Friday, November 06, 2020

Plague Journal 2: Week 1

In the original series of Plague Journals, I described church life in lockdown from March to June. I was looking forward to not having to do a #2. I suppose no one's forcing me, not even the government's guidance for lockdown in England from 5 November. But here we go again.

We weren't at all prepared for the previous lockdown. I had never done a livestream service, or even a video recorded one for that matter. I just used to turn up to lead a service in a church building, someone would see to the audio recording for the website, and that was it. Quaint, eh?

Last time around I had to get to grips with Facebook Live, YouTube recordings and then livestreaming Zoom meetings. It was sometimes a bit frustrating and occasionally rather messy, but we got there in the end. You would never call our efforts slick, but it was a case of better online than nothing when we weren't able to meet in person.

The Ebenezer congregation started meeting for our afternoon service at the Chapel in early August. At Providence we've had building works to contend with, as well as a global pandemic. We've been meeting on Sunday mornings in rented Halls since around mid-September.  

As well as each fellowship's gathered services on Sundays, we've have a mixture of Zoom and Facebook Live services on Sunday evenings. Our Wednesday evening Prayer Time is on Zoom. Elements of the Zoom meetings are also livestreamed to Facebook. 

The good thing with Zoom is the immediacy of having people in the meetings as the Word of God is proclaimed. Plus the facility for open prayer and the streaming song videos for people to sing along to at home (when muted). And then when the 'service; has finished people can fix themselves a coffee at home and chat together, much like we used to do pre-Covid following our Sunday and Wednesday meetings. 

We were in Tier 1, where the lightest restrictions applied, until midnight on Wednesday at any rate. But even here following the guidance means informal interaction between members of the congregation after our services was severely limited. That's why we've been keen to maintain an opportunity for members of the congregation to hang out together via Zoom. 

That said, online meetings are no substitute for gathering together in person to worship the Lord. Not all of our people are able to Zoom. Some watch services as they are livestreamed on Facebook, or view a recording later. Others receive audio recordings on CD. Still, at least now we're set up for online meetings until we can gather again in early December, God-willing.

In Tier 1 we used to be able to call at people's homes for pastoral visits. The new lockdown guidance allows for individuals to meet with one other person who is not from their household in outdoor settings, which will give some scope for pastoral meet-ups. We managed to visit a number of older church members before Thursday, as meeting with them outside wouldn't be practical at this time of year. 

My views on the rights and wrongs of lockdown and the closure of places of worship can be ascertained from a email I wrote to our MP, Dr. Andrew Murrison and a follow-up email

Anyway, enough of that. Reading-wise I've almost finished The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart by Harold L. Senkbeil. His Lutheran predilection for crucifixes, candles and an occasional puff of incense freaks me out a bit, but his emphasis on developing a pastor's heart that cares for for God's people and longs to see the lost won for Christ is a necessary one these days. As is his repeated point that our work must be bathed in prayer and carried out by means of word and sacrament in the power of the Spirit. One chapter to go. I'll post a review when I'm done. 

I'm sure that one of the problems with some of the high profile cases of pastoral abuse that have come to light recently is a wrong conception of pastoral ministry. We tend to lionise dynamic entrepreneurial leaders with brilliant communication gifts, like Mark Driscoll or Steve Timmis, rather than pastors who love and care for the flock, patiently tending to their spiritual needs. 

Back in September I gave a talk on 'Avoiding Pastoral Abuse' at our Bradford on Avon Ministers' Fraternal. I highlighted reports of abusive pastoral leadership at Crowded House, Sheffield. Safeguarding group thirtyone:eight have now published their Independent Learning Review so lessons can be learned more widely. A return to what Senkbeil calls 'the classical model of pastoral ministry' would certainly help.

I've just taken delivery of Jars of Clay:Peace for the Anxious Soul, by Catherine Haddow (10ofthose). I profited from her earlier work, Emotions: Mirrors of the Heart. With levels of anxiety heightened due to lockdown, I'd due to conduct an online interview on 15 November at 6.00pm with Catherine on 'Anxiety: A Mirror of the Heart', see  here for more info. I've already jotted down some questions for discussion and I'm hoping Jars of Clay will give me additional food for thought. 

You can catch earlier interviews with Jeremy Marshall on 'Faith Overcoming Fear' here and Stuart Burgess on 'Faith and Science' here. Yes, these are dark and uncertain days, where fear and frustration are all too evident, but the pandemic has also given us many fresh opportunities to speak of the light of Christ to those who are dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death. 

We had an enjoyable week off in N Devon last week and gathered for worship with the friends at Bradford on Avon Baptist Church on Sunday. We had an  encouraging day there, including taking the Lord's Supper for the first time in months. Meanwhile, the Lord was at work in the Providence congregation, who met in a rented hall in the morning. An older gentleman who one of our members had taken under his wing and brought along to services came to saving faith in Christ. We thank God for his grace to 'D' and pray that he may be the first of many who come to know the Lord in the months ahead. 

Westbury before lockdown

Westbury during lockdown

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