God is faithful to use churches during the lockdown

I’m the vicar at St Mary’s Stoke Bishop, a medium-sized church in the suburbs of Bristol. I was licensed in December and back then I certainly did not imagine that 3.5 months into my new role the church would be closed for an indefinite period! My first Easter here was certainly very different to what I was expecting.

And yet, there have been some really positive things arising from this season of lockdown, which I hope are going to impact the church for good in the long-term. These are some things I have noticed, which I’m sure would be common amongst many church leaders at the moment:

a) Church members are connecting more with each other. Various WhatsApp groups have been set up (e.g. St Mary’s Parents, St Mary’s Youth etc) and people who would never normally be interacting with one another are beginning to do so. People are also asking for help with things – e.g. items to borrow – and others are responding. These are the early signs that we are having to become more dependent on one another because it is not as easy to simply get what we need ourselves from shops or wherever. For a church in an area where self-sufficiency and independence are highly prized, this feels like a significant work of God’s Spirit amongst us.

b) The ‘reach’ of church ‘services’ has expanded significantly. A surprising outcome, given that church buildings are closed, but it seems that we are connecting with more people than we were previously (not just regular church members, but others too). Our daily Morning Prayer services on YouTube are seemingly being accessed by 50+ people regularly, and Sunday services are getting 300+ hits. Regular vlogs and emails from members of the leadership team have also increased the opportunities to communicate truth and love to our church family and beyond.

c) Gratitude and generosity are hallmarks of this season. In the many pastoral conversations (via phone, Zoom and email) that I have had with church members I have sensed a profound gratitude to God for all that we have, and a desire to share what we have with others. Anecdotally I am aware that more people are supporting our local foodbank (financially and practically) than they were before. Just before Easter I had an idea that we purchase some evangelistic books entitled Where is God in a coronavirus world? to distribute to people in our parish. The financial response from our church family was overwhelming and we have been able to purchase the books and start to offer them to our community.

My hope and prayer is that these things (and more), which have changed us for the better as a result of the lockdown, will carry forwards into the post-lockdown world. I hope too that we will continue to look for signs of God’s faithfulness and be open to the shaping power of His Holy Spirit at work amongst us.

–Revd Jema Ball (Trinity ’12) is vicar at St Mary’s Stoke Bishop in Bristol

If you are a member of the Trinity community, past or present, share a story of God’s faithfulness from your life, so we can encourage each other: melissa.stratis@trinitycollegebristol.ac.uk.

Read the stories collected during lockdown here.

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