Baptists adapting to Coronavirus
As we remember the anniversary of the first lockdown on 23 March, 2020 who could have imagined what the year would hold? The pressure on our ministers and leaders has been enormous as they have continued to offer leadership and pastoral care amidst huge restrictions on social contact, financial concerns, as well as their own family responsibilities.
And yet, despite the difficulties that the Coronavirus has brought to us all, we have been so encouraged by the ways in which God has been at work in our churches during the year. It’s been inspiring to see such creativity and innovation in their ministry and mission as they have continued to serve God, one another and their community.
As we began to find ourselves caught up in a global pandemic in early March, we issued a call to prayer which had over 12,000 views on our website. This was followed, on 17 March, by the first of our national online prayer broadcasts in which our General Secretary was joined by other members of the Baptist family leading us in prayer. These broadcasts continued on a regular basis - with 58 Prayer Broadcasts taking place through the year. In addition, we have shared prayers and reflections which were contributed by a range of voices from across our Associations and churches, and have continued to encourage our churches to persevere in prayer.
Whilst church buildings were forced to close, our churches have been very much alive across the country. We have heard stories of ministers and church members learning and sharing new skills in technology, enabling worship services to move online. Church WhatsApp groups have been set up to help members feel connected, and these have allowed prayer requests and messages of encouragement to be shared during times of loneliness and anxiety. Pastoral teams have kept in regular contact with older members of their congregations by phone or safe doorstep visits, with deeper conversations emerging and requests for prayer being made.
‘At the start of lockdown, I had no experience whatsoever at live streaming a church service and was forced to learn quickly.’ Stephen Maclean – minister of Cricklewood Baptist Church
‘Thank God for the technology that we have today to post messages of hope and comfort to combat the fear that is out there with the love, comfort and peace of a loving Saviour Jesus.’ Cathy Buntin - minister of Laird Street Baptist Church, Birkenhead
‘Online worship has fulfilled a long hoped for dream. More disabled people have accessed church fully for the first time. Many are using their gifts for the first time and are shaping worship for everyone else.’ Glen Graham – minister of Cullompton Baptist Church and Chair of Churches for All
Some church buildings have remained open in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in their community, adapting their procedures to keep everyone safe. This has enabled, for example, many foodbanks to continue to support the increasing number of people finding it impossible to make ends meet as jobs have been lost, and people taken ill. Church members have worked alongside other community groups in demonstrating extraordinary acts of kindness as they have shared time and resources with those in need.
‘God has been challenging and changing us. We’ve not been able to meet physically, but God is still calling us to be church. There has been lots of support and encouragement about God’s people who love each other. We are opening our mindset as a people who love Jesus. We are hoping this will continue.’ Denzil Larbi – associate minister of Selsdon Baptist Church
‘As chaplains we have been trying to help support staff along with other services in the hospitals. I have been asked to pray with ward staff, lead mindfulness sessions and attend ward ‘huddles’ where staff can talk about their feelings and wellbeing. When the immediate pressure lifts there will be a need for lots of formal and informal support - and we will play our part then, too.’ Mark Burleigh - Head of Chaplaincy & Bereavement Services, University Hospitals of Leicester
Throughout 2020 each of the Specialist teams has kept a close eye on Government updates in order to provide up-to-date guidance for our churches when we went into lockdown, as they prepared to re-open, and then faced lockdown again. From practical guidance for churches navigating the government’s furlough scheme to webinars helping churches live-stream a worship service, our website has been a key resource for churches. By the end of March 2020 we had created a whole new area of the website with resources related to Coronavirus – not only offering practical advice, but also acknowledging the need to take time to listen and reflect on what God was saying to us through the pandemic. This included ideas for Easter services, helpful material for children, young people and families, as well as missional ideas and resources. As guidance was updated to reflect the latest government regulations, we publicised the changes on our website and through our social media channels.
‘We need to listen and learn from what is happening and adjust our direction to the hand that is tugging us down the path we might not have noticed before.’ Claire Nicholls – minister of New Addington Baptist Church
During the first four months of the pandemic we offered 16 weekly webinars on a wide variety of topics to help Baptist churches through these difficult times. These included considering leadership in a time of crisis, managing stress and anxiety, support for church treasurers, and evangelism off the streets. These invaluable resources are now available to watch in the webinar section of our Resource Library.
‘This was our first online church service. It’s NOT virtual church - the people are real, the elements for communion are real we are just in different locations in space, together in time.' Brian Davison – minister of Haggate Baptist Church, East Lancashire
Recognising the need to make space in our lives and to listen to God, we hosted two online Quiet Days, led by Regional ministers Geoff Colmer and Beth Powney. Whilst not everyone was able to join in live, over a thousand others were able to take part by watching the recordings on our YouTube channel. In the autumn, we also commissioned a series of 16 Listening to God videos which were made in partnership between the Faith and Society Team, Mission Forum and The Fuelcast. In these videos, a variety of Baptists shared their reflections on what God had been saying to them during 2020.
‘Is there a need to focus less on our Sunday gatherings and instead invest more intentionally in disciples making disciples? Yes, even amongst children and young people!’ Jodie Thorpe – Children Youth and Families Enabler with the Yorkshire Baptist Association
In response to the pandemic and its effects on our churches, the Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021 editions of our Baptists Together magazine focused on listening to God and one another. Their aim was to capture some of the stories and reflections from around our Union in an attempt to help our understanding and prepare us for what lies ahead. The Baptist Times has also been a place to share church stories and reflections throughout the pandemic. It's perhaps significant that the two most clicked pieces in 2020 reflected the pressures of the year (Why is it SO challenging to live through this pandemic? and Caring for your pastors through COVID19).
Of course we are very aware of the struggle that the past twelve months have been for so many people in churches and communities, not just in the UK but around the world, and we continue to cry out to God for an end to the pandemic.
This article will feature in the Baptists Together Annual Report 2020, available in May