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Stage Three – Who Needs a Hug?

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Well, today's the big day! No more windswept walks, cold outdoor coffees, pints in the pouring rain. The indoor rule of six is here. We can all retreat indoors and hug our extended families. The end is nearly in sight. Maybe the last 15 months have just been a bad dream and everything will be back to normal soon.

Or maybe life's not that simple. Perhaps some will still be lonely, worried or scarred by the pandemic or something else.

And your church? Excitement about increasing opportunities to gather for fellowship? Permission to serve your local community in practical ways once again? Anticipation of putting new learning into practice?

But maybe also requests to get back to a frustratingly fossilised culturally irrelevant busyness? Grand schemes for new initiatives but no-one with the energy to do them? Not quite sure how you feel (or will feel) about travelling to sit in rows listening to someone talk at you for an hour on a Sunday morning? And friends who have been taken from you or drifted away?

As we pull back the curtains of lockdown restrictions to reveal a pea-souper of an unwritten uncertain future, it is time for stage three of our roadmap for post pandemic churches (but don't skip over stages one and two):

Stage One – Get Listening

Churches are very good at thinking what their neighbourhoods need, but not so good at asking. Our roadmap began with listening to your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, your networks and your community leaders.

Stage Two – What is essential anyway?

As you reflect on what you each heard together as a church, be alert to the voice of God. You have a once in a generation opportunity to refocus your church on what is most important for the people of your locality. Be alert to new missional priorities, and lighten your load by daring to pause activities which have passed their best-before date. It is time to start dreaming dreams and building partnerships now so you don't miss the vital moment to show practical love when it arrives.

As you take the pruning shears to the church diary, and conversations coalesce around new priorities for a changed world it is time for stage three – who needs a hug?

  • Yes we need plans and strategies, or we will be of no practical help to anyone
  • Yes some of our congregations face existential questions about whether to restart worship
  • Yes some of our buildings may never reopen, and others are gleaming with fresh paint impatient to be scuffed by constant use
  • Yes we must keep working out what hybrid church means for us
  • Yes the pandemic has made us face up to questions about the purposefulness of some of our activities that we have been running away from for years

But more importantly, who needs a hug? In a post-christendom world, it is too late to DO church. And not many people will listen if we only TALK church. Having listened to the needs of our communities, and used this as the yardstick of our missional priorities, we need to seize the broadening opportunities before us to BE church.

How can we continue to be with the people beyond our congregations we have been listening to as Christians? How alert are we to the health of those in our fellowship who have been absorbing stress and responsibility through the pandemic? How much time are we investing in growing disciples and modelling a way of life? Are we giving and receiving mentoring?

As our daily and weekly rhythms change once again, we need to support each other to create new patterns of discipleship practices. These need to be supportive, sustainable, accountable and shaped to your context. There will soon be much to do and decide for such a time as this, but without solid foundations we will not be able to rise to the challenge of our callings. Through what will people recognise the saviour whose disciples we claim to be? (hint) Who do you know who needs a (probably metaphorical) hug?

  • Don't be a superhero. Don't rely on your own strength
  • Soar like an eagle. More searching for natural thermals = less flapping
  • Breathe in and breathe out the breath of God
  • Seek out soulmates. Walk a way of life together
  • Commit together to praying daily. For your neighbourhood and each other
  • Do you really know what is happening in someone else's life? Especially if you don't ask
  • Love your neighbour. More than institutional religion

Deliberate listening, combined with reflecting on what is most essential, and growing together in love will point us to the confluence of needs, gifts and passion where our vocation and stage four of our roadmap will be found.

Neil Harland
Mission Development Support

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