The 3 R words
Annwyl bobl Cymru,
I will not know many of you who are reading this, but I will know some. For those who don’t know me I am a 23-year-old who works as a Children’s and Families Minister in Melbourne, Australia. I used to work at Eglwys Gymraeg Melbourne, and had the pleasure of meeting the Reverend Beti-Wyn James of Carmarthen and coming on a ministry trip to Wales in 2019. A few weeks ago, Elinor Wyn Reynolds asked me to write an article on life and ministry in lockdown in Australia. I was flattered to be asked, and I have been mulling the content over for some time now, for me writing is like a puzzle, and I have finally the pieces. As I write now it is 2am and inspiration has struck so I have taken to my keyboard to pen this reflection in the hope that it might be a source of encouragement to you all in what has been a challenging time. I will share with you my reflections on the 3 Rs that I have learnt from this time.
I distinctly remember sitting on a train in early March talking to a friend from church about this mysterious thing called COVID-19. We discussed and debated the issue for about 45 minutes. He was saying how his family was preparing by buying extra food and supplies. In all honesty I just thought he was a doomsday prepper but boy I was wrong; I think once this is all over and we meet at church again, I owe him an apology.
For us everything changed on 22 March, more information came from the government, upcoming restrictions were announced, pandemic buying began for crazy things like toilet paper and other such essential items. So many questions flooded to my mind. What is actually going on? What does this mean for me? Where is God in this all? When will this be over? I remember going to the final service on the 29 March at Saint Paul’s Cathedral a major Anglican icon in the heart of Melbourne, I was one of 20 in attendance, in a Cathedral that would see 100s on a normal Sunday. The service was a sombre affair that likened the situation to the experience of Spanish flu in 1918; it was a lamentation with a nod to hope in the distant future. This service for me marked the beginning of what is now week 24 of the pandemic with multiple lockdowns.
In terms of ministry, I only started working as a lay minister at a new church 3 weeks before the pandemic began, so it was baptism by fire. There were people I had never met before our doors were closed. If I was to use one word to describe our situation in ministry it would be ‘Reinventing’, so many times we have had to change and then change again and again how we do worship, who can be there, what platforms we use, style and content and how we do ministry and pastoral care in the day to day to ensure we remain connected with our people. When we first began, like many other churches we flocked to online, for our services and our other ministries. There was a smorgasbord of choice (too much was vying for my attention if you ask me): virtual prayer groups, morning teas, committee meetings, outreach groups, Bible studies, kids clubs and youth groups all joined the screen revolution. Things we thought were not possible had become possible with a click of a button. We eventually realised though the drawback of going completely virtual, when our schools and workplaces also followed suit. For our children, young people and parents, online no longer became a space to relax and unwind as it became their all-consuming environment for work and school, not rest and play as it once was. So, we were faced with a challenging question as a ministry team. How do we continue to be and do church offline? We put in a few quick fixes to provide connections, such as delivery packs for people to use during the services and gifts for special occasions. One of my more long-term solutions to this conundrum was to reintroduce a somewhat generationally outdated practice of home visits. I got on my bicycle, with some homemade cakes and biscuits for our church people and took to visiting all families each Saturday across the month, it took most of the day, was physically exhausting but one of the best decisions I have ever made within my ministry so far. The visits ranged from cricket or soccer in the backyard, to baking, to playing board games, to just talking with the parents while the kids did their own thing. The visits yielded greater connections and the families on the fringe of the church came back into the fold as a result.
The visits informed my second learning which was ‘Relationships’. Looking at people on a screen did not and never will replace the need we have for relationship, we were created by God from the perfect model of relationship (the Trinity) and so we too long to be in real (not virtual) relationship with others, I was reminded of this Bible verse by a friend of mine from The Passion Translation in Romans 1:11a‘I yearn to come and be face-to-face with you and get to know you.’ Yearning is such an accurate descriptor for how we all feel at this time.
My third learning was ‘Rhythm’. We are creatures of habit who like routine (or at least I do), what I missed most after face to face relationships was a sense of rhythm and routine. I have come to the realisation that there must be rhythm to maintain health and others have shared this revelation with me as well. I have the staples in my week that I look forward to, I have my quiet time with God in prayer or song, I walk each day with a neighbour where I get to be with another human at a distance and soak in God’s creation, I have church that I help lead on Sunday, a weekly prayer meeting on Zoom that I host (which we even had 5 different people in Wales join us) and a Wednesday morning ritual of tuning into Christian artists, Keith and Kristyn Getty’s, for a virtual family hymn sing round a piano. These things have become my staples and the marker in the week of what to look forward to. I have found my God in the rhythm. God has been in every step of the reinvention, the relationships and the rhythm in the challenges and in the Blessings. This time has reminded us all that we are human beings, not human doings, we are called to be in relationship, not just do it and we are called to be the Church not just do it on a Sunday.
As I write this article, spring begins today, I don’t know what the future holds, what church will look like when we gather again or who will be there, but I trust that God does. I don’t need all the answers, I can sit in the grey, knowing and trusting that God is with me. God is still God, even when everything falls apart God still continues to be God. I leave you with this paraphrased passage of scripture as an encouragement, Joshua 2:11b ‘The Lord our God is God in heaven above and on our earth below.’
Bydded i’r Arglwydd eich bendithio a’ch cadw,