I had hoped to write about something other than coronavirus. Anything else, really. But it is, seemingly, the only thing going on!
The government advice seems to be for as many people as possible (except school children) to stay home, venturing out only for supplies and perhaps a bit of exercise. All public gatherings have been advised against in the strongest possible terms. The Health Minister, Matthew Hancock, was asked specifically whether all but essential gatherings included religious meetings. His position was unequivocal:
The FIEC, our main affiliate group, strongly advised their churches to close for a minimum of 4 weeks. Naturally, being independents, they didn’t order anybody to do anything. But, again, the advice is clear. And so, with regret, my own church put out the following statement yesterday:
We are now essentially in lock down. We can go out, a little bit, but we can’t hold public gatherings or meet easily with our friends. So, how ought we to spend our time now we have quite a lot of it on our hands?
I mean, you obviously do this already (don’t you?) But why not use our extra time to pray. Many complain that they are simply too busy to pray. Well, now is the opportune time to find out if they’re telling the truth, as we’re going to have a lot of time on our hands and not a lot to do with it. If busyness really is the issue, I’d expect us to vastly increase our prayer output.
Of course, for most of us, I suspect time isn’t really the issue. But, nonetheless, given that we have a lot more time on our hands, wouldn’t it be great if we used it to commit to prayer.
If you’re home and looking for something to do, you can’t do much better than open up your Bible and read it. If you’re anything like me, you can also find endless other things to do rather than read books. I have a pile of books that I keep meaning to read, but the priority to read them never seems higher than the list of other things I have to do. But this enforced period of time indoors might just give us the ability to read a bit more. Rather than bingeing on Netflix (at least, not the whole time), get your head in the Bible and spend a bit of time reading some good books.
The biggest fear I have with this new situation is the social implications. Whilst there are many people for whom coronavirus poses a very real, physical risk, there are many more for whom social isolation poses a similarly lethal problem. Mental health issues are rife in our community and those who are already depressed are not far away from ending their lives, social isolation may just take them all the way there. There are equally those who are just about staving off depression but for whom social isolation might just bring it on. The elderly already have a real issue with loneliness and so this new state of affairs is unlikely to help them.
Thankfully, we live in an age where social connection is easier than ever. Not only do we have phones so we can call people, we have messaging apps and social media aplenty. We can text, email, instant message, Facebook, Tweet, Instagram or whatever. Whilst none of these things are better than our real presence, connection has never been easier. Rather than simply isolate ourselves, why not make use of these tools to try to establish real connections with those who most need it. Perhaps as you use the time to pray more (see previous point), you might use social media and messaging tools to both contact those who might be lonely and get information to fuel your prayers.
Redeem the time
An enforced isolation period is unlikely to be welcomed by all but the most untrammelled introverts. But it is possible to redeem the time. Instead of doing nothing, why not use the time to build up a sermon buffer. I typically operate with one, but many people – who see the advantages – simply don’t feel able to get themselves into a position to get one. But this enforced stay indoors, without the ability to mix socially, might just allow us to build up a healthy buffer. The benefit of such a buffer is that you can devote more time, over a longer period to your sermons where it is needed. But, better yet, when things crop up in your week, you are not caught on the hoof and taking time out of sermon preparation for that Sunday to deal with whatever the issue happens to be.
But maybe you’re not fussed by having a buffer. Fair enough. But you could use the time to do something valuable that you couldn’t otherwise do. One minister told me that they were going to use the time to sort out the necessary admin for becoming a CIO. Perhaps there are other tasks that you know would be helpful, or even necessary, but they’re never the pressing concern. Why not redeem the time and take this enforced isolation as the means God has provided so you can get these things done.
The reality of our new situation doesn’t change the need for our people to grow up in Christ and to feed on his Word. Whilst we may not be able to physically meet together as we would like, we can get creative about how best to bring the Word of God to bear in the lives of our people.
We might do some of that through sharing Bible passages or texts via whatsapp or on Social media. Maybe we will use Twitter and Facebook to upload some helpful Biblical teaching. I suspect a lot of us are in the process of setting up live streams so that, despite not meeting physically, our people may still access some sound biblical teaching.
But whatever we do, let’s get creative in how best to feed God’s people whilst we aren’t able to physically meet together.