InterSections

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INTERNATIONAL LETTER

Toowoomba Lectureship, QLD

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A New Normal  Adam Barr

Face coverings; social distancing; self-isolation; working from home; deserted streets; empty premises; travel restrictions; Zoom meetings; door-step visits; tuneless hymns; separated pews; virtual hugs; lockdowns.

They’re calling it ‘the new normal’ over here in Scotland. Not me, though. No sir! I refuse to call it the new normal. That would be like giving up hope of a return to the old normal. I miss the old normal and I won’t consign it to the fate of being known as something like ‘the good old days’ by our grandchildren in 20 years’ time.

As a close-knit church family who thrive on the frequency of vibrant fellowship activities, our days haven’t been normal for over a year now. We’ve felt, keenly, the loss of that part of our lives together in the kingdom. It’s certainly been a long year.

We’ve tried to compensate. We very quickly organised activities and events to cater to the whole person. We created Zoom-rooms for prayer meetings, exercise sessions, cooking and baking classes, personal and group Bible studies, youth meetings and devotionals, movie nights, quiz nights, bedtime stories, puzzle competitions, isolation-video-challenges, digital afternoon tea for our seniors, and a drop-in room for a simple visit with each other. 

We’ve had one-time events such as game show re-enactments, Halloween and Christmas parties, a Hogmanay devotional, a poetry night, a Ladies appreciation day, a karaoke night, a scavenger hunt, a talent show, and even an escape room. We’ve organised three special series of lessons with different guest speakers each week and we’re currently in the middle of our twelve-week Winter Words series. We’ve also stepped up our benevolence program to help families who’ve been affected economically by the pandemic.

I’ll admit it’s been exhausting. Not just the schedule, but the intensified pressure of needing to keep everyone going. That was, indeed, our thought process: ‘We have to keep everyone going!’ It seemed like a straightforward remit – initially for the next 12 weeks. But the virus spread and restrictions were tightened and lockdowns were extended… and we tired! There’s no doubt about it. We began to ask: ‘Who’s going to keep us going?’

There were some who helped lead the online activities and classes. Others stepped up by reaching out to friends, neighbours, and brothers and sisters to make sure they’re doing alright. However, the days weren’t normal and neither was the ‘daily pressure of concern…’ (2 Corinthians 11:28). The fear of losing a brother or sister spiritually during isolation was definitely greater than the fear of losing them physically to the virus.

It didn’t take long to realise that while keeping everyone going was the initial need, to get everyone growing was even more important. Thanks to COVID-19 lessons learned, our preaching theme this year is: Grow 2021. We have an emphasis on the personal responsibility of each brother or sister to nurture their own spiritual growth. Our foundational passage is Ephesians 3:14–19 because this pandemic has reminded us that when the stability of our normal is obliterated and our routines are changed beyond recognition, we’ll survive and thrive because our strength is in something untouchable – the love of Christ. Any new normal is fine if it’s with someone unchangeable – our perfect God!

We’ll be glad to see the back of this pandemic. As it fades, so too will most of the programs that were started as a result of it. Yes, we’ll continue with some Zoom studies and worship services for those who aren’t able to be with us in person.  Yes, we’ll thank God for, and continue to enjoy, the new long-distance relationships we’ve found along the way on our digital journey of the last 14 months. Yes, we’re blessed that many have now learned to take their eyes off themselves to minister to the needs of others.

However, the greatest blessing by far will be if we actually learned to minister to ourselves by focusing on our own relationship with God: drawing closer to him, even as we’re separated from each other; digging deep into his love, even as the physical expressions of our own had to change; finding our fullness in that love rather than in a fellowship evening together.

We’ve learned that we needn’t worry about how we’ll keep going through lockdowns, pandemics, or any other struggle ever again. We can flourish, rooted and grounded (Psalm 92:12–14), firmly in God’s unchanging love for us because we’ve made intimacy with him our New Go-To-Normal!

Adam Barr serves the congregation in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, Scotland, that he and his wife, Melanie, helped establish in 1987.  They have one daughter, Nicole, who’s also a great help to them through the work she does with the young people of the same congregation.    adam@brujne.me.uk

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