We are very grateful to our friends in the North Western Baptist Association (NWBA) for granting us permission to utilise the work they are doing to produce guidance and help for their churches. This sharing of resources is a positive outcome from the Coronavirus outbreak and we give thanks to God for the links we have with many Christian organisations who are offering help and support as we all navigate through unchartered waters.
Our aim is to support our Fellowships in this very difficult time and to seek to facilitate them to maintain worship and mission within their local communities as well as establishing firm links across our Connexion of Churches.
There are a number of our Fellowships who are having to spend most of their energy in simply keeping themselves safe. Self-isolation is a Government requirement for all those over 70 and with underlying heath concerns but the advice to all of us is ‘stay at home’. As responsible citizens it is our duty to obey the Government instructions and to safeguard our elderly folk and our NHS workers who are on the frontline in this war against the Coronavirus.
Consequently, there is little energy, time and resources left for the purposes of organising worship and mission. However, by working together, praying for each other and our communities, supporting and communicating with each other, we can be the salt and light that God calls us to be, and use the opportunities God brings our way to share hope and an offer of faith to those in our communities.
However, at Connexional level there are a number of issues and questions that have arisen and need to be addressed. The danger is that we can become overwhelmed by them, firing off in all directions without reference to one another and ultimately becoming bombarded with detail if we try to address everything at once. So, this is where we are very grateful to our Baptist friends who have allowed us to offer their PRIORITY FRAMEWORK to our Fellowships. By considering using this framework we have the opportunity to work well together across our Connexion and for the greater good of all. There is no compulsion to accept this framework but we do strongly recommend church leaders to consider doing so in order that we will all be moving in a similar direction, although we recognise that each local Fellowship is unique and the local circumstances may require some modifications. We offer the framework so you are aware of the kind of resources and responses the Connexion is seeking to develop.
- The well-being of Church members and congregation: Our first priority is to maintain good care of each other. For local fellowships this will include practical steps to care for the vulnerable and at risk, but also to consider how we maintain healthy Christian discipleship in a situation where not only are people isolated from each other, but are experiencing raised concerns, questions, fear and uncertainty. For the Church this is her front-line task. So, as a Connexion we want to determine how best we can provide and co-ordinate necessary support. This is an immediate and ongoing task and we would welcome you to send us your requests and suggestions.
Equipping and supporting leaders: One of the key requirements of any Christian leader is to have a servant heart that results in focusing on the needs of others. However, in this situation we have a responsibility to TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES. Obviously, this includes all the necessary steps to protect our health, but it also means building networks of support across our Connexion for our Leaders and Ministers. These are difficult times and your Leaders and Ministers need your prayers, encouragement and support. Many are being faced with new technology and there is no doubt that we all – Leaders and congregation – are going to have to learn to adapt significantly under what may be, at times, extreme pressure. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that at this time we are extra kind and gracious to one another. We are in the business of building one another up not tearing each other apart. An important aspect of this will be communication across our Fellowships and we will do all we can to make contact with a representative of each church – Minister, Leader or Secretary – once every week until firm networks of support are in place.
Caring for our communities: So, having taken care of each other and ourselves we now turn to thinking seriously about how we can support our local communities more widely. Many Fellowships may think they can do nothing or very little, but we believe we can all do something. Firstly, we need to look at our resources. What do we have available? Our premises are closed but what about our carparks? Could they be used by key workers if our Fellowship is near a hospital or local transport hub? Is it possible to set up a network hub amongst your neighbours on WhatsApp or using Facebook? Can you set up a support group for people you know who live alone or are vulnerable, so they receive a call each week? Also, of course, sadly we need to consider how we provide funeral services and bereavement support, and this is provided separately on the Connexion website. These directions must be strictly adhered to as they are Government instructions and are in place to keep people safe. We are called to be missional people. In these times more than ever we need to ask ourselves why God has placed us in the communities that we are in and what He wants us to be doing there and how He wants us to live.
Ministry and Mission: This section overlaps with number 3 above, but we do have a distinct calling to be proclaimers of Good News and that call has not ceased in present circumstances. The Church has a unique role and opportunity to be a spiritual presence – we have a message of Jesus and we need to proclaim it with sensitivity and hope. Our situation is changing daily at present, but as things begin to settle down we would encourage thinking not only about new technologies but also how we can reach out in new and effective ways to the many people around us who will be concerned about their own well-being and possibly struggling to cope with living and functioning in very different ways to what they used to. There is a great need for compassion and mercy within our society and Christ’s people are the ones who are called to deliver it. We would really like to hear from Fellowships about the ways you have found to support and connect with those around you.
Church Practicalities: Alongside all these issues, we will have practical concerns about how our Fellowships function and operate in the days ahead. Issues of insurance, ground maintenance, finance, holding online leaders’ meetings are just a few of the important issues that will need to be addressed. Be assured that work is going on throughout the whole of God’s church nationally (and internationally) to address these matters. For the present, we would ask that unless these are particularly urgent matters that you await further information from the Connexion. If you consider there are particular issues we may overlook, please email these to your Connexional Representative or, if you do not have one, to Brian Rowney, the General Secretary, but do regularly check the Connexional website and updates as we will feed all your concerns into further conversations. IF YOU HAVE AN URGENT NEED, PLEASE CONTACT THE RESOURCE CENTRE STRAIGHT AWAY.
Thinking about the future: Whilst this is not an immediate priority, people are already recognising that life is unlikely to return to “normal” for as long as 12 months – in fact many of us already sense that life will never quite be the same again. Therefore it is important that we don’t simply focus on “getting through” the current circumstances, but we listen to the Spirit and what he is saying about the roles we have to take on in helping our communities to work again once this is over. There will be much to learn in the coming weeks – are we willing to learn? What is God showing us about how we function and operate as Fellowships as we go forward? This time of isolation is important as it allows us time to stop, pray, listen, and think through together what our role and calling is in the world in order that we may emerge READY TO RESPOND.
We are having to learn and adapt quickly, so we offer this framework only as a guide and basis for further reflection and interaction. As a group of independent Fellowships, we can choose to go our own way and do our own thing. Or, we can choose to be interdependent, to seek to love and support one another through difficult times, to encourage one another to seek God’s direction and, together, to emerge stronger and deeper in the Lord and equipped for all He has prepared for us.
Each Fellowship will not be able to do everything and even jointly we will not be able to do everything at once, but if we work together using this basis of a shared approach then maybe small sections can each work on different aspects within it and then by sharing together we can harness the gifting, experience and revelation that is so very present across our Connexion.
In coming days and weeks, we will work to update you using documents and the website. We need to discover the best way of communicating with individual Fellowships and you can help us in this by letting us know your preferred method of receiving information.
Please be aware – this is not an inclusive piece of work but only a starting point. We are working our way through, totally relying on God’s guidance. Please pray for us as we seek to lead and guide you through these times.
We are here to serve you. In so doing, we are seeking to make the best possible use of the resources God has given to us within the whole of the Connexion. You are a vital part of the ongoing work and we pledge ourselves to pray for you too.
May God grant us a true spirit of unity and wisdom as we seek to love and serve Him with undivided heart and mind.
Dorothy & Brian