The week began as weeks always used to. On the first day of the week Providence Baptist Church gathered to worship God. Even then, there was a sense of foreboding. After the service we discussed whether our Holiday Bible should go ahead during the Easter break, given the developing coronavirus crisis. We opted to wait and see what additional measures were announced by the government before making a final decision. It seemed our our plans were no more written in concrete, but sand. And the tide was coming in. (James 4:13-15).
On Sunday mornings I've been preaching through the Book of Jeremiah. The chapters are quite long, so I've tended to focus on the overall theme of a chapter, or pick out a key verse. Reading Jeremiah 6 to the congregation I was struck with how applicable it was to our current panicky situation, with the prophet's talk of an enemy at the gates and 'terror on every side'. The Word Health Organisation has described coronavirus as 'an enemy against humanity'. I preached on Jeremiah 6:14. See here for recordings of the Jeremiah series. The one on Jeremiah 6 should be added soon.
At the conclusion of the service we gathered around the Lord's Table to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus. I didn't say anything at the time, but as we partook of the Supper together, I wondered whether this might be the last occasion we would be able to enjoy Communion together for some while. I used the doxology found in Hebrews 13:20-21 to bring the service to a close. 'Now may the God of peace...equip you with everything good to do his will'. We certainly need God's help as we seek to find new ways of maintaining fellowship when we can't meet and serving our community when our regular activities are at a standstill.
On Sunday afternoon we had a 'Bake Through the Bible' activity meeting, which was well attended by a number of families with younger children. A clear gospel message was given on the Philippian jailer's question, 'What must I do to be saved?' Future BTTB meetings have been cancelled until further notice.
As no school closures had yet been announced, our Bright Sparks parent and toddler group ran as usual Monday morning. I normally give a number of helpers a lift there, my wife included. But I was otherwise engaged, giving a talk on Thomas Goodwin's A Child of Light Walking in Darkness to a Ministers' Fraternal in Honiton, Devon. All the chatter over coffee on arrival and at lunch afterwards concerned the possible impact of coronavirus on our churches.
Every third Sunday we take in donations for the local foodbank . On my way home from the fraternal I popped into the Chapel to pick up the stuff our people had provided and took it to Crosspoint. As usual, it was a big tub full, plus several large bags of food and other essential things. Supplies were already running low and the centre is run mostly by over 70's, who have now been told to keep away from public places. Shops are running out of foodbank staples like pasta and tinned foods. I hope vulnerable people aren't left to go hungry as foodbank stocks are depleted. We need to keep giving if we can. I've encouraged our people to use a 'Love Your Neighbour' flyer (see here) as a way of offering practical help to self-isolating neighbours.
Later in the afternoon the Prime Minister made his announcement on added social distancing measures to combat COVID 19. People were advised to avoid all pubs, cinemas, theaters and other public gatherings. Church meetings weren't mentioned explicitly, but the strong implication was that they should stop. Health Secretary Matt Hancock later confirmed this in answer to a question in the House. The FIEC has produced this helpful guidance for churches.
Church members at Providence and Ebeneezer were informed that all our meetings and activities had been suspended. What now? I thought I'd have a go at livestreaming some Bible ministry and found that could be done via the church's Facebook page. Scroll down to see an introductory video posted on Tuesday and something I did in lieu of our usual Wednesday evening Bible Study/Prayer meeting. Comments have varied from 'helpful message', 'encouraging message', to 'tidy up your study'.
For as long as we can't meet I plan to livestream via FB at 10.30am & 6.00pm on a Sunday and at 7.30pm on a Wednesday. The videos will then be posted for people to view later. So far the two talks have attracted 363 and 216 views a piece, which is certainly reaching more people than would gather in our meetings. I'm toying with doing 3 talks for children in place of our Holiday Bible Club (was due to take place 7-9 April). I'll have to set up our digital projector in our living room and somehow film the PPT talks with my phone. We'll see. For church members who have it, Skype might also be a way of facilitating talking and praying together.
Meanwhile, I've been updating the church contact list to help people stay in touch by phone. I'm in the process of buddying up members who can get out and about with those who can't to make sure everyone who is self-isolating gets a regular phone call to make sure they're OK. Sarah (my wife) and I will also try and ring people on a regular basis. John Benton of the Pastors' Academy has posted a very useful blog on Pastoring people you can't see in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Like most places, the supermarkets around here are quickly running out of essentials like toilet paper and handwash. We couldn't get any fresh meat in our local Lidl yesterday. But the High Street butcher had plenty, so we managed to get a free range chicken for our Sunday roast. Everything seems up in the air at the moment, but this is the United Kingdom and some things must go on as normal. Sunday roasts is one of them.