I Trust in Your Unfailing Love

Yesterday was the 100th day of lockdown and during the last three months we have all had to get used to various changes to our usual normal way of life.

This weekend sees the easing of some of the lockdown measures in England with bars and restaurants being allowed to open again. Also, social distancing rules are being changed from 2 metres to what is described as “1 metre plus”.

On a personal note, whilst it’s good to see some of the lockdown eased, I am disappointed that there are still restrictions on churches meeting. Churches are allowed to open for private prayer and services. It is possible to hold weddings with up to 30 guests. However, singing is not permitted! Although I understand the reasons why, it is sad that we still do not know when we will be able to gather together for worship in the normal way again. (UPDATE – Since I posted this I have come across further information on the current rules regarding worship including this from the BBC website).

I think the online services have worked very well at my church, but it is not the same as worshipping together in the normal way. I had been a bit discouraged recently, as the end of the church restrictions still seems to be in the distance with no end date in sight. However I was looking at Psalm 13 and found encouragement in the final 2 verses.

“But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.” (v5-6, NLT)

As we move into the second half of 2020 let us keep our eyes on the Lord. Events in the world may discourage us but if we focus on God and trust in his unfailing live, then we will find encouragement and hope. Although circumstances may change in this world the Lord does not.

The ups and downs of working from home

I have now been working from home for the last four weeks and it looks likely I will be continuing to do this for a few more weeks, as there is no sign yet of the lockdown restrictions being eased. In view of this I thought it might be interesting to explore the ups and downs of working from home.

I’m fortunate in that I can do my job anywhere and do not need to be in a fixed location. The only tools I need are a laptop and a reliable internet connection. Once I get those I can connect via a VPN to our network and it’s just like being in the office.

For me one of the best things about working from home is that my commute is very short! Normally it takes me 30 minutes from leaving my house to when I’m sitting at my desk. Although the journey is short compared with some commuters, that still means I waste an hour each day travelling to and from work. I have often pondered why we commute to work when we can do our jobs at home. Surely it’s a better use of our time and also beneficial to the environment not to unnecessarily drive to work.

Working from home also means that I get less interruptions from people disturbing me and enables me to concentrate better. Invariably when you work in a busy office there is going to be a certain amount of noise. Sometimes this can be distracting and therefore working from home avoids this problem.

Thanks to the wonder of modern technology I can still keep in touch with my work colleagues. We have been having weekly departmental meetings using Microsoft Teams which works well. I must admit that I do switch off the camera facility for these meetings. I don’t wish to frighten my work colleagues needlessly!

There are some who feel that working from home can cause issues with loneliness. I personally so far have not found this a problem, but that is probably due to me being more introverted than others. However, I acknowledge that for those who are more extrovert and prefer being with people this could be a huge problem. Although being in a busy office does not necessarily prevent one from suffering from loneliness.

There are though obviously problems in working from home. The biggest one for me is my house is not suited for full time working from home. It’s ok for the odd day. I could probably make it work for once a week or once a fortnight but not for every day. I’m currently doing my work at the dining room table on a normal chair.

Additionally I am doing all my work on a 13 inch laptop. In the office I have my laptop plugged into two big screens with another keyboard connected too. I also have a special chair and a block under my desk which raises it to a level more suitable to someone my height.

Therefore I’m encountering two main issues here: my productivity and a sore neck. Yes I can still get my work completed, but not as fast as when I’m using two big screens. I also need to manage my neck so that this problem does not escalate. This means taking regular breaks during the day and doing stretching exercises.

Another problem at home is my internet connection. For some reason my internet normally crashes between two or three times per day. I’m not sure why this happens but it does. Fortunately I have not lost any work or missed anything important but I always have an eye on it checking that it is ok. It’s somewhat ironic that when we are in the office we complain about our internal IT systems yet encounter our own IT problems at home.

Whilst I have not felt lonely at home I acknowledge that there are times when you want to run a problem past a colleague. Yes you can still email them but it’s not the same as asking them a quick question.

When working from home, if you do not have a separate room for an office like me, it can be a challenge separating work from home life. The temptation exists to have a quick look at your emails outside working hours. My personal approach is that I am trying to work exactly the same hours at home as I do in the office. The laptop is switched off at the end of the day and put away until the next morning.

The next few weeks will no doubt be a challenge and it will be interesting to see whether the lockdown leads to any long term change in people’s attitude to working from home on a more regular basis.

 

Online Church Services

Due to the current lockdown it’s now been 31 days (15th March) since the church I attend has been able to meet together in our building. Since that time we, along with many other churches, have moved our services online. We are uploading our online services to our website. Additionally, we are uploading videos for our Messy Church to our Facebook page. Other churches are live streaming services on Facebook.

We are used to services being broadcast on platforms such as BBC Radio 4, Premier Christian Radio, United Christian Broadcasters and not forgetting of course Songs of Praise on BBC1. However, all these programmes will have professional sound engineers working on them. Therefore they will be professionally produced and will be of a high technical quality. Most of our churches will not have access to such skilled personnel, and instead will have to work with the skills available to them within their own congregations.

Obviously all this is a big change for churches and I felt it might be useful to share some thoughts on my experiences of online services.

Our vicar mentioned that he encountered a lot of technical challenges in putting together the services for last week. As it was Holy Week there were four services to produce: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We are using the Freemake video converter to put together our services. This means that everyone who is taking part in the service has to record their contribution and send it to the organiser of the service. The various different files then need to be converted to the same file format and the video produced. Anyone who has been involved in any audio or video production will know though that invariably things are never straightforward. This can be very time consuming and frustrating! Whilst a service might last 30 minutes it would take significantly longer to produce the final video to upload to the website.

When watching an online service it is obviously essential that your internet connection does not crash. Whilst watching a live streaming service on Facebook on Easter Sunday our connection went down at home. Fortunately the outage was only 7 minutes, so we carried on from where the crash occurred. Depending on where you live in the country, the quality of the broadband can vary. For those in areas where the internet signal is weak live streaming services may not work.

Generally speaking the contents of an online service would contain all or some of the following: a sermon, worship, bible reading, prayers, children’s talk, testimony and communion. If we go through each of these individually:

Sermons – most churches these days upload versions of their sermons onto their websites anyway. Therefore in that respect we are used to online sermons. Over the years churches have recorded sermons, making them available in various different formats dating back to the days of cassette recorders. For most of us then this is not really a significant change in how we have listened to sermons if we were unable to attend church. The big difference is that normally these are audio and not video recordings.

Worship – it can seem strange watching someone singing and leading the worship from their own home. We can find ourselves distracted, looking at their wallpaper and pictures that are hanging up! Another potential issue is we might slip into the role of a spectator just watching them sing, rather than joining in the worship ourselves. Our church helpfully includes song lyrics for people to download from our website. In some ways it can be similar to listening to a worship cd whilst driving. Although unlike with driving you can close your eyes and raise your hands!

Bible reading – ideally we should close our eyes and listen to the passage of scripture being read. I have, if I’m being honest, found myself distracted by the same wallpaper issue though as mentioned above.

Prayers – in the Anglican church we have the practice of someone leading the prayers each week. This has worked well in our online services. Obviously it prevents any open pray, as we are all in our separate homes, but I personally have found this part of the service helpful. The important thing is to ensure that you close your eyes and concentrate on the words of the prayers. The same as in “real life”.

Children’s talk – the ones I have watched in the live stream services have been specific and to the point. They have included some visuals too which have helped get over the main point and been done well. In our Palm Sunday service we had a donkey appear which I’m sure the children would have enjoyed seeing. Interestingly the donkey seemed to have a very familiar voice!

Testimony – this is really similar to the section above on sermons. The only thing I would add is that it’s nice to see another member of the church speaking and see a different face.

Communion – one of the online streaming services on Facebook which I “attended” was a communion service. I took the bread and wine, and personally found the service beneficial. This particular service was put on by a baptist church, which has different rules to the Anglican church in this area. In respect of our church on Easter Sunday the service was a communion one. However, that just involved our vicar taking communion on the video. To be honest it felt strange not taking part but that is the current practice in my denomination.

The obvious criticism of online services is they are not the same as meeting together to worship. Of course it’s difficult to disagree with that view. However, at the moment we cannot meet as a church in the normal way. We do not have that option. Therefore this is the best method we have available and we should seek to embrace it. There are many countries in the world where Christians do not have the freedom to worship and they would I’m sure love to have this facility.

Also although we are unable to meet it least it gives us opportunities to see members of our churches on our screens. Additionally, when you post something online, you never know who will watch it. God can use our services to speak to people all over the world.

A lot of work has been put in by churches in producing these services and therefore I am not inclined to criticise online services. Instead let us pray that they might be powerful and effective in spreading the gospel message.