Disruption leads to renewal: God at workAnnika Mathews

Annika Mathews is the Church of England Lay representative to the Churches Together in England Enabling Group.

There are of course plenty of challenges in the Covid-19 crisis, however there have also been many opportunities to try new things and be reminded of what really matters. Issues such as poverty, isolation and inequality are in the spotlight, which I hope and pray means they will finally start to be tackled and that those suffering will begin to be supported.

Whilst, for some, Covid-19 is more isolating, for others, it has opened the doors to accessing community support and building relationships with others who were previously strangers. I’ve really enjoyed becoming a telephone befriender and having a chat with people, listening to them talk about their experiences and sharing stories.

Churches should be beacons of hope within their communities, welcoming all with open arms. However, sadly this is not always the case. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced churches to rethink how they ‘do’ and ‘are’ church. Having to close buildings has made people think ‘outside the box’ they created for themselves, enabling many for whom church is usually inaccessible to have the opportunity to be included. So too, new ways of worshipping have perhaps encouraged several who felt unable to contribute before, to step up and take part, including many younger people.  There’s been a real focus on pastoral connection, and a chance to deepen relationships. Nationally, the Church of England has a Daily Hope 'line’ to phone for reflections, prayers and hymns. Churches, many already missional, are finding innovative ways to support others. However, simultaneously, it’s exciting to learn that there’s been a rise in people Googling prayer and wanting to explore faith. The challenge will be how to maintain these relationships into the future.

I’ve been fortunate to not have to worry about finances as live in the family home. However, I’m currently unemployed and so having to find ways to fill the time. I’ve appreciated the chance to reconnect to several previous church families as well as connect to other young adults through Taize, who held an online weekend for Pentecost and to the Jesuits Young Adult group. I’ve joined webinars from the C of E Evangelism and Discipleship Team alongside those from the Fresh Expressions community and several charities, all free to join and learn at as well as taking the opportunity to join a Benedictine spirituality course.

Locally, I’m part of a church with Methodists and Anglicans, so ecumenical activities continue and all are welcome at Zoom worship. One choir director has been technologically adept at producing virtual hymns, sung by many across choirs and congregations.  For multi-parish benefices, it’s been wonderful to see churches worship as one and connecting those from across diverse, multi-lingual congregations, sharing news, pictures and voices, as in Manchester (with a multilingual Lord's Prayer). Thy Kingdom Come has once again united churches from different denominations in prayer, as have initiatives like Light a candle of hope. Guildford Diocese produced a wonderful Pentecost service over YouTube bringing together many of all ages from local churches, communities and link dioceses.

I think, now more than ever, working towards Christian unity is vital as we have much to learn from one another in our spirituality, mission, theology and traditions, which will teach us more about God and how to be more Christlike in our words and deeds.  We can now easily worship with others worldwide. Faced with the stark realities of inequality, climate breakdown, systemic racism and an imbalance of power and privilege, together, as one Church in Christ, we have the ability to make a difference, speak out about what matters and reach out in love, by God’s grace, to all, bringing light into dark places. 

Annika Mathews attends St Mary’s Guildford – link to their YouTube channel

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