It is now one year since we had what might be described as a normal service at our church. However, even that service was different. We all had to wash our hands on arrival and we were not allowed to shake hands or hug anyone. There was also no coffee served after the service. Although there were no restriction on numbers who could attend about one third of our congregation stayed away. Little did we know what lay ahead of us!
We were then closed the next week and after some experimenting we arrived at our current online worship format, which is a service done on Zoom and streamed via Facebook Live. It is also recorded and uploaded to our website too. We then have coffee over Zoom after the service.
In the summer, autumn and also in December we moved to a hybrid method. This consisted of limited numbers in the church building (up to a maximum of 30 people) and the rest of us met over Zoom or Facebook Live.
We closed again after Christmas, at the beginning of the third lockdown, and returned to a fully online service. At the beginning of April our church will be reopening again and we are moving back to the hybrid method mentioned above.
If someone had said to me on 1 January 2020 that this would be how church would be then I would not have believed them! But this is the reality for us all.
We are very fortunate at our church in having a good tech team, that has worked very hard making this new way of meeting for worship work effectively. Our team has spent many hours working on the technical aspects, such as making sure all the various gadgets speak to each other. And without their sterling effects we would not have been able to do what we have done.
It seems these days that virtually everything at our church is conducted over Zoom whether that is Sunday services, Midweek services, prayer meetings, housegroups, coffee mornings, Messy Church, PCC meetings and our APCM. Modern technology has certainly been a real blessing, as 15-20 years ago most of what we have done would not have been technically possible.
Whilst I am pleased that we have been able to meet, I do have to say that it is not the same as meeting in a church building in the normal way. There are times when it has been difficult to engage fully in the services. There are distractions at home too. I also feel that online communion does not really work. That is not to say that I do not appreciate our online meetings. I realise how fortunate we have been to still be able to worship together. It is just being honest. I have been to a couple of services in our church during these last 12 months, when we were open, and whilst they were different e.g. face masks, social distancing etc it felt really good to be back in the building again.
I am fortunate as I have a reasonable reliable broadband connection and am happy with using technology. However, I know there are some at our church who have not been attending our online services for various reasons e.g. no internet, uneasy with technology etc. For these people the last 12 months will have been difficult. In our housegroup 8 of 10 of us have continued to meet. Two of our members have not been attending the Zoom housegroup but others have kept in contact with them.
So what does the future hold for us? How long will we have to worship with restricted numbers? Will some members of our church be reluctant to come back? What changes might we need to make to our services e.g. social distancing, not sharing the peace with each other? What about coffee after church? There are some important decisions that need to be made. And they are not easy ones.
In closing I know it can be easy to get discouraged when looking at things from a human prospective. However we must remember that we need to keep on eyes focused on God and put our hope afresh in Him.