In lifting others

Making the most of every opportunity

When lockdown hit, Nantwich Elim Church made a plan to keep its community connected.

After lockdown they are still reaping the benefits says pastor Michelle Nunn.

"We’ve all had those moments where a Bible verse has spurred us through a difficult situation.

For Nantwich Elim Church, it was Ephesians 5:16 – “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” This verse motivated leaders to keep reaching out to their community during the pandemic.

“Our church is highly relational and from the beginning our objective was to do all we could to keep the church family together,” says lead pastor Michelle Nunn.

“We made a strategy identifying how we’d communicate with people in church and what we needed to do to keep that going. That verse guided us and kept us focused on keeping the church together in any way we could.” 

The church community was diverse – with key workers, homeschooling parents, pensioners, university students and young adults recently made redundant all experiencing lockdown differently – so Michelle and her team came up with a diverse plan.

One group it supported was families with adopted children, children with special needs or those coping with long-term sickness. The church’s 20ft skittles alley and soft play area provided some welcome respite time.

“There were exemptions for people with mental health issues or families with special needs so we could designate families a set time to play and have respite in a Covid-secure space,” says Michelle.

“One mum from our community had been having seizures, so we arranged for her family to have some time out, with a packed lunch in our café, which was closed because of lockdown, and sole use of the soft play area.

“A couple of families had mature family members with special needs so we organised for them to use the skittles alley. This took some pressure off them, as they were cooped up and unable to access their normal day care.”

Families with younger children were also catered for when live Sunday services stopped.

Funday Sunday Kidz, an online kids’ service lasting 20 minutes, featured puppets and team members energetically teaching Bible stories. So popular have these proved to be that they are still being used now in-person Sunday clubs have reopened.

Michelle was thrilled to see new people join the church during lockdown and says online discipleship groups and Zoom get-togethers were another way to build and maintain connections.

“In July, we brought 14 people into church membership, and now have others asking to join – amazing people who God has brought into our fellowship.

“At first they were like, ‘how do we get to know people?’, then one of the new ladies had the idea of running ‘getting-to-know-you’ sessions on Zoom, and encouraging long-standing members to come along.

“That’s been a great way for people to make friends.”

Pastoral care also featured heavily on the plan, with a 15-strong team making weekly phone calls. The church made doorstep visits too, delivering cakes, flowers, hand sanitiser and even cheese, along with Christmas goody bags in December.

“This way, even if people hadn’t found online church easy they still felt part of the family and made new friend-ships,” says Michelle.

The pastoral care included support for the church’s Circle of Friends group for people experiencing memory loss and their carers.

“This has been incredibly important for them, particularly those who experienced a loved one going into a home or bereavement.”

As with so many other churches, Nantwich Elim Church moved to online services, midweek groups, prayer meetings and clubs during lockdown. Now, it has chosen to adopt a hybrid approach for its Sunday services.

“Everyone has a choice over when they feel comfortable engaging in person and when they feel safer staying at home.

“We wouldn’t have livestreamed our services before, but we know we need an online presence now.”

Michelle and her team have chosen a mix of outside services, a short service with a mix of edited material from Sunday and other pre-recorded content – called the ‘Love Sunday Edit’ – and livestreaming full services through a closed Facebook group while they meet outside.

“We don’t openly livestream our services because we want to protect people’s privacy and enable them to move freely in the gifts of the Spirit and give their testimonies without worrying their work colleagues and others will see them online.”

The church’s goal has been, and still is, to connect and gather people, says Michelle. She is pleased at how the community pulled together during the pandemic.

“We were encouraged by the way the church continued to gather and rose to the challenge of supporting each other through the highs and lows of lockdown.”

But she is aware there is still more to be done.

“Even with all the effort we and other churches have made we know there are still people who found it hard to keep connected throughout lockdown. We regularly review our database and try to help people reconnect. We’re doing our best to leave no one behind.”  

Reaching out to stranded students

The church didn’t just focus on church members during lockdown. It also supported students at a further education college.

For the previous three years, the church had been running wellbeing groups and meals for students after the Principal high-lighted a problem with mental health. This group continued online throughout the pandemic with the group undertaking the Alpha course.

“At the beginning of the pandemic the majority were sent back home,” says Michelle.

“But 20 students were unable to return home, so to encourage them we made survival kits with drinks, food and a gospel or something spiritual. “The students were very grateful to know that somebody cared about them.”

"He started speaking to us again, saying, 'Take the church outside. I want you to do a Days of Light tour and take the bus into five locations in Cornwall, for three days in each.'"

Business support during lockdown

The church also operates a business park as part of its ministries and has worked with tenants to support them during lockdown.

“I hosted Zoom chats in the early days to encourage people, and prayed for people too as well as keeping in touch via emails and messenger,” says Michelle.

“Some tenants experienced real personal challenges and we helped with rent deferrals, grants and contract renewals, providing reassurance that we would release people early if their businesses failed.

“We had tenants saying they were unable to pay, then telling us they knew we’d prayed for them because their cashflow had been restored and they now could pay their rent.

“As lockdown lifted we helped people diversify. One of our tenants began holding exercise classes outside.

“Many tenants had to diversify or go online, but they are recovering. We have more tenants at the end of the pandemic than we had at the beginning.”
 

First published in the October 2021 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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