It’s easy to be comfortable in church each week, but there’s a world outside that’s hurting.
When Phil Worthington attended a seminar asking what the church would look like post-crisis he came away with two different questions.
"Wasn’t the world already in crisis?" he asks. "And how should the church respond?"
Phil, who pastors Elim-affiliated Mount of Olives church in the Forest of Dean, lists a range of issues that existed long before Covid-19.
"We already had environmental problems, Brexit and cultural issues around gender, for example. All coronavirus has done is highlight the crises we were already in. People who were hungry are hungrier, people who were poor are poorer.
"It’s easy to be comfortable in church every week, but there’s a world outside that’s hurting. It feels like a challenge from God asking what we’re doing about these things."
For Phil and his church, the answer has been to meet needs in their community. Mount of Olives supports its local foodbank and has been taking opportunities to help families in crisis.
"We heard about a family whose house had burned down. They had no insurance and were out of work. They were being rehoused but had lost everything, so we got together all the furniture they needed. People donated pots and pans and toys for the children. They were incredibly generous, and I was like a white van man for a couple of weeks.
"It seemed obvious that if there’s a crisis in your community, the church should address it and prove we mean what we say about loving people."
Phil has plans for the church to offer new practical support this year.
"I’m planning to run a mental health course for teenagers because that’s a huge need right now.
"I’m also looking to run a job club, which won’t simply be about getting people back into work, but also making sure families can support themselves. We’re also planning to run parenting courses, money courses and a course on how to avoid internet and phone scams"
There are many practical needs churches can address, says Phil, and a real opportunity to help now the world is more open.
"People are looking for hope and for answers; councils are desperate for churches to step in and lend a hand. We’ve been given an amazing opportunity to step into that gap and to show what it means to be the church."
How using technology can help us bless and build connections.
"I enjoy the intersection of technology and people and, for me, it’s a question of how I can equip them, help them find Jesus and live better lives by using it,” says Phil.
"Technology was a huge blessing during lockdown, from live-streamed services on YouTube and Facebook, and Bible studies and prayer groups on Zoom, to the connections I've built while pastoring the church remotely.
"I’d only been at the church for three or four weeks when I decided we needed a database. I wanted to make sure I had everybody’s details so I could contact them.
"I’d planned to do it a few weeks later but I felt God telling me to do it straight away. The day after, we went into lockdown. I was 125 miles away because we were still living in Crewe at that point, but I was able to get in touch with everyone.
"I knew people would need pastoral support because they were going through a very tough time."
The database also enabled Phil to react in times of crisis. When a local girl went missing, he sent a group text to the church asking for prayer and for people to look out for her. The next day, he was able to tell everyone when she had been found.
Online services have made lockdown a time of connection rather than isolation for some people, Phil adds, allowing people who couldn’t attend church physically, or who hadn’t attended previously to join in.
He now runs hybrid live and online meetings.
"We have prayer meetings in our building, with people sitting in a semicircle facing a screen so they can see others who have joined us on Zoom. People swap between Zoom one week and being in church the next.
"It’s not a second-class thing to be online. It’s making sure people are connected and included."
Phil says live-streaming has been an adventure and the experience has inspired him to help other churches become confident about using technology.
"A lot of churches are scared of technology and are hoping they can go back to the way they were before coronavirus. But I don’t agree."
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