Mission: Family Are
God's Gift to You
Mission: Family Are God's Gift to You
by The Revd Nicholas Lockwood | Priest-in-Charge, Parish of Willetton
FAMILY ARE GOD’S GIFT TO YOU, AS YOU ARE TO THEM – DESMOND TUTU
One of the challenges of being a family in the developed world in the 21st century is busyness, and anyone who leads a church knows that we often find ourselves providing programs and services for families. For our small parish in the suburb of Willetton, with a predominately older congregation, it was a real joy to see the younger families step up and contribute significantly when we were forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when there was a real risk of isolation and loneliness, it was such a gift to be able to anchor ourselves in worship together Sunday by Sunday, and respond to the love of God in loving one another.
The first week of lockdown was a whirlwind of getting prepared to go online, including video tutorials and phone calls to help older members get connected and confident in using online platforms. In order to build congregational connection, I would visit different homes each week to video the bible readings and prayers. In the first instance, it meant that people in the congregation were able to see their church family online over the weeks of social distancing. But the families really came into their own in leading us in the Psalms. Our tradition of praying them responsorially meant that family members could contribute multiple voices, so that those on the other side of the screen felt invited to actively join in too. Moreover, we could video families sitting together on the sofa, creating the sense that we were all in this together. We saw sisters, brothers and kids from our church family sitting opposite us on their sofa (albeit through a screen!), leading us in worship while we sat on ours.
As the weeks went on, young adults stepped up to offer their time and technological skills to make our Sunday worship Online at Nine an amazing experience of community and worship for our people. The live chat function on the pre-recorded service meant that we could still ‘talk’ to one another, and we even had morning tea over Zoom after the service (BYO cuppa, of course!). All this was intended to keep our own community connected, and a huge 96% of our congregation made the move to worship online.
The pleasantly surprising consequence of moving online was that our worship was now accessible to a number of others too. Family members who rarely join us on a Sunday morning were now joining their family Online at Nine. People connected to our community outreaches took the opportunity to quietly and comfortably explore Christian worship, without the discomfort of entering a building and facing strangers. Parishioners invited family and friends - both locally and abroad - to join them Online at Nine; it proved to be a real gift for those whose churches were unable to go online. And significantly for us, one of our people who had recently moved into aged care was able to rejoin her church family for worship.
For my family, including the two dogs, it proved to be not only a real honour to lead God’s people in worship during this season online, but a lot of fun too. Because we all work and study, Monday evenings were the only time we were all available to pre-record our part in leading the church service; however, evenings are also playtime for our dogs! We oscillated between frustration and laughter as the dogs would sneak onto the sofa for pats and scratches while we were trying to do the video recordings. Eventually, they just become a part of church online, and so we made sure we sang the good old hymn ‘All Creatures of our God and King’ on a regular basis.
Many fellow pastors will have shared my anxieties around pastoral care. Much of our pastoral care usually stems from the face-to-face encounters we have with other on a Sunday morning. To mitigate this loss we divided the congregation up over the days of the week, and purposed to pray for each other daily. For many, this led to a deeper connection with new or other people in the parish; and one young family even took it upon themselves to write and post letters to all on the parish list who lived alone. Whilst many are still struggling with the impact of the pandemic, thankfully, for us at Willetton now that we’re able to worship together again physically, the biggest struggle is no longer being able to roll out of bed for Online at Nine in our PJs and with a coffee in hand.