Busyness as usual
As churches reopen, let’s make more time to stop and listen, says Mark Tubby
Churches are pretty good at getting on and doing things, various projects springing up all the time. Many churches find that offering help or a home to groups and organisations is an easy way to get involved in the local community. Last year, however, many things came to an abrupt halt. The pandemic which hit us, and is still affecting our lives in so many ways, meant churches had to close and so many projects and groups did too.
I think I can be like these churches, finding it easier to simply get on and do things. Like Martha in the Gospel story, I like to make sure things get done, trying to make everything run as smoothly as possible. That’s OK of course, but it’s not the be all and end all. If I’m honest, sometimes I don’t really know where things may end up going.
As a Church-Related Community Worker (CRCW) in Harwich, Essex, during the first lockdown I carried on my pattern. I started by bringing people together to create a new project, which became known as Harwich Helps, a way to ensure the local community had all they needed in lockdown. We provided food parcels, collected prescriptions, cooked meals, made pastoral phone calls, did shopping for shielding people, supported families, and so on. Twenty or so organisations were involved. Essentially, it was a success, as we helped many people.
This year, however, during the latest lockdown, it has been different. There hasn’t been the demand we saw last year from so many struggling folk, and that has given me space. I spent quite a chunk of time during Lent on my bike. Riding around Harwich and Dovercourt, I have had time to think, to reflect, to slow down, to shut up and listen. What is God saying to me?
If this virus has shown us anything, then it could be that our constant desire to consume, to constantly move faster and further forward, is damaging, both to the planet and ourselves. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a result of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. Folk are looking for ways to release frustrations and fears, or at least voice them in some way. We need to stop and listen to this.
This period has been a chance to think more. To ask questions: where am I going and what am I doing? These can be uncomfortable questions to ask yourself, as we may not always like the answers. For me, the opportunity to ask these questions, without having to know what it means for my ministry, has been quite freeing.
It seems to me that this past year has given rise to a sense of community and togetherness. We have seen various stories in the news about folk helping each other out. Harwich Helps appeared on national television. We all have stories to tell, so we need to listen to one another.
As we get back to some kind of normality, I don’t want to fall into the same things I was doing before lockdown – looking for the next project, starting a group, becoming so busy that I have no time to stop and listen.
Perhaps, as churches, we could be thinking along the same lines. Let’s not fall back into the same routines that we have had for years. We’re emerging into a very different context from what was before the pandemic. It feels like a pivotal point in history. What have we learnt? What might God be saying to us as a church right now? Let’s listen.
In order to look at that question, we need to stop and pray. Not a prayer where we ask God to rubber stamp our ideas and projects, but where we are genuinely open to wherever God may take us. Like Mary in the same Gospel story, maybe we could simply spend time listening to Jesus, hearing what he has to say. Work can grow from there.
Locally, we are trying, with other churches, to hear what God may be saying to us. We are praying together, listening to local people, and to one another. On Good Friday, we opened up Dovercourt Central Church as a prayer space. In that time and space, I was struck by one lady who spent the best part of two hours sitting on the floor listening/praying. I wonder, how much time do we allow for prayer or listening?
Part of a CRCW’s toolkit is to be a reflective practitioner, and we need to give that reflection adequate time to speak to us. I don’t want to rush back into various projects, but to discern what could be right for this time and this place. It’s my belief that the churches that do this will thrive in this new environment. So, let’s sit at Jesus’s feet and hear what he has to say to us.
Mark Tubby is a Church-Related Community Worker at Dovercourt Central Church, in Harwich, Essex
This article was published in the July/August 2021 edition of Reform