“A church that serves its neighbours in love and compassion will bear witness to the love and compassion of Christ, who leads that congregation.”
C Christopher Smith
The Portable Priest
The Times newspaper carried an article this week which highlighted the response of people to the church in this lockdown period. They essentially made two points. First, many churches have been highly creative in their responses to lockdown. They particularly feature the Revd Pat Allerton who they call the Portable Priest. The article describes him as “a rugged vicar in west London who mounted speakers on the back of a tricycle and set off around the streets to preach and sing hymns. One of his videos has been watched more than five million times.
The man now known as the Portable Priest said that his online services had proved more popular than those he gave in person at St Peter’s, Notting Hill, explaining: “We might have got up to 80 adults and a dozen kids in church on a Sunday morning. We reckon we have up to 200 now [watching online].”
Perhaps more interesting is the reaction of those who normally don’t attend church to the on-line services that they are visiting. Two comments are worth noting:
“I’d been interested in finding out more about becoming a Christian for some time but had never done anything about it,” said Jane Chapman, 55, from Watford, who looks after her two teenage children.
“I’d never really had time and I always found churches a bit intimidating. I don’t know much about Christianity and wasn’t brought up in the church and don’t know what church etiquette is, so I felt awkward about going. I think of people going to church in their twinset and pearls from Marks & Spencer, which isn’t really me.”
So why are people willing to try on-line church but not take the risk of attending a live service in a church building? The Times article offers this thought:
“As you walk into a church for your first Sunday service, the eyes of the congregation turn to check out the stranger. You worry that you are not dressed smartly enough or that you will not know when to kneel and when to stand. You have never read the Bible and fret that your ignorance about its teachings will be exposed.”
These kinds of comments reflect what our own network of churches are beginning to experience. Later in this newsletter we comment on some research that Bible Society has carried out amongst Christians in relation to the pandemic.
Christian Research findings – summary
Bible Society has conducted some valuable research to see how churches are responding to the pandemic. They have conducted the research through an organisation called Christian Research which is owned by Bible Society. Full the full report go to:
Here is a summary of their findings.
“At this time nearly 90% of churches were conducting alternatives to their normal community service. A small number were relying on the services of others largely because they did not feel they had the skills to do better.
The Eucharist in particular was causing problems with 30% having stopped it completely and only 18% celebrating it online and encouraging viewers to take their own bread and wine at home.
Nearly 1 in3 of the church leaders did not feel they were adequately equipped to support their congregations online. Their concerns are initially around not having the necessary technical skills and equipment but even at this early stage they are beginning to anticipate problems with finance, mental health and other areas and not feeling they are adequately supported by their leadership.
Their major concerns for their congregations at this time are around their inability to be able to keep in contact with everybody. There are concerns for the elderly and vulnerable who are the most likely to be without internet access. They are also beginning to be concerned about how they deal with marking death and grief appropriately and anticipating mental health issues ahead. Whilst there are views both ways, more feel this will lead to a drop in congregations’ long term.
The overwhelming need of support from church leaders is for prayer. They feel unsupported both from their leadership and in inadequate networks with their peers to enable them to share ideas. Online prayer resources are also a need for congregations and we should be facilitating ministers in providing this with a particular emphasis on Bible related prayer.
New initiatives in churches are currently largely around duplicating online as many of the previous activities as they can and subsequently around pastoral care. Ministers are aware that there are numbers of their congregations who are elderly and/or clinically vulnerable for whom internet access is a problem and are already beginning to suffer from loneliness and other stresses. They are in many cases mobilising their community to contact and befriend each other through buddy and neighbourhood schemes using phone trees etc. One cause for concern in this area is where they want to distribute personal details to aid pastoral communications in ways not anticipated when GDPR was set up and hence technically disallowed.
With regard to initiatives for the community beyond their congregation, most were partnerships with other community groups, parish or town council, food banks, homeless shelters etc. Many were also encouraging and helping their congregation to reach out to all neighbours.
Church leaders think that the role of providing spiritual and practical aid and support are equally important. When asked if it was important to offer a Biblical perspective inly 11% agreed.
Many leaders think the longer-term effects will include decline in both finance and congregation numbers but most think there will be opportunities both to rethink the institutional structure of the church and its relevance and relationship with society at the community level.
Remembering that this panel is of practising Christians and likely to be Loving or infrequent Personas it may be surprising that 92% said they would either start reading their Bible regularly or read it more. There is also a greater likelihood for the majority to watch more online sermons and have phone or video prayer meetings.
Conclusions & recommendations
Although this is still early in the pandemic most feel there will be long-term effects. They feel that congregations may decline and finances dwindle. Their major concerns are for the elderly, the lonely and vulnerable and the marginalised in society. They are already having concerns for the mental health in society but also for themselves. However most also see it as a time of opportunity. An opportunity for the church to modernise and reform to move the church from being the buildings and the institution to being a church of people. An opportunity to again make the church an integral part of community, to work in partnership with all parts of society.
Poll conducted during the middle of April 2020 i.e. about three weeks into the coronavirus lock-down. 1026 respondents from the Christian Research Resonate panel. 23% are church leaders.”
Conversation: Martin Robinson talks to Doug Sembuuze
Doug is an associate minster (youth and community) at the Rowheath Pavilion Church. Originally from Uganda, Doug came to serve as a missionary in the UK, initially in Liverpool. He later moved to Birmingham with his wife and family and studies at ForMission College.
Doug commented to a number of people at church that he felt that his local church, ForMission College and FCC had something unique to say in the context of the Black Lives Matter debate.
Here is a link to a video interview between Doug Sembuuze and Martin Robinson
Doug has called it “One Minister’s Story”.
Introducing Dr Leonard Lupiya
Over the last few weeks we have been introducing members of the FCC Strategic Board. This week we want to introduce Dr Leonard Lupiya. Leonard leads a congregation meeting in the very centre of Leicester. The building was previously used as the main citadel of the Salvation Army and is in a very prominent location in the main shopping area of the city.
Originally from Zambia, Leonard has worked in a number of countries in Africa and is in demand as a speaker in many European countries also.
He is an experienced church planter and through him, the congregation in Leicester has begun additional work in places such as Southampton, Derby and Coventry.
Leonard is married to Mailes, who is pictured with him below.
Till next week, Martin Robinson…