Covid-19, Lockdown and beyond: Possible directions of travel in a new and unclear landscape

Covid-19, Lockdown and beyond: Possible directions of travel in a new and unclear landscape

An invitation to:
Pray (Wednesdays 8th and 15th July)
Read and Reflect ( Monday 6th – Thursday 16th July)
Discuss (Thursday 16th July, and dates to follow as felt necessary)
Ultimately Act in response to where we sense God is leading.


Rev Stephen Levett, June 30th 2020 (and already updated on July 1st and 3rd!)

The Covid-19 crisis has left few areas of life untouched, including that of the church. The numbers of people contracting the coronavirus may be falling and lockdown may be gradually easing but the way ahead remains uncertain. Uncertainty can create fear and apprehension. It is clear we will not be able to return quickly and easily to how things were before Covid-19 struck, and indeed that maybe we shouldn’t. Yet at the same time, as people of faith in God we might have some trust that God is able to go ahead of and lead us into this uncertain future possibly even with a sense of hope, excitement and expectation of renewal in our experience, life and mission as his people in the church.

As individuals, congregations and at Circuit level conversations have already begun to take place as to what we might need to do to navigate our way towards the new reality, and to wonder what the future might hold. There is a lot to pray through, read through, think through, talk through, decide. This paper provides an overview and some pointers to aid these conversations. The intention is not to dictate the conversation but hopefully outline some of the territory that might be covered.

This briefing is written from a Methodist perspective. I want to specifically state early on that for our three Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) we are aware that they have to navigate conversing with two denominational conversation partners, who will have themselves created discussion resources and advice, so should not be expected to necessarily be deeply involved in the Circuit level conversations. Similarly I would say to the seven Methodist congregations that if you want to plough on with local church level conversations that is of course their choice. Nevertheless if people want to share ideas and receive wisdom from those beyond their own congregation the Circuit level activities are where they are going to find it. Similarly if local churches are going to want any support from Circuit level in any regards to their response to Covid and beyond (such as interpretation of guidelines, help with risk assessments, support with maintaining their local church life because of lack of resources including personnel and finance etc.) they will need to be in on the Circuit level conversations.

Every Blessing
Rev Steve Levett
Superintendent Minister, Bromsgrove & Redditch Circuit.

Brief Outline
Here is a very brief outline of the areas covered more fully below. I’ve divided the periods to consider into three basic time periods, though recognising they will not be distinct. I also invite you to a process including relevant dates by which we might attempt to discern God’s way for us in these times.

1. Three phases
A. Lockdown period

New activities during lockdown.

Personally, what have we experienced, enjoyed and learned which we would want to carry forward beyond lockdown

How have we been able to pursue the themes of Our Calling (Worship, Learning & Caring, Service, Evangelism)?

B. Transition
Opportunities in the transition out of full lockdown.
Private prayer?
Public worship?
Summer: Outdoor worship and other activities?

Practical steps needed to come out of lockdown: risk assessments etc.

What has been good about the new activities and ways of ministering explored during lockdown ( Offline and Online). Should, if and how might these be sustained going forward?

How have we been able to pursue the themes of Our Calling (Worship, Learning & Caring, Service, Evangelism)?

C. Post-Covid

What have we not been able to do during Lockdown/the Covid crisis which we haven’t missed and would not want to pick up again?

Practical issues beyond Covid: Questions of Resources: People, Officers, Finance. Can we continue to exisit?

The Bigger Questions of vision and renewal: How should we seek to continue to exist?
Resources to help us explore the questions

How will we pursue the themes of Our Calling (Worship, Learning & Caring, Service, Evangelism)?

2. A plan for exploring the issues and questions
Pray, Read, Think, Discuss, Decide

Expanded brief

A. Lockdown
Lockdown led to the closure of our church buildings. This did not lead to the end of church life. Below are ways in which worship and care in particular were sustained.

Online (Internet based)
– 10.30am District services via Methodist District
– 5pm pre-recorded services via Circuit
– 8am daily prayers (9.30am, 7pm, 9.20pm) via Circuit staff
– Zoom: fellowship, discussion, coffee meet ups, business meetings. Via Circuit and Local churches

Telephone
– Pastoral support via Local church

Offline
– BARMCOT via Circuit Superintendent
– Printed service sheet via Circuit and in some cases Local church
– Crematorium based funerals via Circuit staff

In 2000 the Methodist Church, after a consultation on the purpose of the Church adopted the statement Our Calling. It remains the guiding understanding of the Methodist Church.

The calling of the Methodist Church is to respond to the gospel of God’s love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission.
The Church exists to:
• Increase the awareness of God’s presence and celebrate God’s love (Worship)
• Help people to grow and learn as Christians, through mutual support and care (Learning and Caring)
• Be a good neighbour to people in need and to challenge injustice (Service)
• Make more followers of Jesus Christ (Evangelism)

How has the covid-19 crisis impacted upon our expression of our calling in the four categories?
Worship: How have we facilitated and been able to worship in this period when physical gathering for worship has not been possible?

Learning (Discipleship): How have we been able to be sustained and grow as disciples during this period?

Caring: How have we been able to show care to one another during this period?

Service: How have we been able to reach out in service during this period when gathering and going have not been possible?

Evangelism: How have we sought to reach out in evangelism during the period of lockdown when gathering and going have not been possible?

Besides this overarching purpose of the Methodist Church there are also of course vision statements of the other denominations relevant to our LEP’s and vision statements of individual churches. Questions similar to those above could no doubt be created related to those purpose and vision statements.

B. Transition out of lockdown
(Note: We now recognise there is not going to be a clear Lockdown, Transition and Afterwards)

A number of options are emerging as we transition out of lockdown including:

Indoors
Before opening any Methodist buildings that have been closed during the lockdown the following guidance and procedures should be followed:
re-opening-of-building-checklist v2
covid-19-risk-assessment-template v5
Covid-19 risk assessment action-plan

-Private Prayer (Allowable from June 23rd)

– Public worship
Allowable by Government from July 4th. See Connexional guidance updated June 30th(version 2):
reopening-churches-for-worship v2
It is worth revisiting the website from time to time to check for any updates to the guidance.

NOTE: AS OF JULY 14TH GUIDANCE HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE GUIDANCE FOR USER GROUPS, CHILDRENS WORSHIP AND HOLY COMMUNION

If churches are not wanting to open from the earliest date of July 4th why not?
If we are to delay opening for public worship to a later date, what has to change from now for it to be seen as desirable to hold services ( see an article BARMCOT 15th Edition of July 1st for some options, accessible on the website.)

IF such indoor gatherings were to take place whilst there is still the requirements of social distancing or there is risk of contracting the Coronavirus (? A decreasing risk over time?) this would still need to be carefully prepared for through:
o Risk assessments
o Ways of working (Continuing social distancing, cleaning/sanitation, limits on numbers of participants etc.)
o Ensuring sufficient numbers and preparing of volunteers

The deeper questions are why would we want to gather in this way? And why not?

In addition, what could take place in such gatherings? The nature of ease of gathering and form of services will likely be very different to what was the norm before the Covid-19 lockdown began. E.g. Could there be Singing? (Currently no if we mean congregational) Communion? etc.

Who might still not be able to attend, and how could we ensure they still felt included?

Note: Funerals and weddings are a specific consideration. Numbers are limited to 30 at most.

– Use of buildings for other purposes and by other groups.
Guidance is just beginning to emerge. Check the Connexional website for updates. At time of writing permission has yet to be granted for opening up of buildings for wider church and community use, save for such groups as Pre-schools and Foodbanks.

Outdoors
The consensus amongst experts is that the Coronavirus is far less likely to spread outdoors than indoors so long as sensible precautions are followed. The British weather is fickle! However the summer months are likely to provide the best time for holding outdoor activities in reasonable warm and dry conditions. Options include:
– Garden worship. Currently restricted to groups of six. If Government changes the guidelines the numbers allowable may grow.

– Hospitality outreach?
Presumably if there was to be any outside catering churches would need to follow the rules and guidelines being applied to commercial operators.

– Other?

Online/offline
Should we continue to seek to offer the online and offline activities begun during the lockdown phase during this transition phase? If so, what are the resource implications?

Themes of Our Calling:
Worship
What is our plan regarding opportunities to worship for those of our churches most isolated during the near four months of lockdown so far and potentially continuing through to the autumn?

Learning (Discipleship): What are the opportunities and plans for growing as disciples during this transition phase?

Caring: What is our plan regarding opportunities for fellowship with those of our churches most isolated during the near four months of lockdown so far and potentially continuing through to the autumn?

Service: What are the opportunities and what is our plan for service when opportunities for gathering and going continue to be restricted?

Evangelism: What are the opportunities and what is our plan for evangelism when opportunities for gathering and going continue to be restricted?

C. Beyond lockdown
It is now clear that it is unlikely to be any time soon before we can say that we are beyond Covid and it is something we may simply have to learn to live with and manage for a long time. We may move beyond lockdown and other restrictions somewhat sooner. This new reality presents us with any number of questions and considerations.

a) Important questions (BUT arguably still not THE most important questions)

The sustainability or otherwise of the life of our churches
Sustainability: The resource issue.
Will we have the personnel we need?
Will we have the finances we need?
Other resources lacking?

If churches are struggling in terms of personnel and finance, what is the Circuit’s role in helping to address these matters?

If churches lack key officers, should they simply close?
Or is part of the solution for churches to be organised differently – for example share certain officers, or merge church councils so that say one single church council with sufficient key officers overseeing the affairs, responsibilities and assets of several congregations?

b.) The bigger questions
The new normal will not be the same as the old normal.
There is opportunity and even necessity for churches to consider their life, purpose and way of being in the light of the new reality of a changed society.

Some important questions (among many!?) might include:

• What have we learned in this period about what is important?

• What have we discovered and done new in this period which we would want to carry forward?

• What have we not done or been able to do in this period which we would not want to pick up again?
 At a personal level?
 At a local church level?
 At a circuit level?

• What can we do to promote and forward the mission of the church here locally given what we know about the potential ongoing presence of Covid-19 and its impact on our practice, people and community?

• What part should the issues around BAME, other areas of Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Social Justice and the likely changed economic landscape of our nation and communities play in a renewed understanding of the life, mission and ministry of the church?

• What part should God for All, The new Evangelism and Growth Strategy of the Methodist Church presented to the Methodist Conference 2020, play in a renewed understanding of the life, mission and ministry of the church.

• What pioneering work might we need to support in order to reach out and take the opportunities presented by the new context in which we and the world finds itself?

• What re-organisation of the churches might be necessary and beneficial in order to release energy for mission? (Administration, organisation, oversight, decision making structures…)

• What forms of church will be sustainable and effective in order to reach out to and include people in the new context in which we find ourselves? (Ecclesiology..)

• What forms of worship will be sustainable and effective in the new context in which we find ourselves?

• Should we take all our Mission Action Plans (if we have devised them), rip them up, and start again?!

• What should become of the current stated circuit priorities of
• Church Planting?
• Holy Habits?
• Website/digital presence?
• Young People?

What resources can we draw on to help us think through these many questions? There are no shortage of options to help get us thinking. Some are Covid-19 response specific; others timely in helping us to think about and envisage the renewed, evangelistic, growing, inclusive, social justice focussed church of which we might dream.
– Our calling
Reaffirming-Our-Calling-Methodist Conference discussion-paper-2018 (1)

– God for all: Evangelism and growth strategy
Short leaflet: Evangelism and Growth Strategy brief overview
Draft strategy: God For All Evangelism and Growth Strategy draft at 31-march – 2020

Equality Diversity and Inclusion toolkit
Found at: EDI Toolkit https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/guidance-for-churches/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/edi-toolkit/

Everybody Welcome online.
Everybody Welcome Online

Everybody welcome to the future
Everybody Welcome to the Future

Emerging into the new normal, a discussion document of the URC
Emerging_into_the_new_normal URC

An open letter to the Methodist Church.
Found at: Open Letter

A plan
a.) Days of prayer
To be silent and to listen for God; to ask for God’s guidance; to wait for God’s empowering.

Wednesdays 8th and 15th July: Days of prayer, where we ask you to consciously pray and wait on God regarding the ways ahead for the Circuit and individual churches during and following Covid-19.

Pray alone.

Organise ways to pray as a local church – be it in gardens, outside our buildings, on Zoom, with options for the evening to include those who are now working again.

Keep a record of what you sense God might be revealing to us, guiding us to…

b. Monday 6th -Thursday 16th July: Reading and Reflection

Read as much of the guidance, and as much of the more stimulating resources on church life beyond Covid as they are happy and willing to explore. Links are included above to digital and downloadable versions.

c. Thursday 16th July 7.30pm First Circuit level forum discussion via Zoom.
( Meeting number and password will be sent out at a later date. If you wish to take part in the forum please email Rev Stephen Levett at revlev66@gmail.com and he will send you the details.)

We recognise the continuing difficulties of getting together to discuss matters in any numbers.
In recognition that not everyone is online this initial forum could be followed up by outdoor small group gatherings as felt necessary and valuable – be that at circuit level or local church level.

There is a District sponsored forum to discuss the material of the Open Letter taking place on the evening of July 23rd at which our Circuit will have some representatives.

Thursday 30th Second Circuit forum

Others will be arranged as felt necessary. There is lot to work through if and when we accept there is more to consider than simply if, when and how shall we open for services of worship. It might be that we give each forum a specific focus.

The forums can be general gatherings with two folk from each church plus the Circuit Leadership Team. Churches are asked to ensure two people can be there to speak for their congregation and be ready to feedback anything useful that emerges that could help in local decision making.
However I don’t want to put an artificial limit on the numbers who can attend to if others want to join the gatherings they are welcome to do so.

Officially to begin with these forums will be consultative.
If specific proposals arise that need formal support beyond what the staff or other circuit officers can deliver it may be that to action some we might have to get formal Circuit meeting or local Church Council approval, or even permission from the Superintendent(?!). We can cross those bridges as and when we get to them.

A printable version of this brief can be downloaded here:
Covid 19 and the churches lockdown transition and beyond

2 comments to “Covid-19, Lockdown and beyond: Possible directions of travel in a new and unclear landscape”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.

  1. John Hardy - July 4, 2020 at 4:26 pm Reply

    Thank you for this Steve. “Yet at the same time, as people of faith in God we might have some trust that God is able to go ahead of and lead us into this uncertain future possibly even with a sense of hope, excitement and expectation of renewal in our experience, life and mission as his people in the church. …”

    If He doesn’t we are toast. Trailing lamely behind the poilitical issues of the day doesn’t cut it – we need revival

  2. Jean underwood - July 5, 2020 at 8:59 am Reply

    Alot to think about
    Will sit with Gladys and discuss and record
    Will stay after wed service
    Good to have a time to reflect on what st Andrews and’circuit is all about, priorities, strengths weaknesses, way forward no hurry let’s get it right ,now is the time for change if we need to.
    Praying for you at this time of leadership

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