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Reform Magazine | June 1, 2020

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Church in a time of crisis

Church in a time of crisis

How have churches been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how are they responding to these difficult times? We hear from four ministers

Jenny Mills

My pulpit on a Sunday morning has become the local town, as I walk around to deliver service orders to those who are unable to access our service online. As I go, I greet church folk in their houses with a wave through the window, a two-metre hello after posting the material and ringing the bell, or a chat through an upstairs open window. There is an overwhelming desire for connection and great delight at even just the smallest interaction.

After I have delivered the orders, I wander back home along the river through the park. It is a weird, unsettling time and yet, already, on these Sundays I feel so closely connected to God and to the worshipping community of the Church. I have begun filming myself leading worship (one take, no editing). I send out the YouTube link and transcript, along with Roots material for all ages, the United Reformed Church worship links and anything else (including photos of people’s weeks) on Saturday evening and post the service on Facebook. When people wake up on Sunday, it is there. I was anxious when I began, afraid that it wasn’t good enough (who’s judging besides me?) and yet people have told me that they appreciate the familiarity, the way I make mistakes as I normally do in worship, the little slips and foibles. All this gives a sense of security in a time of fear and uncertainty…

Jenny Mills is Minister of Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church and West End United Church, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire

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Mark Robinson

Many of us battle against change and resist the unknown. We cling to what we know and trust those things we allow ourselves to see and receive as traditions. When we first made the decision to close our church buildings amid this pandemic and suspend all activities, one member who was appalled tried to convince us of the need to keep the buildings open so that folk could at least come in for individual prayer.

This member could not believe that there could ever be a time, reason or situation in the world for Christians to suspend public worship. Everything they had come to understand as Christian worship and discipleship was tied to the church building. So anxiety set in.

A major part of our Christian faith has been built on relationships, community and breaking bread — together. That is part of what has defined us as church and how we have done God’s work. We have now been presented with an opportunity to look for new ways to organise this work. New ways to foster our relationships and be community, new ways to break bread together. This situation is forcing us to look at ourselves more closely and pay more careful attention to what it means to be followers of Christ…

Mark Robinson is Minister for the South West Hants Group of United Reformed churches

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Fiona Bennett

The coronavirus is taking us into uncharted waters. There is a lot of fear but also discombobulation as our routines and expectations are being cast adrift. We are, however, trying to make the most of the ever-changing places in which we are finding ourselves.

We are very fortunate in Augustine United Church, Edinburgh, that there are less than a handful of people who are not on the internet, so communication is relatively simple. This means that we have already been thinking for a couple of years about how to further enable our community virtually as well as physically, but there had not been a hard impetus to do so, until now.

We started streaming our services live on Facebook two weeks ago, which immediately opened up our worship to include former members and visitors who had connected with our congregation, but had since moved to different parts of the world. Our communication ministry team had wisely set up a new website they could build and rebuild themselves (smart folk), putting a Facebook feed on the homepage, so it is easy to direct folk to our services and ideas…

Fiona Bennett is Minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh

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Andy Braunston

Some of us have been here before. My formative years as a young adult were lived in the late 80s and early 90s when, as now, we had public information campaigns encouraging us to change our behaviour. Then, as now, a virus wreaked havoc and we were scared; scared to have normal human contact, scared to reach out to others, scared that we faced the Grim Reaper long before we were due to and grieving dear friends taken far too soon. Then, as now, we had to take responsibility for our own health and learned that the virus ‘stops with me’. In the lead up to the lockdown, I had a vague feeling of being here before but this was crystallised in talking to another gay minister who, like me, is in his 50s. We started to unpack the resonances.

I remember being involved with a radical congregation where we marched with a banner proclaiming ‘the Body of Christ has Aids’ to draw attention to the fact that HIV and Aids affected the Church and wasn’t something ‘out there’. I remember much of my early years in ministry were as much concerned with public health as they were with preaching. In fact, to preach about public health, personal responsibility and loving oneself enough to protect oneself were key aspects of the Gospel preached to a hurting, scared and marginalised community. I remember being involved with an embryonic group to get a cooked, nutritious Christmas dinner to 100 people living with Aids who were alienated from friends and family, and seeing that evolve into a monthly, and then weekly service. And I remember being a chaplain to an HIV/Aids resource organisation in London’s East End. I also remember the profile of HIV/Aids changing in a remarkably short space of time from being a deadly killer to being just one more life-changing illness (at least in the west). Those with HIV live normal lives. Antiviral medications mean that the virus can soon become undetectable. Social stigma has hugely reduced…

Andy Braunston ministers with four United Reformed Church congregations in and around Glasgow. He coordinates the URC’s Daily Devotions, emailing daily readings and service material to over 4,000 people during the lockdown. See devotions.urc.org.uk

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These are extracts from an article that was published in the May 2020 edition of Reform

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