Church life in the Covid-19 pandemic
Rev Penny Marsh is South Eastern Baptist Association Pioneer Minister for Ebbsfleet, and Co-Director of the New Housing Hub.
As a pioneer in a new housing development in North Kent, I have found the last few months both challenging and encouraging. I have often compared pioneer ministry to a roller coaster ride – and would say this has definitely felt like a white-knuckle experience!
Like all my Baptist colleagues, the beginning of this pandemic brought a myriad of questions. How we will still be church if we cannot physically meet? How will congregation members be affected by this? How will we continue to fulfil God’s mission here? How will this affect me and my family…? I have been so encouraged to see the creativity and resilience shown by so many as we have adapted to this crisis.
For us as a missional community, we moved our events online almost immediately – this was a new experience for us. On Sunday we had been meeting together to take part in activities (HiiT class, a running group, or walk), meeting back for breakfast and a talk on ‘spiritual health’ from a Christian perspective. Many of those who joined us each week were not usual church attenders. The morning was fun, lively, and very interactive. So, it was a challenge to consider how we could try to maintain this ethos, hold on to what we had, and continue to grow.
We already had several Facebook groups, so we decided to take HiiT and the talk onto Facebook live at a similar time on Sunday morning. With the fitness leader sharing from his home first and then I picked up the rest of the gathering in my home. To keep things visual, I have been projecting PowerPoint images on the wall behind me. I would love to have someone on the team who can edit and do amazing things with video, however, this feels like it is authentic for us, and has been described as a ‘bit of weekly normality’!
For other gatherings we have used Zoom; these include prayer and share which has evolved to include a weekly quiz, toddler song time, and the discipleship group. Having spoken to other ministers, I have discovered that we are all seeing an increased number of people engaging with us online - food for thought as we consider the future post Covid 19.
I moved into this area in December 2019 and have been looking for ways to get to know our new neighbours. At Easter we dropped an invitation into 32 local homes and invited them to a ‘meet the new neighbours’ zoom party. Over half came along, and most got in touch in other ways. With so many working or furloughed at home, there seems to be a new emphasis on the local neighbourhood. Many of our neighbours are millennials who would not normally be around during the day.
As a small pioneering team, it is impossible to meet all the local needs and I have been so grateful for our local Churches Together group. The food bank which is run by several local congregations has been a useful place to signpost people to, both to donate and for help. I have also appreciated the support of local clergy as we navigate this new landscape together. The resources produced by senior church leaders in my own and other denominations have been a lifeline. Whilst being entrepreneurial comes more naturally to me as a pioneer, having the breadth and strength of support from the wider church has been a gift.
Ebbsfleet Baptist Church: www.ebbsfleetbaptistchurch.org.uk
New Housing Hub: www.newhousinghub.org