge resource for the church, enabling emerging communicators to develop their gifts. I recommend it wholeheartedly!” Luke Cawley, Director of Chrysolis, and author of ‘Campus Lights: Students Living and Speaking for Jesus Around the World’.
“Today’s women are represented in all areas of public and professional life. There are many role models of articulate, passionate secular women, but many Christian women are not confident to proclaim the gospel to them. Women have more significant opportunities and independence in the twenty-first century than ever before in history, but their need to be restored to a relationship with their Creator remains as urgent as ever. We need to equip a generation of gospel centred women to reach those who know nothing of their need or of the true freedom found in Christ alone. Passion for Evangelism is a much needed new initiative to equip women to proclaim the gospel and encourage them to boldly take the good news of Jesus to a world that despite appearances of progress is in desperate need of salvation.” Karen Soole, Women’s worker at Trinity Church Lancaster
“Today’s universities are like ancient Mars Hill in Athens- a meeting place of a smorgasbord of ideas.. In this situation there is a need for Christian men and women to both boldly and clearly communicate the Gospel in public as well as demonstrating the superiority of the Biblical worldview over other world views. The Passion for evangelism training programme exists especially to encourage and equip women to engage in this great enterprise.” Lindsay Brown
‘Passion for Evangelism is the most strategic investment of female evangelists in the UK. It equips and encourages women from a variety of backgrounds to communicate the love of God to a thirsty society in need of the gospel of Christ. Passion for Evangelism is a network of women passionate about Jesus. Your investment in this project supports the public proclamation of the gospel. It’s a no-brainer!’ Kristi Mair
A couple of weeks ago I spoke at an event hosted by Passion for Evangelism. For various reasons the actual event was private, but myself and Karen Soole, who spoke, have written up our talks in case you’re interested. Karen’s can be found here. Mine is below – it’s not a short read, but I hope you find it helpful.
(CW: abuse, rape, domestic violence)
Appalled but not surprised
In March 2018, American Pastor, John Piper responded to a question about the relationship between egalitarianism and #MeToo (and particularly a series of sexual-assault allegations against various high profile men). This quote formed part of his answer:
I believe fifty years of [egalitarian culture] is one of the seeds bearing very bad fruit, including all those sexual abuses you talked about in your question. There are others seeds in our culture, but this is one of the seeds.
Piper, along with many other people, was trying to explain the (seemingly) sudden rise in cases of rape, abuse and assault, and yet despite how it might appear, sexual abuse is not a new issue. It isn’t actually on the rise. It’s not a consequence of the sexual revolution or a liberal society or a post-Christian culture – it’s a consequence of the fall, and has been around for about as long.
The Old Testament reminds us that we shouldn’t be surprised by sexual abuse and violence. It features both laws against it, and stories recounting it. A typical reaction that I have experienced when talking to some people about the topic of MeToo is surprise and incredulity. Not disbelief necessarily, but just total and utter horror, about the extent of the problem. And yet the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. And Christians more than anyone really: because our understanding of the world points out to us how utterly sinful we are.
Judges 19 provides a brutal example of the really awful things that humans do to one another.
In the story we meet an unnamed Levite, and his unnamed concubine. As they’re travelling through Israel they find themselves in a city where some of the local man attempt to gang-rape the Levite. He ends up handing over the concubine to the mob, who rape and abuse her throughout the night, before dumping her on the doorstep and leaving her to die. His response is to dismember her body into twelve pieces and send those pieces across Israel so that everyone will know what has happened.. And the chapter ends with this statement:
“And all who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”
The book of Judges paints a picture of a society where God’s people are living without reference to him and his law. In it we see increasing levels of corruption and violence, culminating in this story of the gang-rape and murder of an unnamed woman. It’s an appalling story, but it’s not a surprising one in that context. And the same holds true today.
The Christian story makes most sense of why it is that we long for things like justice. It gives us reasons for looking at the stories shared in the MeToo movement and being outraged and appalled and grief-stricken and all those other emotions that we feel in response. But it also makes sense of why those stories happen. Because we are sinful people living in a world of sinful people and our rejection of God and his design causes us to do terrible, terrible things.
We’re liable to do terrible things with our shame
Victim/survivors of sexual abuse and violence have often been significantly formed by their experiences, and the challenge of speaking about what they have lived through is often exacerbated by feelings of shame.
We can often think of guilt and shame as the same thing, but they’re not. Guilt is about our behaviour, shame is about our person. Whilst we might feel guilty because of something we did, we often feel ashamed about who we are. Guilt says ‘I did this bad thing’, shame says ‘I am bad’. And significantly the two aren’t always tied together. I might feel shame because of guilt, but I can also feel shame because of someone else’s guilt. That is particularly the case in issues of sexual abuse.
There are all sorts of reasons for that, but I’d like to consider one in particular, specifically our culture’s view of sex:
Theologically, sex is significant, and Christians have good reasons to have such high ideals for it. However, some of the language that we use about sex, and in particular, that we use to describe female virginity has had some really negative consequences. Sadly that’s particularly true in Christian culture.
The idea of being damaged goods. Language about having virginity taken away, or being something that we have ‘lost’. All of this has a really problematic impact on people who have been sexually abused or assaulted.
For many victim/survivors, this cultural perspective warps and distorts their experiences and causes them to believe terrible things about themselves:
‘I’m already ruined. I’m damaged goods, and so I don’t deserve good things. I’m damaged goods and so no-one will want me. I’m damaged goods and so people should be able to treat me however they want.’
And this can lead victim/survivors to respond in a variety of damaging ways.
Sometimes they may bury it deep, not talk about it, not acknowledge it and instead to dissociate from it. As if the whole thing has happened to someone else, a different, unconnected them.
Sometimes it might manifest in self-harming behaviour. Partly wanting their physical body to bear some of the scars that their heart and mind are already experiencing. Partly wanting to have a measure of control over the pain that they’re already feeling.
Sometimes it leads them to engage in ‘risky behaviour’, not caring what happens to them because ‘the damage has already been done’.
Sometimes it leads them to put up with violence and abuse at the hands of other men because they don’t feel that they deserve anything better.
These, and many other, sorts of responses to sexual assault are not uncommon and we see a few examples displayed in scripture as well:
In 2 Samuel 13 we meet Tamar – a daughter of King David, who is raped by her half-brother, Amnon. Of all of the stories in scripture that feature rape and sexual assault, this is the only one where we hear the victim speak, and what she says is devastating. As she tries to stop Amnon from raping her she pleads with him and asks – ‘Where could I get rid of my disgrace?’ Or in the words of the ESV – ‘Where could I carry my shame?’
Tamar knows enough about her society to know that if Amnon rapes her then she will be put to shame. The perceptions of those around them, and her own understanding as a product of that society, is that when Amnon rapes her, she will bear shame and disgrace because of it. He does rape her, and then immediately has her thrown out on the streets. Perhaps she might have done what many women do: bury it down deep, creep home, wash him off her and try and pretend that it hasn’t happened. But for whatever reason Tamar doesn’t do that.
Instead she goes public – the 10th Century BC equivalent of saying ‘Me Too’. She tears her clothes – clothes that signified her status as a virgin daughter of the king. She puts ashes on her head – an act of mourning, grief over the death of her future hopes and life. And then she takes shelter in the household of another brother, Absalom, where she lives as ‘a desolate woman’.
Tamar, and the society around her, held on to this picture of shame at what had been done to her. The action of Amnon brought shame on Tamar, like a weight around her neck that she would be forced to wear for the rest of her life.
In John 4 we meet a different woman, one without a name, who’s known to us as ‘the Samaritan woman’.
This woman is almost the epitome of the term ‘damaged goods’.
Maybe you’ve never thought of her as being a victim of abuse, but it’s almost certain that she was. What we learn about her from these verses in John isn’t a lot, but we do know that she has been married five times and is now living with a sixth man who isn’t her husband.
We tend to throw our own culture and experience on this story and see her as a woman who is permanently dissatisfied. Moving from man and to man looking for ‘the one’, being disappointed, dumping him and moving on to the next. And yet, in the culture that this encounter occurred, that is not a reasonable reading of the situation at all.
Women in this culture did not have that sort of freedom or agency in marriage. She hadn’t dumped five men. Much more likely she had been dumped, and probably treated pretty terribly, and perhaps violently along the way.
I’m not saying that she was an innocent victim. She is a sinner (like all of us). But at least in part we need to recognise that her shame about what happened to her causes her to continue in that way of living. She moves in with a man who is not her husband, out of a probable belief of both herself, and the society around her, that she deserves nothing better.
The very wonderful and beautiful news of the gospel is that this doesn’t need to be the end of the story for her, or for Tamar, or any other woman or man who can say ‘Me too’.
Tamar’s question to Amnon was – where will I go to be rid of my disgrace?
It was a rhetorical question, because for her there was no answer. There was nowhere for her to go. The disgrace and shame stayed with her for the rest of her life.
For us there’s a different answer to the question. And that answer is Jesus.
Jesus is one who understands what it is to be disgraced and shamed by something that was not his fault. He also knows firsthand what it is to be sexually assaulted. He was humiliated and beaten, stripped naked and held up to public shame. He took all guilt and shame on his shoulders: the guilt and shame that we deserve, and the guilt and shame that we don’t deserve. He took it on his shoulders, carried it to the cross, and it died with him. And while he rose from the dead, the guilt and shame stayed there.
We are liable to do terrible things with our shame, but thankfully we have a Saviour who is able to take that shame from us, and offer us real hope, justice, comfort and healing.
If you’d like to read more about the theme of Worth. Then have a listen to this event run by Passion for Evangelism.
We’ll be discussing the issues of how woman can find value and space in the church when their gender means there are aspects of the church service which they are not involved in. This may lead to natural feelings of frustration – so how does the woman cope with this? How can she not be frustrated, and how can she find her place within the church and experience the church as a place where she is known and valued?
A couple of weeks ago I spoke at an event hosted by Passion for Evangelism. For various reasons the actual event was private, but myself and Ellidh Cook, who spoke, have written up our talks in case you’re interested. Ellidh’s can be foundhere.
‘The darkness is there and we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light.’
I first heard Rachael’s voice when she spoke at the trial of Larry Nasser. Her voice cut through the courtroom. Her sense of justice, her clarity and strength penetrated the hardest of media hearts. She called for justice but not vengeance. There was no bitterness; instead, she displayed compassion and grace. She pointed to the light and sweetness of the gospel without compromising the need for Larry Nasser to acknowledge his evil acts and for society to punish them. It was an astonishing display. When I heard she was writing a book, I anticipated it eagerly. It does not disappoint.
A voice to the voiceless.
Rachael writes as an abuse survivor (the term she prefers). In the play of the History Boys, Hector describes the joy of reading like this:
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things that you’d thought special. particular to you. And here it is , set down by someone else – as if a hand has come down and taken yours.’
As Rachael speaks of the painful aftermath of abuse, her hand reaches out to others who also walk that lonely path. The doubts of the survivor: this can’t be happening, this can’t be true, is this ok? The ugly deceit of grooming: everyone speaks so highly of him, it’s a privilege to see him, he seems so kind, her Mum was there! The paralysis of speaking out: am I overdramatic? If I say anything, it will cost me everything; retelling is reliving it. The destruction of relationships: feeling unsafe everywhere, who can I trust? The guilt: when should I have stopped trusting him? I should have stopped it.
Cutting through all of this, Rachael battled with the most critical question of all: does God care?
Lessons for the church.
Rachael’s book is timely. She faced abuse both within and outside of the church. She came up against institutional denials. People she thought she could trust who were well-intentioned but very wrong. We need to take heed. Organisations such as thirtyoneeight.org are leading the way, but sadly many of us have failed or been failed in our churches. Rachael’s story highlights three essential things:
Listen: do not minimise experiences of hurt, harm or abuse. So many heartbreaking situations have been worsened by the failure to listen and treat the initial complaint seriously. Just imagine the number of girls who would have been spared from Larry Nasser if the original allegation had been investigated rigorously. Churches are tempted to try and deal with things internally; they struggle to believe accusations, deny the evil with platitudes because they fear damage to the gospel. Yet the cover-up destroys lives and perpetuates abuse. We must act, however, daunting it feels to do so. Malcolm Gladwell in Talking to Strangers refers to Nasser’s abuse. He explains how hard it is for us to believe the worse in people, that our default position is ‘default to truth’ that is ‘I believe in you always until I can’t anymore’. We need to understand this instinct. We will need to overcome it. We must report.
Justice matters. Forgiveness is not about covering things up and forgetting. Forgiveness is a process. No one should be pressurised into letting off those who have wittingly or unwittingly coerced and controlled them. In our desire for unity and grace, we must remember that actions have consequences and punishment matters. Damage is done, and full reconciliation may never be possible or wise. A perpetrator of child sex abuse can be brought in the church family by the grace of God but can never be allowed to have responsibility for children. A pastor who has abused his congregation can be restored to a church family but has forfeited his leadership. We must not be naive.
Brokenness is not sin. We have a Good Shepherd who binds up the injured. He understands our frailty and weaknesses. He knows the damage we carry. We must not rip off those bandages and expose raw wounds demanding instantaneous healing. We can help bandage those who are bleeding. Rachael journeys through this process. Intellectually she held on to Gods goodness and justice but knew she was not better yet. It was slow and imperceptible, it took years, but finally, she arrived at a place where she felt her fear and guilt had been removed. We must be as patient with others as our Good Shepherd is with us.
Lessons for our evangelism.
Rachael’s story is the book of Romans in action. We can use it to point to the light, to show others that God’s business is about justice. As one of her friends said: “Justice is God’s work, Rachael. And I am going pray with you that you see it- as completely as we can reach it here on earth.” We have such good news to share with people. The gospel does not deny the reality of evil (Romans 1:28-32, 3:9-20). The gospel understands that authorities need to punish the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4). God knows evil cannot simply be erased (Romans 2:5-16). God has provided a way to both punish sin and rescue those who are God’s enemies (Romans 3:21-26, 5:6-8).
Justice is Gods work. We can declare this with confidence. God hates evil. He will punish it. If the authorities fail to bring justice in this life, there will be a day when everyone will be brought before the throne of Jesus. If we have to live with injustice now, we can know evil will be dealt with one day (Romans 12:19). As Rachael said in a public courtroom to Larry Nasser:
‘The bible you carry speaks of a final judgement where all of God’s wrath , inits eternal terror, is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing’.
Justice does not cancel love. This justice is not about us unleashing all of our furious uncontrolled anger. God’s justice is good, and without favouritism (Romans 2:5-16). God leaves opportunity for rescue now (Romans 2:3-4,). Repentance is possible. God poured out his wrath on Christ so that we can be saved (Romans 3:25). The most abhorrent acts were punished as Christ became sin for us. The horror of what Jesus experienced on the cross cannot be imagined. His justice and love meet in a staggering act of grace. It was the power of this truth that enabled Rachael to say:
“Larry if you have read the bible you carry, you know that the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God Himself loving so sacrificially that He gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin He did not commit. By His grace, I, too, choose to love this way.”
She was able to pray that Larry would:
“experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so that someday you may experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me, though I extend that to you as well”.
Justice is a gift. Rachael spent years living with the knowledge that her account of abuse had not been taken seriously. That is hard to bear. She carried her pain silently until one day she saw the opportunity – ‘This is it. Now. This is it’. Her fight for justice began again when she read that newspaper article. It was a tough fight. Then one day in court she heard Larry admit that he did act against medical protocol. Her response surprised her:
‘I was not prepared for the flood of relief that washed over me in that moment. I remembered every night I had pounded my pillow wanting nothing more than answers. I remembered when I realised my healing couldn’t be dependent on courtroom justice or an admission from Larry. You will never get that, I thought. And for sixteen years, Had believed that. I hadn’t even hoped for it. Now I had received what I never thought I would. I was overwhelmed with the gift that it really was- a gift few survivors ever receive.’
We often find talking about judgement difficult. The doctrine of hell is set against that of Gods love, but one day we too will understand that it is a good gift. One day we will see Jesus expose evil and deal with it. That day will bring relief to millions. It is the promise of the gospel. It is good news. We can boldly declare this – God will judge the world. We can rejoice that in Gods grace and mercy, because of the cross, it is a day we need not fear. So let us like Paul proclaim:
‘ I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.’ Romans 1:16
This event was part of a series of events on the theme of Worth. If you’d like to listen to our latest events, watch here…
There are so many limitations at the moment, Christmas markets, Ice rinks and Santa Grottos are nowhere to be seen. The typical family Christmas dinner and carol services just won’t be happening. Its possible that you may not even get to see your family for the Christmas break. Right now Christmas cheer feels a bit pointless and for so many it seems like Christmas has been cancelled. However the heart of the Christian message is that into our darkness a great light shines…
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2
More than ever we’re called as Christians to be a light to our communities, a porch light to our streets and houses of light to our friends. Even in lockdown we can still exercise, we can still decorate our houses. We can still bring teams of people together to work on a project and create a sense of community even in self-isolation.
I’m not a children’s worker, I’m just a mum that loves her kids and their friends. The context for this blog and idea started a month ago. I’ve never celebrated Halloween but this year I ended up running a Halloween trail and Pumpkin carving competition. Read more of the story here. To promote the trail and Pumpkin carving competition we set up a simple Facebook page called Bitterne Park Family fun. Over half term the page had a reach of 9000 people and the competition had over 200 entries (each person submitted a photo onto our page). We wanted to give back to the community so we promoted local businesses as they generously donated prizes for the competition. We had such good feedback that we’ve decided to do something similar for Christmas. Many friends are running trails across the UK, have a look here to find one near you.
So here are our plans…
Nativity trail reveal
We’re planning a 24 day Nativity trail reveal in December. 24 houses telling a part of the Christmas story, 24 hidden letters to find and spell a sentence. Each house has been given a part of the nativity story and asked to creatively decorate their front garden or windows, telling the story through their decorations. We have a handout and map that we’ll give out to each child for them to write down the hidden letters that they find. Every day in December one house will reveal its decorations. At the last house we’ll be giving out little bags with Christmas Chocolate, a Christmas Tattoo and a little invitation story to find out more.
How to run a trail (all links below)
Get people involved set up a google form to collect details and create a flyer inviting friends to get involved or write a letter to invite your neighbours
Create a trail route we’re imagining families might do the trail every few days through December rather than in one go. Once you know how many people want to be involved create a trail route. The trail could also be adapted to 12 houses or one house. Or it could be that you prefer to create a Window of Hope. I’d love to encourage you to put a table or box on your drive and give away gift bags.
Assign houses give each house a day and a bit of the nativity, encourage them to decorate their house or window in a way that tells the story.
Create a trail map see the one below from Halloween (Christmas one is on its way!), or write a simple list of houses or create your own Google map
Create a trail handout you can print these out or share the PDF (designed by Phil Webb)
Promote your trail through social media
Create gift bags to be given out
Invitational Flyers put a flyer in each bag. I’ve written a story called Lucy and the bird. This is very simple with the aim of raising curiosity, you can add a link to your church social media for more information
Example house for day 12 and 24
Nativity trails can be done in any community or across a city. It could be that a church gets behind this and within the church Christians from different communities run it. Or it could be a group of friends decide to run it. So for example in our city, there will be a trail in Bitterne park, Shirley and the Flowers estate. The trail could also be adapted to have just 12 houses see here or one house, or possibly even a window of Hope instead (see below). I’d love to encourage you to put out a table and give out beautiful gift bags or make up ten and give them out to friends. You can buy Lucy and the Bird flyers and the Handout here.
Getting others involved
3. Here is how we’ve allocated each house to a day and a part of the nativity story
8. Invitational flyer – I’ve been writing short stories that raise curiosity about the person of Jesus Christ. This is the front, if you’d like to see how the story ends or buy some of these get in touch or look here), we also have the Alfie story that could be used for Christmas
9.Example House day 12
8. Example window day 24
I’ve written these stories to raise curiosity about the person of Jesus, read the second half of the story here. If you’d like to buy some to give out, please get in touch.
When I heard the news about the rule of six, my heart sank. I work with a large Christian Union (OICCU) and so almost all our normal activities were ruled out.
As I started to think through what ministry would look like for me, I wondered how I could make the most of meeting students in small groups. Before this term I rarely had students round for dinner; I live a twenty-minute cycle out of Oxford and students can barely be convinced to walk five minutes to an event, let alone leave the city centre!
As I started to think through what ministry would look like for me, I wondered how I could make the most of meeting students in small groups.
But with the limited chance for physical gatherings this year, I decided to buy a fire pit and see if I could convince students to come over for dinner and a book discussion around a fire. To my surprise, enough signed up that I was able to organise three groups to come and discuss Becky Pippert’s excellent new book, Stay Salt. They were a wonderfully diverse group of students: fourth years and freshers, mature Christians and new Christians, some of whom had never met each other before.
It was wonderful to be able to create a space that was warm, fun and hospitable when those things have been so lacking in universities. Becky’s book has been an excellent resource to use as a springboard to talk about evangelism. She helpfully addresses barriers to evangelism to which all of us could relate: our weakness, our finitude and our fear of rejection. The vulnerable, honest tone of the book helped us to share openly about what we find hard when we share Jesus with our friends.
As we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores, we chatted about how Jesus shared the gospel with people — how He didn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach but connected with the person in front of Him. And as students shared story after story about conversations they’d had so far that term, it was obvious that this is just as true and needed in our evangelism today. Some friends had fierce intellectual questions about Christianity, but many more seem to just not like Christianity. It’s wonderful to know that the gospel we share is good and true, and I loved hearing students discuss how they have tackled hard questions and tried to demonstrate both of those things in their evangelism.
We shared names of friends we would like to pray for as the fire died down and spent time lifting them up to our Father, knowing that He knows them already, loves them and longs for them to come to know Him far more than we do. And we prayed for courage to speak, confidence in the truth and beauty of the gospel, and trust that God uses weak people to show His power.
I’m looking forward to getting my fire pit out again once lockdown is over, but also beyond these Covid times that we’re living in. Although big events are important to bring large CUs together, there is something special about six people sitting around a fire, eating veggie chilli and sharing stories about the joys and struggles of evangelism, and I’m looking forward to incorporating more fire pit discussions into my CU ministry.
Although big events are important, there is something special about six people sitting around a fire, eating veggie chilli and sharing stories about the joys and struggles of evangelism. I’m looking forward to incorporating more fire pit discussions into my ministry.
“It was such an encouragement to know that other people also struggle with evangelism and to share ideas on how to become more effective witnesses. This term I plan to make prayer an essential part of my evangelism, asking God for more opportunities to talk about Him and to reveal to me the people He is seeking. I will make sure to ask more questions in my conversations with people so that I can better understand where they are coming from and make my evangelism more personal to them.” – Clara
“I felt really spurred on in my personal evangelism after reading ’Stay Salt’, being reminded that I’m not trying to impress my friends with my words but just share Jesus with them in any way that I can. I also really love Becky’s encouragement for when conversations don’t seem to go so well, that I can pray for people to be more open with the next Christian they talk to! There can and will be so much fruit from random chats that we never get to see this side of glory, and that’s not just fine but actually really exciting”. – Elsa
We live in an area that loves Halloween. Each year hundreds of kids get dressed up and walk around the street trick or treating. Families decorate their gardens and really embrace this event. Until this year we’ve done the complete opposite. We’ve closed our curtains, told our girls we don’t get involved and had an early night.
We live in an area that loves Halloween. Until this year we’ve done the complete opposite. We’ve closed our curtains, told our girls we don’t get involved and had an early night.
A couple of things have changed my mind, firstly my kids are getting older and asking more questions about why we don’t get involved. Secondly I’ve realised afresh that there is no need to be afraid, there is still light and hope. I am trying to, in the words of Charlie Mackesey “imagine how we’d be if we weren’t afraid”.
“imagine how we’d be if we weren’t afraid” Charlie Mackesey
I’d been reading an excellent book earlier in the summer by Rachel Denhollander who comments on the theme of light and darkness. Rachel says “the darkness is there, and we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light.” COVID19 has brought up more of humanity’s darkness and put it at the forefront of our every day lives. This, of all times, is a time to be like porch lights in our communities, offering welcome, hospitality, light and hope. We can do this because we know there is someone who can make our dark world light and a little less scary.
This, of all times, is a time of be like porch lights in our communities and offer hospitality, light and hope.
I’m a mum of two young kids, we love our school, our friends and our community. I invited all the year 1 parents to help me set up activities for our kids at this time, two responded, so we met for coffee and started planning. One of them said to me, Nay we need strong community leadership at this time, you need to take a lead. So together we set up the Bitterne Park Community facebook page. Fully aware that there is little for families, we decided to run COVID safe trails and activities. I was secretly hoping they would run the Halloween trail, but in the end it came back to me!
Going from never having celebrated Halloween to fully organising a trail has been quite a surprise. We’ve now got a team of 17 parents from the school and together we’ve planned and created the trail. My friend Rachael designed the map and we’ve all decorated our gardens. Each garden has a hidden clue that spells out a secret phrase.
For those that can’t get out we’re running a pumpkin carving and colouring competition with prizes from local businesses. Each person uploads a photo of their artwork and then judging will happen on Sunday by two local artists. Our page so far has 200 people following and a reach of 8000, we’re really excited to see who will submit photos and take part.
So what did we decide to do as a family? Well, inspired by Glen Scriveners excellent video Halloween Trick or Treat? We’ve gone for a house of light and a house of humour. Glen says “While Halloween can often be a time associated with ghosts, devils and darkness, this is a time to share the good news that Jesus is the light of the world!” In the video he continues to say…
“The future is futile for forces of evil, the bible begins with this fore resolved fight, a moment of darkness then let there be light, first grief in the gloom, then joy from the east, first valley of shadow, then mountain top feast, first wait for Messiah, then long promised dawn, first desolate Friday and then Easter morn, the armies of darkness whilst doing their worst can never extinguish this dazzling sun burst. So ridicule rogues if you must play a role, the triumph is not with the forces of night, it dawned with the ones that said I am the Light”
So we’re going for humour because we know the one who beat death, evil and suffering and light because we know the one who says ” I am the Light”. Each day this week we’re creating #funnypumpkins. We managed to find some whopper pumpkins, our first theme is swimming pumpkins. We’ve also covered the front of our house in fairy lights. To go alongside this we wanted to clearly communicate why we were the House of Light on the trail. So I’ve written a very simple, invitational flyer with a story of Alfie the little boy who was scared of everything (see below). We’re giving out bags with a sweet, sticker and light stick and then a link to this page House of Light, on the page families can find out more.
If you read this in time and haven’t already made plans, would you like to join me? You don’t need to run a trail, you could simply cover your house in fairy lights, or give out little bags with this flyer in. If you’d like any of the Alfie flyers or stickers, then please get in touch and I can send you some in the post or email you the pdf.
“37% of teachers spot signs of malnourishment when children return home from the school holidays” National Union of Teachers Survey on Holiday Hunger (2017)
“1 in 3 children from low income families have skipped a meal so that their children can eat during the school holidays” – Kellogs, Isolation and Hunger: The reality of the school holidays for struggling families (2015)
“1 in 5 children in the UK face food insecurity, one of the highest rates in Europe” – Unicef, Building the future – Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich countries (2017)
“3 million children are at risk of hunger in the school holidays” – Feeding Britain, “Ending hunger in the school holidays”
Marcus Rashford the England and Manchester United striker has been campaigning to end child food poverty. On Wednesday night he “vented his “despair” as Labour’s plea for free school meals to be extended over the holidays to stop children going hungry fell on deaf ears in government. The Guardian
I think what Marcus Rashford is doing is absolutely amazing. I grew up in a single parent family in a time when there was much less financial support from the government, we had very little money and received free school meals. So we sat down as a family and decided we wanted to do something. We’re going to raise money during Half Term by making candy floss spider webs and putting all the proceeds to charity. Picture below…
We started looking for a charity to donate the money to, so I put a simple post on facebook this morning. I was completely overwhelmed with the response. Along with my good friend Katy Kennedy we have discovered that there are so many charities, churches, restaurants and individuals in our city that are giving out free school meals this half term. So I wanted to try and bring them all together in one post. Before you read the list below.
Would you consider raising money over half term to donate money to charities that are helping child food poverty long term?
Would you choose one of these restaurants to have your next takeaway?
Would you consider raising money over half term and donate money to charities that are helping child food poverty long term? Would you choose one of these restaurants to have your next takeaway?
Norwegians have a word, “koselig”, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets. Norwegians embrace long dark winters as something to celebrate. They see it as a season not just to endure but a season to enjoy.
As Europe faces a second wave many of us face a long, dark, winter ahead, full of uncertainty and many changes. The New York Times recently published an article “What Scandinavians Can Teach Us About Embracing Winter. Having read this and having a boss from Norway I decided that this, of all years, was the year to take some tips from his culture.
For us, this long, dark winter came sooner than expected. Last week Track and Trace got in touch, I’d been close to a friend that had tested positive. I was at high risk of having the virus and spreading it, so we were asked to isolate immediately. We’ve been home now for 9 days, there have been many lows as we’ve struggled without routine or friends around us. But in the midst of this time, we’ve been so grateful to the love poured out to us. On Sunday afternoon Katherine came round with flowers, chocolates and an important message. She wanted us to know this… “The Dawson’s are not an island, you never were and never will be. You belong to us and we belong to you, we’re a community”.
“You are not an island you never were and never will be. You belong to us and belong to you, we’re a community”.
In self isolation, we’ve realised afresh, that we need people. We’ve realised that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. We’re part of a community, of friendships built on love, serving others and generosity. And yet due to all the restrictions friendships and socialising is just so complicated. Despite the effort of friendship in these times of restriction, despite the ever changing rules. We want to pursue friendships and meeting people this winter.
We want to see this as a season not just to endure but a season to enjoy. So we as a family have created a series of recipe cards called “Garden gatherings”. These recipes have been trialled, tested and devoured by my lovely family. Each night in lockdown we’ve had a fire pit accompanied by Enid Blyton’s The Sea of Adventure. Reading stories of quarantined children and their travels to mysterious Isles has brought both a sense of perspective and hope. It’s been a tonic to our souls. We’ve loved eating, laughing by candle light and listening to stories. But we’re excited that soon… hopefully… once we’re out of lockdown, that we’ll be able to invite others to join us too.
We’re hoping that these will inspire you to do the same. To open your garden or meet in a park and gather together this winter. These could be great for half term, meeting up with friends or gathering a community group. So join us this winter, you’re not an island. Get on your woolly coats and hats, live like a Norwegian and pursue friendship, even in the cold!