“John’s gospel depicts a multi-ethnic, socially variegated and all-inclusive community as both the object and achievement of Jesus in his mission to bring the divine love into the world”
Richard A Burridge
Engage West Midlands
A few weeks ago, we mentioned the organisation Greater Europe Mission (GEM) – see issue 9. In recent years GEM have revised their strategy for Europe. They are now focussing their resources for a time, on three major European cities – Athens, Frankfurt and Birmingham. In order to focus on the West Midlands, they have established an organisation called Engage West Midlands (EWM). The goal is to plant 1,000 churches over the next 20 years. In the first year, the idea is to begin with around 12 churches in the next twelve months. There are many partners in this process, including FCC and ForMission College in relation to training.
The first part of the strategy is to consider planting four models of church. The first is the traditional model where an existing church reaches out to a nearby neighbourhood to plant a new work. We call that a strawberry runner model. The second is to plant churches which have a single ethnicity in mind. That could be because of language, culture or need. The third is to plant churches which are intentionally inter-cultural from the beginning – an intention reflected in the planting team and the leadership group. Fourth is to create a church plant that is intended to become a resource church – a church that quickly engages in the resourcing of more church plants. It’s too early to say how well this might all go but it is an exciting prospect.
As the Engage West Midlands strategy develops, we hope to be able to work with other major cities to create similar strategies. So imagine if your city could complete the sentence that starts with Engage….. what might God be able to accomplish in your area if a huge church planting process got under way?
Opening Church Buildings
Last updated: Monday, 29 June 2020
In England churches will be allowed to open for services from 4 July, and weddings will also be able to take place from this date. Church buildings in England are currently allowed to open for private prayer, this has been permitted in Wales from 22 June, while churches in Northern Ireland can begin to reopen from 29 June. In Scotland small outdoor weddings will be allowed from the same date.
In the light of these changes many churches are considering how and when various meetings and activities which have paused because of lockdown, or shifted online, may resume in person. At present the steps relating to churches wanting to reopen are very limited, with only minor changes added to the previous exceptions of recording worship and providing essential services such as foodbanks.
It is anticipated that church services as we experienced before the lockdown in March will not be able to resume for some time, and there are a few core aspects to consider when resuming any activities. This guidance will constantly evolve as government guidance and advice is issued, both from the UK government and devolved administrations. Our hope is that this aids you in planning and preparation as much as possible.
Each of the four nations of the UK are lifting the lockdown in slightly different phases and timings. Therefore, please take note of the specifics in your nation before making firm plans. Likewise, some denominations may put additional restrictions in place for how their church buildings reopen.
Principles to consider
There are a few key principles which are helpful to consider in all circumstances and will aid your planning for how church buildings can reopen, and activities resume.
For the foreseeable future all activities which are permitted to resume will need to be conducted with physical distancing between household groups. This means that the capacity of venues will be reduced and measures such as one-way systems and separate entrances and exits may be necessary to reduce bottlenecks. Some areas of the building may pose particular challenges to distancing and may need to be closed off. The primary rule remains that people from different households or support bubbles should remain 2m apart where possible, however, if mitigating measures can be put in place — such as the wearing of masks — this can be reduced to 1m. Each nation of the UK is approaching this slightly differently, but it is vital to consider how many people your venue can safely hold, taking into account the difference between individuals and household groups.
Cleaning and hygiene
Church premises will require more frequent and deeper cleaning. This will be particularly true between meetings or events with different sets of people, and the cleaning of high traffic areas and places where the infection is most likely to spread, for example on door handles or stair rails.
Hygiene procedures will need to be evaluated and put in place so that people attending church meetings and other events in the building, or using the building as a place to pray, are able to wash their hands on entry, or at the least have hand sanitiser available. It is unlikely that shared food will be allowed for some time and shared equipment and facilities will require careful monitoring and cleaning.
Protecting the vulnerable
When restrictions are lifted that enable groups of people together in greater numbers or indoors it is vital to remember that many people will still be being advised not to gather. Based on current guidance it is unlikely that there will be a blanket ban on people over 70 from attending gatherings (when they are permitted) but there will be advice that encourages them not to. For those who are considered especially vulnerable or who are advised to shield they will probably not be able to attend church meetings in person for some time. There will also be others who are anxious about attending meetings with other people and either need support to do so or the provision of alternative means of accessing church activities and services.
Ahead of resuming worship services churches should undertake a risk assessment which takes into account their premises, their activities and the people likely to be involved. There is no required standard for this assessment but the questions at the end of this guidance may provide a starting point. The Church of England have also produced a template which is available for download here which may be helpful.
A risk assessment is a way for churches to understand the impact of their activities and take into account the particular risks that the coronavirus poses. This will therefore need to be separate to other risk assessments.
One area that will pose considerable challenges for churches is the advice against congregational singing. The scientific evidence appears to suggest that singing and other loud vocal activity such as shouting or cheering increases the risk of infection. At the Evangelical Alliance we are closely monitoring this situation and we understand that Public Health England are undertaking a review of the evidence. We will be pressing for this review to be made public as soon as possible as such a restriction on Christian worship is acceptable in extremis, but not a situation that can be allowed to persist longer than essentially necessary. In the short term this may well be a significant reason why some churches decide to wait to resume full services.
Frequently asked questions
The Evangelical Alliance web site has a valuable list of frequently asked question together with some key answers. The list of questions is:
- When can I reopen my church?
- Can we open the building for individual prayer?
- Can we hold wedding services?
- What restrictions will there be when churches can reopen?
- Can we meet outdoors?
- Can we meet in homes?
- When we meet together can we sing?
- Can we share communion when we gather together?
- Can we baptise people?
- Can we take an offering?
- What about community groups such as toddler groups that are run by or in the church?
- We hire out our building, what should we do?
- We hire a venue for our Sunday service, when will we be able to do that again? How should we do children’s ministry?
- What about insurance and indemnity policies?
The answers to all these questions can be found on the Evangelical Alliance website. The link is:
Spiritual Hunger amongst younger people
This week I had a fascinating Zoom conversation with a number of leaders in key Christian organisations. One of those reported that their research suggests that faith is not on the immediate agenda of young people but that once the issue is raised their interest is amazingly high. That observation is confirmed by the following extract from the website of the Evangelical Alliance. I encourage you access their website yourself. This is what they have to say.
“According to research launched by Tearfund, and conducted by Savanta ComRes, many in the UK are turning to prayer during the crisis. A third of UK adults (33 per cent) have prayed since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those surveyed, 30 per cent of 18 – 34-year olds pray regularly, compared to 25 per cent of over 55s.
Of course, those who pray will be of all faiths and, interestingly, one or two will have no faith at all, but these statistics nonetheless challenge the assumption that religious faith is on its way out, irrelevant to the vast majority of people.
The research also covered those who watch or listen to religious services (for example, via online streaming). This was 24 per cent overall, or 76 per cent of those who regularly went to church before the pandemic. The proportion accessing services remotely was higher among 18 – 34 year olds (34 per cent) compared to those aged 55 or over (19 per cent). One in 20 UK adults (5 per cent) who say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown have never gone to church before.
This matches what we at the Evangelical Alliance have heard from our members. Our members have shared encouraging stories of how churches are streaming online services in different parts of the country. We’ve also listened to church leaders express concern that not everyone can access such services, with older people particularly not being shored up digitally, as the research seems to indicate. But we’ve also heard about how these churches are being proactive in ensuring that no one is left out. You can read an article about resources from member organisation Faith in Later Life for sharing the good news with older people.
The 1 in 20 who have joined a service for the first time should also be in our prayers. The pandemic and lockdown are sources of incredible stress for all, and many will be looking for new and unexpected sources of support. For others, online services will be an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity, without the inconvenience and perhaps embarrassment of attending a service in person. Whatever the reason people are tuning in, let’s pray that churches use this opportunity well to point not to ourselves but to Christ.
Tearfund’s research also covered beliefs about prayer, and what people prayed for. Among those who pray, two thirds (66 per cent) say they agree that God hears their prayers and over half (56 per cent) say they agree that prayer changes the world. Half of those who pray (51 per cent) agree that they’ve witnessed answers to their own prayers and over two fifths (43 per cent) agree that their prayer changes the lives of people living in poverty in developing countries. Among the topics prayed for, more than half prayed for their family, but fewer (15 per cent) prayed for the needs of the wider world.
It is wonderful to see the widespread belief in the power of prayer. But a major task for the church in the lockdown and beyond, will be to challenge people to broaden the gaze of their prayers. At the moment, we’re all concerned about our loved ones, and the situation in our own country. But historically the church has always had a global vision, as we remember not just our nearest neighbours, but our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. “
Coming out of Lockdown – the experience of Tunbridge Wells
I had a conversation with Cliff Allen, the minister of Tunbridge Wells Church of Christ this week to ask about their intentions in the coming weeks – to open the building or not? Cliff tells me that they are taking a cautious approach to the re-opening of the building, partly because it is a tricky thing to do and partly because there might be other, more creative options. So, for the moment, they are encouraging, smaller meetings with different church folk and connections in local parks. The building option will come later.
At one level the loss of the building has been discouraging because this was due to be the 150th anniversary of the church opening and so all their plans for celebrating the event have vanished. On the other hand, next year can be a 151st and 150th celebration combined!
During lockdown the church has encouraged folk to be creative with the opportunities around them. As a church they have worked with other churches to provide a food for needy people. They have shared in events to mark the Black Lives Matter issue. Cliff has participated in a town wide prayer vigil around this question.
Both Cliff and his wife Lynn have engaged in a variety of street wide initiatives to mark Easter and VE day – all designed to make to most of the relationship capital that has been built up over the years.
Introducing Rehoboth Beyene
As our regular readers will be aware, we have been featuring members of the Strategic Board each week for a number of weeks. This week it is the turn of Rehoboth Beyene. Rehoboth says: “I am originally from Eritrea a small country at the horn of Africa, and am now the Senior Pastor at a Birmingham church, called Rhema. I have been in ministry for the last 18 years and also lead other six churches in the UK. The church is a member of FCC and I have served previously on the National Leadership Team of FCC since 2011.
I am married to Emmet Issac and we have four children Elnaby, Phillip, Natty and Carmel.”
Till next week, Martin Robinson….