As I interviewed church leaders and attenders, I heard some wonderful stories of how God had been at work in their churches. And I heard delight in the telling of those stories. For instance, there was a sense of wonder at the appropriateness of the texts pre-selected for the first Sunday service in Lockdown 2020. The Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament text, used by many churches, was about God breathing life into dry bones: a message of hope that even in the midst of their worst moment, God was at work, bringing the transformation of new life. Another church (that had selected their service theme and texts late in 2019) focused on Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes offered by one boy. They noted the relevance of this text for a time when they desperately needed God to multiply what God had given them. For this church, they saw and celebrated God’s hand at work in preparing them to be able to support others during covid. For each church, the naming and celebrating of this helped strengthen faith expectancy, and hope.
One woman recounted how a newcomer to church just before Lockdown had provided their email address, but she wasn’t able to read it and so couldn’t contact the person. She was delighted to encounter the newcomer on a Lockdown walk and was able to get their contact details and stay in contact.
These stories and others were told to me with a sense of
wonder and celebration. God is at work in our world! God’s activity can be recognised,
named and celebrated, building faith and courage among people who find
themselves in uncertain and difficult circumstances. So keep an eye out for God!
And don’t be afraid to name and celebrate what might just be the work of God in
Of course, one of the things that we miss in Lockdown is person to person interaction that occurs when we get together in the same physical space. During Lockdown, we don’t get to see each other in three dimensions, to share food and drink together, etc. That’s certainly a loss.
What Lockdown offers in exchange, however, is a different sort of intimacy – one that is from my home to your home. People value such interaction. They like seeing the minister speaking to them from their home office, or kitchen table, or garden or deck.
They also like seeing each other and other congregation members
in such settings.
During Lockdown, we have an opportunity to get into the homes of several people at once, and to invite them into our homes, without needing to do any dishes! As we do, we open ourselves to them and them to us in new ways.
So, invite people to share pictures of their home office and
school set ups. Share your own. It’s good if it’s not pristine – perhaps it is
even a little chaotic. Talk about where
you are and why. As I type this, I’m blessed to have space to work in our older
daughter’s room. She’s studying in the UK, and so I used her room for my Research
Leave, and come back up here (from Steve’s and my shared office) when I have a
meeting. I’ve had meetings on and off all day, so it wasn’t worth moving back
downstairs. Stellar-Boo the cat often comes to visit.
Open up your home to others, and get others talking about
their own space. It is a gift to encounter one another in such ways, and it is
missed when it is lost through staged settings.
Ironically, I’d already chosen this heading for today. Be
good enough. Donald Winnicott wrote decades ago about the “good enough” mother.
Look it up. It’s an encouragement to not stress about our imperfection.
I’m a perfectionist. One of the things I am learning, is to be “good enough”. To not be paralysed, or overworked, by the desire to be perfect.
Therefore, because it is already after 6pm (6.17pm now) and I (literally) have cold feet, have worked plenty of hours already today, and would like to do some exercise before dinner, I am going to write a “good enough” blog post and leave it there.
Be good enough. Create online worship that is good enough. Care for people in ways that are good enough. Perfection is unattainable.
One of the pastors I interviewed was guided by the question: “How much is enough?” It’s a great question.
Before covid, one of three key motivations for engaging in
online church was a desire to connect. The online space provides opportunities
for genuine community to be formed, including between people who are otherwise
separated by distance, disability, ideology, or – now – pandemic. More than a
platform for broadcasting a message, the internet is a place of connection: a
As humans, made in the image of the relational God, it’s
natural that we seek connection. And this connection is not passive but active.
During covid, it takes more intentionality to stay connected. We’re less likely
to encounter friends and acquaintances in the supermarket or on the street. We
need to make a particular effort to reach out to one another. But don’t we need
it? Those moments of interaction?
In the context of Sunday worship, connection requires more
than passive viewing and can be enhanced by inviting participation. It might be
as simple as inviting participants to respond to questions by commenting or posting
in the chat. Or there could be a way of reporting back after an offline
activity undertaken in bubble groups.
As I watched and analysed online services, I noticed that
over time the level of participation generally decreased. One church partially
dealt with this by having an online host who posted in the chat/comments in
order to facilitate engagement. That was great. But I noticed that it was
engagement that built engagement, and there was only so much that one person
could do. Assigning more than one person to the role of engagement officer(!)
would help to build engagement, particularly in larger contexts where it isn’t possible
to have everyone sharing out loud.
It takes more effort but inviting pre-production participation in services can be really effective. And we’re all a whole lot more familiar with recording ourselves, so more people would be able to do so than 18 months ago. In one group that I interviewed, they laughed as they told me that they liked hearing from people who weren’t “paid” to talk about the hope that they had in Christ. That is, they appreciated hearing from people who weren’t on the church’s payroll.
So invite participation and encourage connection. If you’re inviting online synchronous engagement, (eg through chat, comments or breakout rooms), make sure that you have people skilled and assigned to facilitate that engagement.
If what you’re offering online is pre-recorded, perhaps comments can still be made, or there might be a spot on your website or social media, where participants might share an insight later. Including (with permission, of course) photos of (or from) church members, or short video greetings or reflections helps to keep people feeling that sense of connection, as well as participating in meaningful ways.
Take the opportunity to prioritise connection and invite
It’s all very well to remember that God loves us, but it’s
hard, right? There’s uncertainty and the attendant lack of control. People are
sick. People are at risk. We’re stuck at home. Many are trying to do our usual
work. Many have children to care for. Many have parents they are concerned
about. We’re not sure when this will end. Will this end? How long will we need
to live like this? How long?
Just as we’re invited to look back, to draw on past strength;
to live into and out of our values; to lean into God, we’re also invited to name
the challenge. There’s a good amount of that in the Bible! Lament. I write in an
upcoming article (citing Robert Beamish): “Those who suffer need time to
acknowledge the reality of their suffering.” We shouldn’t rush past the pain.
Rather, we name it. Hold space for it.
There are rich resources in the Hebrew scriptures that we can
draw on: Psalms of Lament, the book of Lamentations, for example. Lament doesn’t
prematurely move to explanations or solutions that fail to touch the heart. Preaching
at such a time can create space to honestly talk about both God and about the
context that we find ourselves in. Naming the difficulty of the current reality.
Not rushing towards a solution. Sitting with the pain. Not because there is no
hope, but because we humans need space to acknowledge our big feelings. To name
them before God.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve encouraged us to look
back and draw on past strength, and to look back and draw on the values of your
church. The former helps build personal well-being in these difficult days, and
the latter helps orient and focus pastoral leaders, when the possibilities are
many and the energy is lacking.
Today, we’re looking back again: but instead of looking back
to ourselves or to our church, we’re looking back to God: to how we’ve known
God to act in the past, and who we know God to be.
In the Bible reading plan I follow, I was reading Psalm 56
on Friday. While I’m not feeling trampled on by others at the moment, I did do
a bit of tossing and turning the previous night as I struggled to sleep. So verse
8 was a comfort to read: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in a
bottle.” There’s comfort as I look way back to these ancient songs: to others who
have named God’s presence and activity. The idea of God knowing that I struggled
to sleep was comforting. I wasn’t alone in the night. And the image of God capturing
and storing my tears speaks to me of tenderness and care.
So, I look way back, and lean into God. Into the comfort of
God, whose presence has been declared since the beginning. Into the comfort of
God, whose presence I have known. Today’s image is of a FIMO piece (signed by “Madeline”,
with the verse Isaiah 51:16 inscribed on the bottom). It was gifted to me by a lovely
friend when I was in hospital years ago. As I look at it, I remember God’s presence
with me then. And I trust in God’s presence with me today.
May the same be true for you. Remember, God loves you. Lean
How might you encourage others in your church to also remember
God’s never-ending faithfulness? Perhaps with stories shared? Perhaps with
songs offered and scriptures read? Perhaps with an invitation for them to
recall a time that was difficult for them, yet when they knew or trusted God to
be with them. God is the source of our life and our hope. We can lean into God.
Yesterday, I encouraged you to look back and remember what
helped you get through the first Lockdown last year. We can draw on our past
strength as we face our current reality. We can lean into, or perhaps reinstate,
things that were helpful last time around.
There’s a second kind of looking back that I want to encourage
today (and it’s the second of three, so come back tomorrow for more!). This one
is for you as a church, more than it is for you individually.
I encourage you to look back and live into, and out of, your
values as a church. I saw this clearly demonstrated in one of the churches that
I included in my case studies of covid responses. As I analysed data from their
church services, interviews, and focus groups, I realised that I was hearing echoes
of their values in the actions that they took and the words that they spoke.
It’s how values should work, right? They both reflect who we
are as churches and provide a framework by which to discern future actions. We
can ask questions like: Does this fit with our values?
There’s a whole load of resourcing and possibilities out
there: a seemingly infinite number of ways you might respond to covid. Creative
ideas for online worship. Pastoral care initiatives that could be implemented.
Ways that you might engage with the wider community. I reckon it’d be pretty easy
to get overwhelmed, or perhaps to feel inadequate, that you’re not doing
Our values help hold us and guide us. If you’re a small church
that prioritises community, make connecting a priority in whatever you do this
week. You don’t need gorgeous visuals and cleverly-worded preaching. Open up space
to share with one another. Build connections. Build on your strengths.
If you value being connected with the wider community, come
together online for a quick chat, reminding people of that value, and then send
everyone off to check in with (online of course) their neighbours. Then come
back 30 minutes later for a final catch up.
If you particularly emphasise preaching, pull out the key
points of your last two or three sermons and invite discussion of what they might
have to say in our current situation. If your church is feeling the loss of sung
worship, invite a couple of people to share about why a particular song is
their favourite. And then play it.
It doesn’t need to be massive. It doesn’t need to be amazing.
It just needs to be you.
If you’re not sure of your values, perhaps that is something
you could explore together one Sunday. Asking people to share what it is that
they value about your church. Mentimeter polls are fun here. You can build a
word cloud of the values that are named the most frequently. (When I say YOU, I
mean you can set it up to happen automatically.)
There was a sense of déjà vu for me as we ate our lunch and listened to the 1pm media briefing aka TheAshley and Jacinda Show. We started another jigsaw puzzle, cos that’s what we did last time. I remember it providing an opportunity to do something different, restful, non-demanding. As I journaled this morning, I tried to recall what had helped me get through Lockdown last time. I remembered the increasing birdsong, and so I listened a little closer to the birds today. (Ooh! Two, no three(!) kereru just flew by and landed in the tree outside my office.)
Of course, having been here before, we’re also more aware of what is involved in pivoting to online, and navigating working from home. That can certainly make us feel tired. But we also have a whole lot more resources, we know a lot more now than we did eighteen months ago. Don’t lose sight of that!
We can remember that we’ve already survived this. We made it through last time (or, for Tāmaki Makaurau, last times). We will make it through again.
What helped you last time? Draw on that past strength. What helped you personally? Do you need to reach out and ask for help from someone? What helped you spiritually? See how you can build that in to today or tomorrow. You don’t need to give more than you have.
Look back. Find strength in knowing that you’ve been here before and have made it though. This too shall pass.
On Wednesday 30 June 4.45-5.30pm (NZST) at AngelWings Ltd’s Mission For a Change, Steve and I are talking about my article on how engagement in spiritual practices can work to form people towards Christian faith… Register here: tinyurl.com/MissionForAChange
The 50 free copies of my article have been downloaded already (which is pretty cool) so here’s a link to my final version of the article.
Abstract proposal in response to a call for papers on spirituality and mental health:
FOUR WALLS, FOUR DOMAINS AND FIVE WAYS:
EXPLORING TRANSCENDENCE AND WAIRUA IN MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Despite the significance and acceptance of Mason Durie’s “Te Whare Tapa Whā” model of health, the Mental Health Foundation’s “Five ways to wellbeing” material contains no explicit reference to spirituality/wairua, thus seemingly neglecting taha wairua. While some note potential connections, further exploration and nuancing in relation to the place of spirituality in the “Five ways” is required.
Fisher, Francis and Johnson’s “Spiritual Health via Four Domains of Spiritual Wellbeing” (SH4DI) model helpfully extends spirituality beyond an emphasis on the divine as the object of one’s spiritual focus. Alongside God, their model names self, community and environment as domains of spiritual wellbeing. A weakness of the SH4DI, however, is its potential to limit transcendence to one aspect of spirituality (relationship with God or Transcendent Other), rather than considering how transcendence relates to each of those domains.
This paper places “Te Whare Tapa Whā”, the SH4DI and “Five ways to wellbeing” in conversation. It considers how transcendence may be experienced in each of Fisher et al’s areas of spiritual wellbeing and focus (personal meaning, interpersonal connection, environmental concern/appreciation, and “religion”). This approach is then applied to the Mental Health Foundation’s “Five ways to wellbeing”, exploring how each might relate to transcendence. The paper concludes by returning to wairua, making explicit the potential relationship between each of the “Five ways” and spirituality.