‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’.
How, Lord, when our homes are shut up and we inside them? Help us to see that to give each other space,
is to embrace one another with safety.
Help us to welcome one another in love
even while we keep our distance
by Rev'd Phil Bravnier
We are living in a time when all around seems to be chaos. How do we do mission amidst all of this?
Well, it seems that God has left the building and is inviting us to follow!
Watch the video which will introduce this session and what we will be learning in it.
Anxiety Arising from Chaos
The chaos of this pandemic is causing lots of people to become more and more anxious. I have personal experience of anxiety, both my own and in other people I have worked closely with. Anxious people tend to act in certain ways of which, 3 of which are;
Catastrophising: we will go down a rabbit hole of ‘What if’s’ that often give energy to take the worst possible outcome going forward
Control: because of this feeling of things happening to us beyond our control we will try to micro-manage anything we can
Reactionary: if people try to release that control from us (even if it is because they are anxious) we will be very brittle and very easily hurt.
A good way to work amongst people who are anxious is to reflect on the generosity of God and the fact we work with the capacity a relationship with him gives. That is why in my introductory video I have emphasised the need to release control and to listen to him in the voices of others. This will build a relationship of trust through this time of trial that will still be there as we move into the new normal of life beyond it.
A Worked Example: #windowontheworld
I first met Gemma at a local gala. She and her family were running the security at the event, and we got on well. She and her family got baptised a few years ago at our local church, and we stayed connected on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/878991245885385) and through some of the fresh expressions of Church I have led over the past few years. Several her family have underlying health conditions which mean that they have been self-isolating from day one and will be for a long time to come! She had an idea to brighten up the lives of people who needed to travel around the area by decorating windows.
I felt that this was a brilliant idea as it would help families by giving them something to do, so I encouraged her to do it and offered her £160 from our local community group ‘Hope Bank’. I set this up 5 years ago to resource and support people locally who had good ideas, but who might struggle to go through the processes to setup formal groups. Advised by Gemma I bought some craft materials and put them in bags – over the past couple of weeks I have dropped them off (like santa on a mobility scooter) to houses locally. At the same time #windowontheworld has grown on facebook and is brightening the windows and lives of people both locally and even in Australlia.
Gemma’s idea came from her context. It spoke to other people, who were isolated with children and brought brightness, and a whole lot of rainbows, to the local estate. It is a sign of God’s hope in a difficult time and has helped people be connected.
One of my colleagues, Rev Hilary Moore, often reminds me ‘You are the expert in your own context’. Others may have good techniques and ways of being church which are developing during the crisis. They may come across great ideas that work brilliantly in their lives and world, but only we can make the call if they will work in our network. We need to borrow the ‘how’ they connect but understand the who and why we connect are individually ours. If you have a group of people who don’t have internet access, use the phone. If someone else is developing a network in something you enjoy, join theirs! Also don’t forget the importance of enabling others to develop the networks we are in, the value of leading from the second seat. We don’t have to be in control!
Stay Connected to the Body of Christ
As you follow your own line of intentionally being amongst others in your network it is important to realise that things may be just for this time or may grow into the future. We don’t need to value these things differently. One consequence of our anxiety may be that If we come with simple answers or dismiss the fear others may feel as unimportant or unfaithful, we will damage future relationships. Mission in a time of isolation and chaos needs to be gentle, wise, generous in a time of scarcity and sometimes radically different but we also need to work with others and let others know what we are doing.
We are the experts in our own contacts, but as members of the body of Christ we must not go out independently – wherever God meets with us through the chaos of this time we need to make sure others are able to support and challenge us as we go. Otherwise we will be in grave danger of building up mission that hurts others and is not connected to the rest of the body. In parishes we need church leaders to be permission givers who act with generosity, but we also need to respect their concerns as they lead us.
Finding Appropriate Missional Responses
Deciding What I Can Do
Expressing your thoughts, your hopes, your fears in an act of worship is of course different in times of pandemic, the choices we face are different. But despite this, there are many opportunities to Worship either individually or communally on the internet. The key is not to be dazzled by the big productions, and to find what simply speaks to your heart.
Remembering always that Jesus said: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)
And this is just as valid, in church, or at home, or even across the internet.
Looking At My Connections
As the chaos is beginning to settle into a new and different norm, who am I connected to and how can I enhance those relationships? Am I hearing about Zoom meetings and mourning the fact I haven’t spoken to anyone for ages? Do I have children, grandchildren that I am spending time with or unable to spend time with? What are people doing to improve the experience of isolation. Be intentionally aware of your connections and how God may be speaking to you through them.
God At Work - How Can I Join In?
Do things that make a difference to 5 or 10 people – some things, like phoning neighbours, will not leave a record but will be more important to those 10 people than big newsworthy events. Other things like streamed services or reflections will have an ‘attendance’ and will be calculatable (usually on the high side) and will be spoken of highly. When I worked to support Gemma in developing #windowontheworld neither of us thought that 2,500 people would connect to it. How many is not as important as who. If you are the only person who can offer someone support then that is vital, that you do so. Many people who are online, competent with social media will be OK, they will be contacted. Others in hard to reach groups won’t be, so if in doubt serve them!
My prayer, as a disabled disciple of Christ, is that some of the things that we learn during this time of isolation may become part of the new normal of how we do church – so that disabled and elderly people stop being isolated by the usual patterns of church life.
Spotlight on Doctrine
The body of Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 12, is diverse and interrelated. It is not, and should not, be only one way for everyone. ‘God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body’ (Verse 18-20)
You are a part of the body and wherever or however your are reaching out as part of that body, it enables ‘The kingdom of God to come near’. In this time of chaos, when physical connections are stretched, it is worth remembering that the freedom of working in your own context does not take you out of the support and challenge of still being a part of the body. We need each other and we need to free each other. We need to remember too that the gospel is full of outsiders showing us God.
From Zacchaeus to the woman at the well, from the soldier at the cross to the boy with his loaves and fishes, Jesus received from others in both word and actions. He didn’t draw a distinction between the saved and the unsaved, the faithful and the occasional. Our buildings and meetings and our ‘come to Church’ evangelism have subtly reprogrammed our minds to seeing God at work in us and our churches and not in the world around us. So, let us meet with others and allow ourselves to be encouraged, blessed and challenged by them, so that we all can know God’s kingdom has come near. Let us listen to the outcast, to the kindness of strangers to those who provide what we cannot and hear God speak to us.
Spotlight on Spirituality
For many Christians in Derbyshire, the closure of the church, and the closure of the peak district will limit their ability to meet with God in their two favourite ways. It seems, from many conversations I have that those are two of the places where they usually connect with God. I get that this is a bereavement of sorts, but I would like to encourage you to be creative as you meet God in new ways in the chaos.
As a disabled Christian the peak district is almost entirely off limits for me, as are many of our Church Buildings. I also find meeting God in the silence impossible as the constant pain in my legs distracts me and breaks my focus. So I have to look elsewhere. As was noted in the previous session on Worship, God can be found in isolation. Think again about the ways you and the 'places' you find God. Talk to others about where and how they are finding God amid the chaos of this time.
How are you today – what is bringing you strength? What realistically is your capacity? Who are you connected to – How can you develop that? What can you join in with?
Who can you encourage and support today? Who can support you? Look in the Resources section below for a further reflection from Tim.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, may we find ways amidst this chaos to reflect your light and love to the world and to continue to be sustained and renewed by your Spirit. Amen.
Something Practical to Do this Week
Make a list of 3 to 5 people that you could contact in some way this week and then work through the list. It doesn't matter whether it is by phone or internet or doing their shopping, what matters is that you contact them.
Evangelism - Rickard Road
Introductory Video Text
St Mark's Brampton Report
Reflection by Tim Rourke