With the impact of the Coronavirus, these are unprecedented times and the way we conduct our daily lives is changing very quickly. For churches and church leaders, it is a challenge to conduct spiritual direction, pastoral support and community development when social interaction is so severely restricted and, in many cases, curtailed.
We recognise how hard it is for churches not to be able to meet together as usual: the concern for those who are vulnerable in our communities, the worry for our own health, the guilt in not being able to care for people as we would wish to, and the sadness of the loss of contact with our friends and church family.
We will miss that encouragement of the Body of Christ worshipping Him together and working for God’s glory in the way that we are used to, but maybe we can see this time as an opportunity to explore other ways to continue this. It’s a time to be creative!
So here are a few points of which to take note, and also a few ideas to get you started. It’s still early days so hopefully there will be lots of ideas being thought up and tried out in the next few weeks that we can all investigate and adapt to our own situations if appropriate. Please share yours with us.
The one pastoral care advice is that you should now conduct pastoral and other support visiting by phone, email or video call. Do not visit anyone if you or they are symptomatic.
Instead, how about reinstating or broadening your telephone prayer chain for your church congregation? This could be sub-divided into groups to make contact easier if you have a large number of people involved. Or perhaps you could set up a Prayer Partner system in your church for people to ring each other to pray together, or could you set up telephone conference calls for a particular time of day/week when a number of people can phone in and pray together?
With isolation now a common occurrence, could you set up a Prayer Line for people in your local area to phone up if they want some prayer, either at the time or for prayer requests? If this is not feasible, could you publicise one of the national Christian helplines that are available such as Premier Lifeline (300 111 0101) or their online equivalents for those willing to use email?
We recognise that is expected that the number of funerals will rise during at a time when attendance is being restricted to very close family and friends. It is important at this time to come up with creative ideas that allow everyone to grieve and for church leaders particularly to have their own support to help with the increased pastoral demands of their role.
Many crematorium staff will offer a webcast service for the services held there - could you record elements of the funeral service for downloading or making an online link available for people to view at home? Or is there a way that you can set up some kind of virtual “Memorial Wall” online or printed out and posted to people who are restricted from attending the funeral?
Could you encourage those unable to attend a funeral to mark the time of the funeral by lighting a candle or having a time of quiet reflection? Or perhaps those unable to attend could phone or video call each other at the funeral time to share memories of the person who has died.
Funeral directors are being warned that there may be a shortage of flowers at some point so maybe people who are good at crafts could bless bereaved families with paper, knitted or crocheted flowers as a special gift from the church or local community.
As we look forward to later in the year, perhaps you could plan for a special thanksgiving or memorial service to be opened up to the wider family and community once social restrictions are lifted again.
From church worship and fellowship as well as discipleship teaching, we all need to have the chance for spiritual growth during this time, especially those who are older. Many churches are exploring the technological provisions that are now available so could you investigate online links. Maybe your preacher could pre-record their sermon or some worship songs from a musician that can be accessed via an online link or YouTube. There are some more largescale enterprises being set up such as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s online service, Nick and Becky Drake’s All-Age worship, and don’t forget Songs of Praise!
Can you lend people (or purchase for your church) some DVDs of conference worship and talks such as New Wine and Spring Harvest or maybe some worship CDs if older people would prefer that format?
How about choosing a Bible study booklet from your local Christian bookshop, from Eden or from 10ofthose and purchasing enough for all sorts of people in your church to study together (but in their own homes!) to discuss online or over the phone? Maybe you could set up a Study Buddy system in your church for people to ring each other to discuss the study material for that week.
While Coronavirus is changing and challenging so much of what we understand normal life to look like, as Christians we have something that we can do no matter where we are or who we’re with – pray! On Sunday, 22 March at 7pm there is a National Call to Prayer when we are each invited to place a candle in our window as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ. You can find out more via the Evangelical Alliance.