inform - inspire - unite
Zoom set-up for Belmore Road congregation.
Skype set-up for Coffs Coast congregation.
Churches coping with the Coronavirus
Several contributors share how they and their congregations are coping practically with the government restrictions imposed during the current pandemic in Australia.
The Point Church, Brisbane, QLD Nathan Holyoak
It’s been several weeks now since life at The Point was affected by the coronavirus. In the middle of March we adopted some simple things like spacing chairs further apart and changing how we distributed the Lord’s Supper to minimise contact. Later that month it became clear we would no longer be able to meet together in large numbers. Since then we’ve been using Zoom to hold our meetings online, including Sunday gatherings, mid-week Bible studies, and small group catch-ups. This has been a steep learning curve for many of us as we become familiar with the technology. Of all things, I think congregational singing is the hardest to replace!
Despite the challenges, there have been some unexpected benefits. We’ve been able to reach out to smaller congregations in the region, inviting them to participate in our meetings. We’ve also been able to include members who’ve moved interstate or overseas. Even though for many of us our world has shrunk to our own homes, in another way the church has been able to broaden our horizons.
I suppose one thing this situation is teaching us is to be deliberate and purposeful about the things we do. We easily take much of ordinary church life for granted. Now in isolation, nothing happens unless we make a deliberate choice. We won’t casually run into a friend and chat — we have to take time and put in the effort to make it happen. Perhaps this pandemic will reinforce to us all the blessing of our church family and strengthen our commitment to one another.
Coffs Coast Church of Christ, Coffs Harbour, NSW Jenny Ancell
In March, the Coffs congregation received a call from the Steiner school which cancelled the use of the rented school hall for our Sunday assembly. This flowed from a directive of the NSW Education Department—they took every precaution to avoid any potential spread of Covid-19. This situation forced us to find a speedy solution for a new meeting place. Although we managed to book another hall, the subsequent rules on physical distancing made this solution unworkable. After prayerful discussion, the congregation decided to use a group Skype call for both Sunday worship and Wednesday night Bible study.
Through the help of our tech-savvy pair, Satish and Jolits Samuel, the whole congregation has enjoyed this online tool which facilitates most aspects of worship. Although there have been some small technical glitches, each week’s worship time has progressively become more fine-tuned. People have also enjoyed chatting and encouraging one another afterwards.
Whilst online worship hasn’t enabled the closeness one would normally enjoy in a face-to-face setting, there have been some unexpected blessings. More brethren (both locally and overseas) have been able to participate in worship in our small part of the world, overcoming the tyranny of distance. It’s also helped the church to think creatively as we seek to encourage one another.
The ladies have also used free conferencing via mobile phones to participate in our Thursday Bible study. One young African schoolgirl, Agnes Buzilu, set up a group Skype Bible study with nine of her girlfriends who are eager to know more about God. The church is also planning to do some Kids Club activities via Skype.
These pandemic restrictions and creative responses remind me of a famous statement made by an English clergyman, John Flavel. He said: ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.’ May these difficult circumstances help us to look up expectantly for the blessings God will graciously send our way.
Eastside Church of Christ, Sydney, NSW Christian Bargholz
Eastside has been conducting its worship services via the video-conferencing software, Zoom. We began the lockdown streaming the Lord’s Supper and the sermon on our Facebook page, but moved to Zoom after we discovered there was no ability to see or interact with each other on Facebook.
Since then, our Sunday service consists of an opening prayer, followed by the Lord’s Supper, then a short, devotional-style sermon, finishing with a closing prayer. The service is short by design; we want to spend as much time as possible talking and checking in with one another, given that we are no longer allowed to meet together. This helps us retain a sense of community and strengthens the relationships we have with each other.
We also conduct our mid-week meetings via Zoom. Our Thursday night mid-week group has been reading through Tim Keller’s book, Prayer, and we meet for an hour each Thursday to discuss the chapter for that week.
Belmore Road Church of Christ, Melbourne, VIC Benny Tabalujan
In mid-March, with the seriousness of the pandemic increasing, the Belmore Road English congregation was planning to shift temporarily to gathering in house churches, with a small group at our church building livestreaming the worship time. This was to comply with government restrictions on group size. So we had our first livestreamed worship assembly on 22 March. Soon, however, the restrictions were tightened and church buildings were ordered to close.
So, from 29 March we began using Zoom for Sunday online worship gatherings. Although somewhat awkward initially, things are now better. We pray, read, sing, have the Lord’s Supper, lesson, and announcements online. We find the Zoom sharescreen function helpful to show slides. We also use breakout rooms to allow groups of 5–10 people to discuss the lesson and fellowship. Interestingly, the number of online worshippers has increased. Our Chinese congregation also meet online and they too have more worshippers. During the week, our four home-based Discovery Groups also use Zoom. Our regular elders’ meetings and our elders & deacons meetings are currently also held online. Some of us have weekday coffee & cake catch-up – again all online.
Another highlight was a recent baptism shared on Zoom. Taking advantage of the special rule allowing use of church buildings during the Easter weekend, a few of us were with a young lady being baptised in our church baptistry on Easter Sunday. To comply with physical distancing rules, she was alone in the baptistry; the person baptising her was on dry ground. Over 120 people—in Melbourne, interstate, and overseas—witnessed the baptism online. What a blessing!
Personal reflections Graham Wall
What a difference a month or two can make. With the pandemic restrictions in place, how are churches caring for each other, staying connected, and maintaining some form of assembly? Some of the social media and video conferencing services currently being used include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, YouTube, and Zoom. Even those who are normally technology challenged are now embracing some of these media platforms to stay in touch with families and churches.
As churches learn to utilise these technological services, there’s a greater connection amongst members during the week, better interaction amongst various congregations, and the chance to participate in multiple worship services and Bible studies around the world. Recently, I was privileged to participate in an interactive church gathering involving Christians from England, Australia, New Zealand, and different parts of Africa. Two months ago, I didn’t think I’d be involved in something like this.
As an evangelist in Melbourne who spends much time in the car, the current use of technology is making it easier to lead multiple church services and teach Bible studies. This includes places that are two or more hours away. These technologies have been available for a while. However, many of us didn’t use them until now.
As we eventually move beyond the pandemic and look forward to meeting face-to-face again, I hope churches will continue to use technology where appropriate. In this way, we can stay connected, work together, and continue to help serve the kingdom by spreading the Gospel throughout the world.