How is God working through this caronavirus pandemic? 3 observations from a local church

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Don’t get me wrong- the coronavirus pandemic is awful. It is awful on so many levels but in this post I want to share 3 observations where I have seen good things recently in the local church. The image above typifies how we might communicate. today. Not face to face but face to screen yet still in community. Church has always been mainly face to face – we now have to think differently. How we communicate today is the basis of how we can authentically live out being church in the future.

  1. People are becoming more self resourced in learning, worship an prayer. The up-skilling to connect digitally is amazing. We have built an online facebook community from about 13 to 52. A place where genuine prayer requests, support, encouragement and resources are being shared. It has been hard, but with help most who want to, are connected digitally to join online worship.
  2. New leaders are being raised up. The sudden need for a technically savvy team to enable any ‘church’ to happen after lockdown tended to be the younger age group. Just as we are all made uniquely different- I have seen a technical team come together with different gifts – not there just for their technical capabilities but seeing the emerging of ministries behind the tech – leadership of pastoral work, prayer support, leading online services, managing a tech team and tech strategy, and bible teaching online. My focus now is mentoring and walking alongside these new leaders so the church is resourced in the next generation of church lay leadership.
  3. Evangelism: I saw a cartoon saying that God didn’t shut every church building He actually opened one in every home. Friends and family are getting a glimpse of worship and teaching in a very non threatening and accessible way. Networks and relationships are being made through facebook and interest groups meaning that we can meet people who are normally at work or with families and whom we never normally see in a church building on a Sunday. These relationships can be expanded and developed further after lockdown is lifted as well as keeping digital connections going.

The question now is how do we organise ourselves as church to reach out and share Jesus with our community to make the most of both the digital and the non digital world once lockdown is over?

Everything we do has to be considered both digitally and non digitally to be relevant to this generation and the next. Questions such as

How much of our budget is spent on digital communications?

How many of our staff are trained in digitally? Is it in our job descriptions?

How might we run half of our events online and half in real life?

Can we continue to livestream worship services after lockdown?

How can we embrace all that is good with online children’s and youth work?

Can parishes get used to the idea that their minister is “present but absent” as they spend half their time ministering through text, online, blogging, witnessing on facebook?

If we go back to the way we were – we have missed a serious and important opportunity in history to reshape church with a new vision for the future. We need to gather (online), we need to pray , and seek the Lord’s direction for people and skills. The aim after lockdown is to be present digitally and none digitally and proclaim who Jesus is for a world that more than ever is seeking meaning and is so badly bruised.

In the meantime we all learn about another 10 digital skills a day adding to how we are enabled – including how to write this blog!

Have mercy Lord. Show us your way.

Jane Mitchell

April 22nd 2020

If you ideas about online church – please leave your comments and explore this in a conversation online so others can share in it.

WORSHIP- Speak? Sing? Dance? Listen? Silence? Other……?

Worship from the heart joins inner reality with outward expression.”

This is  quote from Thompson M J  in her book “Soul Feast”.  

The blessing of having travelled a little and experienced Christian worship in different cultures is the breadth and diversity of worship – it is glorious!  I have experienced the colour, music and movement of Africans worshipping our Lord in the open air in beautiful lush countryside to hiding my white face and blond hair as I scuttled to an underground Christian community for street children in the suburbs of Beijing, China.  There they studied the scriptures and worshipped in song  –  but not too loudly as they had the windows closed and were in fear of being found by the police at any moment.  I’ve enjoyed the stillness and quiet of  Iona Abbey feeling the prayer and expectation prayer can bring for the glory of God in the isolated beauty of the landscape and I’ve joined in with loud expressive ‘pop’ culture festival worship like at “Soul Survivor” in the UK with thousands of young people lost in transforming  worship that changes lives –  bringing healing, forgiveness and love in our broken world.

So the question for this blog is

Why do Christians hang on to traditions of worship with such tiresome tenacity? 

This is a question anyone involved with church will ask.  Why don’t we celebrate what has been in the past and morph into new forms of worship as God guides and embrace this wonderful change?  (Million dollar question!)  As the world is getting smaller and God is mixing up the nations in travel, families and culture – are we fruitlessly resisting what he is doing along us thinking we know better?   We must keep the pews the Victorians put in!   We must keep our music in Latin!   MY view would be let’s celebrate it, treasure it and then be bold and try something new.  I can however see that these words would put the fear into the lives of many!

It is interesting that I have found that is equally valid for the young as well as the old.  and it can be directed at the young with their ‘form’ of worship  as much as the older generations. Why do we get into a mind set where because we have always done worship in this way –  that is how we should always continue to do it?   If we believe in

 

What is your choice:

speak

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dance

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draw

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Stillness and silence

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Was Jesus ever ill?

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We feel rubbish sometimes – we catch diseases, have accidents  – thinking about Jesus being both fully human and fully divine my question is –  was he ever ill?
 I’ve often wondered if Jesus was ever ill-  we do not hear about any times in the bible when he struggled having caught flu or tripped and broke his leg.  Was he more divine then and therefore free of any disease or did he enter this world so fully human it was inevitable that he was ill at times and we it was not simply recorded?  The gospels are biographies and biographies at this time were written telling of achievements and competence forming history  – for example of Caesar and therefore recording details about getting flu wouldn’t be recorded. The gospels are short factual accounts.  They do tell us Jesus was hungry at times, he took himself off into the desert and fasted, he moved around a lot and healed others of diseases.  We never hear that he was too unwell to get up one day and the healing and miracles paused whilst he got better over a few days.
I have been challenged this week on a course entitled “Knowing God”  with the speaker Jane Williams.  We have faith that seeks understanding.  It is not unfaithful to explore the reality of God in fact it is our job to discern the character of God so we can act accordingly. So going back to the question about was Jesus ever ill?   I had thought about this before and concluded that no-  he was God so he would not have any diseases just as he has no sin but my thinking has changed if we accept that the reality of Jesus was fully human.  If God kept bits of humanity from Jesus (such as illness) then what other bits did he keep from him and does this make him more divine that human?  Jesus accepted the sign of baptism –  the sign of the fall and renewal so it makes sense to me that Jesus the  Emmanuel  “God with us” caught flu and had down days too.  Sin is different. Jesus was without sin so he definitely was not fully human in that respect but living amongst us, getting his hands dirty and catching diseases is another question.
How does that affect anything?  Well, somehow it delves into the character of God –  of Jesus sharing  life with us humans in the depths of our illness and struggles knowing that in him new and restored life is created.  It throws out the challenge to celebrate being human in every way and at the same time being children of God and not hanker after being more of one than the other.   Mmmmm what do you think?
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3 questions about schools and church

I recently spent a few days in a junior school on placement as part of my training in the church as a curate.  The aim was to ‘get under the skin’ of a church school and observe how schools and churches work together or don’t and why. My visit was curtailed by snow days but I learnt an incredible amount in the placement and it was a happy positive time.

The head gave me 3 hours of her time on day 1.  The deputy head drew up a timetable so I could experience many aspects of school life.  Highlights were playing tag in the reception class playground,  chatting with staff over coffee and lunch and being inspired by good leadership to provide modern facilities and good staff development all in a very creative community.  I spent time in one to one special needs classes as well as a session on dementia awareness linked with children’s visits to an old peoples home. I was quizzed in assembly about my role and calling and I told them about Jesus and how he guides us then promptly became the honoured guest and gave out achievement certificates before the children went back to class.   I discussed with the head how the church and the school worked together in the past and how during a vacancy (when churches are between vicars which can last up to 18 months) this can impact the local school drastically –  often the forgotten part of a vacancy when the needs of the worshipping parish community need to be met first just to keep public worship services going.   The parish are often left to hold the reins and have no capacity to continue with established work in the local school.   hhmmm  – definitely food for thought in managing vacancies.

Question 1:   Should the needs of church schools be specifically added to the job specification of the new interim minister roles that are being rolled out to plug the gap in vacancies?  

My role at Bath Abbey includes being the chaplain to young people and families.  We have 20 boys in a choir, 20 girls and about 20 children that come at various times to Sunday groups.  That is 60 children coming regularly as part of our worshipping community.  I was struck at the school – who welcomed me with open arms – how I had spoken to 600 children in the first half an hour at assembly explaining how Jesus made a difference in our lives. I know numbers aren’t everything but the difference struck me.   Later the same day I had the chance to take two RE classes of 30 children in each and asked the children to think for a moment and write down the biggest question they would like to ask God and consider how they were going to find out the answer.  They duly wrote it in their books and we talked through some of them leaving them with much to ponder and hopefully follow up.   Such a privilege.  There was complete freedom to share the message of the bible, to speak openly.  It is amazing how a clerical collar gives permission and respect in our schools.  Having been involved in a school for street children in Beijing China 10 years ago this freedom is ingrained in me and never taken for granted.  In China I had to cover my face in the streets to avoid the Christian school I was working at becoming vulnerable to police inspection simply because a white western pedrson was seen near it.  Contrast that with the opportunity to share the saving gospel message of Jesus freely in our schools in the UK and you see it as an incredible opportunity.

Question 2:  If youth and children’s work is a priority for the diocese and our church today  – Why are we training and resourcing vicars to manage small rural churches (albeit big clusters of rural churches) often with very few children attending when we could be witnessing and sharing the gospel in our busy needy schools?

What was my biggest learning about the lives of young people?

It was the negative impact social media is having on the expectation of young people living a fulfilled life, and personal identity and self image.  (Social media was also named as the most important factor affecting young people lives at a youth conference recently by a chaplain of a university)   If social media is so important maybe as a church we need to ask

Question 3 Why does the church not prioritise modelling good social media behaviour and also engage in debates and teaching about how to manage social media for young people? 

John 10:10 says:

I have come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly”.

At the moment social media is robbing the next generation of this full abundant life.

 

Lots of questions and very few answers but the church of tomorrow has to begin with asking the questions of today.

Apologetics – what? What is the best apologetics course to run in a local church?

What is the best course to run in a local church context to equip Christians to be good apologists?

pexels-photo-273936.jpegI always thought apologetics was apologising for something until I got some way down the line in my Christian journey and discovered it meant:

presenting historical, reasoned and evidential bases for Christianity defending it against objections. 

 

It sill seems an odd name to me particularly as my wrong understanding that it means apologise is the exact opposite of what it actually means…  We don’t apologise for our faith –  we stand to defend it as truth!

It is a branch of Christian theology that offers a huge resource to help in the mission of the church today (and always has done) All Christians need to be heard loud and clear in a society that is blurring the edges of spiritual experience, and  in an “I’ll believe a mix of whatever I want to believe thank you very much”  mind set.

So my question for this blog is

What is the best course to run in a local church context to equip Christians to be good apologists?  

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Is there an apologetics course –  just like there is an explore Christianity course or a listening course?

 

Does prayer really work?

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I was once leaving a prayer meeting at a church and there was a man hovering around the door looking in –  “Is there a prayer meeting?” he asked.  “Yes” I said – “although it has just finished.”. He then said questioningly, “Does it really work?”  

Ahh I thought – here is someone with a genuine question having been drawn to the church even if it was at the wrong time!  It is quite good being questioned on the spot unexpectedly because it makes you think again about what you are doing.

Well I thought this is a good question  and probably one many people have.

Either I am completely wasting my time and my life  in an ineffectual powerless relational activity connecting with Almighty God or I could have spent the last hour or so doing my own thing  watching television, doing chores or some other activity.

“E M Bounds quotes “The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better people.” “What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organisations or more and novel methods, but people whom the Holy Spirit can use –  people of prayer , people mighty in prayer.”

In a world that seeks guidance at the click of a button I suggest we stop for a moment and think about what we think about prayer.  Not what Google suggests or a friend but what do YOU think?

I can only say that yes prayer does work – I have seen many incredible answers to prayer – but not always. There is always the question “What about unanswered prayer?”  However,  I think it is better to pray than not to pray and am humbled that God wants us to partner with him in prayer for his Kingdom to come. Time in my view is definitely not wasted in prayer.

 

Why blog?

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When on a recent trip to Singapore to see family we used the  underground Train System MRT-  it was efficient, cheap, clean and fast.  What struck me though in this high-tech environment though was that EVERYONE travelled glued to their mobile phone. GLUED.   No one spoke verbally –  communication was alive and active but lived out in an electronic world.

If the church is to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, we need to learn how to communicate electronically as well as face to face.   That is why I am learning to blog.

With the increasing popularity of Cathedral carol services would it be right to charge entry and give the money to the poor?

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Kings College Cambridge

Cathedrals and similar Greater Churches across the UK will have had thousands upon thousands of eager people through their doors in the weeks up to Christmas.  How wonderful it is too to welcome so many in the name of Jesus, preach the gospel, sing carols and share in the awesome beauty of such inspiring holy places.  BUT….

This year it occurred to me as we welcomed another thousand people to a carol service and I stood at the big west doors – are we honouring the poor?  Later on in the same service the contrast for me was almost too great to bear as I sat in the  sanctuary listening to soaring choral music of the highest calibre, dressed to the floor in a heavy gold and white  brocaded robe as one of the clergy in a church packed with people with free tickets. (our main pastoral work on these occasions is at the door keeping the peace with those who have and those who do not have tickets)  The lighting, the hundreds of candles flickering around the building bouncing off soft stone seduces our senses and our prayer is that people will be drawn into deep worship of God.   BUT there is another way to look at it….

I read this article advertising  Carols from Kings College Cambridge in The Times Saturday review (23rd Dec 2017)

This service is a particularly special one, but nearly all cathedrals do candlelit carol services in the weeks leading up to Christmas. ” and this is the bit that got me thinking (my emphasis). “You needn’t go as an act of religious devotion – you can just go to hear lovely music in an ancient building and to contemplate an ancient festival. I think children particularly enjoy flickering candles and the darkness.  There is something thrilling about going out post curfew for children.”. 

Reality hit home.  Is the Church being taken advantage of  –  an enjoyable free ride for Christmas entertainment?

Yes I am an evangelist-  what a great problem for a church to have –  too many people!!  Especially when all you read is about is doom and gloom about the Church of England going down the pan in terms of registered numbers.  Yes I want everyone to meet with Jesus but in the meantime in our culture how about suggesting a sizable donation at the point of issuing tickets? How about contactless donation points around the big churches as well as a retiring collections for non ticketed services? Think of the benefit of this financial giving for  the gritty, on the ground work of so many working on a shoestring to bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, freedom to the oppressed and hope to the desolate.  A possible donation of £5 at the door as people scramble out doesn’t sit easily with me knowing that the family rugby or theatre tickets probably cost £200 plus.   Many do give generously – and much is given to support mission already through retiring collections but is it enough?

My question is:

How can the church become smarter to encourage and enable generosity fully and support the poor?  Is charging ever the right answer or should we let God be God and the Spirit work in whichever way He chooses and not do anything different?  What is our accountability and responsibility in the sight of Almighty God knowing Jesus came to serve the poor?  Do add your comments to the discussion.

 

 

New blog: Questions are good

Placeholder ImageAsking the right questions can be light bulb moments and be the catalyst for change

Do we voice our questions enough?  I think there is a time to speak and a time to be silent as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:7 (actually it is written the other way round – a time to be silent and a time to speak – maybe that  is my lesson ) but there have been times when I could have spoken out and now I wonder why I didn’t.   Good questions can bring change for “the better.”  “The better”  can be literally life changing – improved living conditions for the poor, someone coming to faith who had no idea about Jesus before,  freedom for the oppressed and relief and comfort for the sick and dying.    In the context of church and western Christianity there is a culture of assumed knowledge that can be a difficult barrier to break and ask questions about.   Maybe I sit between an older generation who know the basics of Christianity and a completely unchurched younger generation who simply don’t know what questions to ask.  I am hoping that this blog will bring some of these questions to the fore and foster a culture of encouraging questions and discussions about Christianity to bring the reality of Jesus to todays culture.