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They think it's all over... Roadmap Stage Four

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Had you been counting down the days to the earliest possible cautious but irreversible ending of covid restrictions? Had you family parties, wedding receptions or foreign trips booked? Is freedom deferred freedom denied?

Or have you stocked up on lateral flow tests, face masks, streaming services, supermarket delivery slots and corned beef? Resigned to the next unexpected turn for the worse, not daring to hope for anything better?

Some of us are increasingly anxious. Regulation brings surety and safety. Instruction to abandon social distancing and decide our own individual epidemiological risk appetite brings uncertainty and fear. Others of us were housebound long before the age of Zoom, and fear a return to being societies forgotten others once again.

They think it's all over... it isn't yet. Or to put it another way, how long O Lord?

How long O Lord we cry when we think of the churches we tend.

How long must we suffer? How long before we can throw off the enthusiasm-sapping laws against singing, sharing the peace and a cuppa? How long before our gatherings are not dominated by risk assessments? How many times must we defer life-giving sacraments and celebrations?

Or maybe the despair ofhow long have we got left? How many empty spaces will there be around the communion table? How many will prefer their new family walk to a Sunday in chapel? How many tired office holders have decided now is the time to stop? How will we pay the assessment?

Or the pleading ofhow long must we wait?How long until the harvest? When will we celebrate the fruits of our outreach? Will we ever see those friendships becoming faith-embraces and lives transformed?

Or the frustration of how long before we learn?Will we recognise the shackles we have placed on God? Can we ever sift the wheat of discipleship from the chaff of routine?

They think it's all over... it is now time for Stage Four of our roadmap for churches in a post pandemic world. Building first on the foundations of

Stage One – Get Listening Churches are very good at thinking what their neighbourhoods need, but not so good at asking. Listen to your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, your networks and your community leaders.

Stage Two – What is essential anyway? Reflect on what you hear together as a church, be alert to the voice of God. Take the once in a generation opportunity to refocus on what is most important for the people of your locality. Lighten your load by daring to pause activities which have passed their best-before date. Dream dreams and build partnerships.

Stage Three – Who needs a hug?

How can we be with the people beyond our congregations we have been listening to? 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?

A series of public health emergencies and extreme weather events led to Joseph's descendants escape from slavery in Egypt. A place of salvation which had become an oppressive, but stable, straightjacket. During two hard years of desert existence they debated and wrestled with how to live as God's people in a changed world. They reached the river Jordan, and were within touching distance of freedom. And then they panicked. They forgot the miracles they had witnessed in the past, and thought only of how few in number, weak and impoverished they were. All they had to do was join in with God's plan and trust the outcome to God.

God's people didn't join in. Instead they ran away and spent a generation flailing around in the wilderness.

Yes the post pandemic church invests in listening long and intently to as many people beyond itself as possible

Yes the post pandemic church applies all of its analytical and interpretive skills to refocus, to understand priorities, to set adaptable plans for mission, to contextually reframe rhythms of worship.

Yes it builds new partnerships with people of peace.

Yes the post pandemic church gets out of bed every day not to do church, or to talk a good church, but to be church. To live a life of discipleship. To love when it is tired. To model a way of life when no-one is looking. To give and receive mentoring. To invest in its neighbourhood.

But the post pandemic church remembers its role is to justjoin in, prayerfully day after day with God's mission... and trust the outcome to God.

It's OK to pray our how longs. We should long for a world transformed. It is right to wish our friends could lean into the oaken staff of faith. There is a role for prophets to sound the alarm when church is doing more harm than good. It's OK to find change painful.

But being called for such a time as this requires us to echo the conclusion of Psalm 13 by trusting in God's unfailing love and rejoicing in God's salvation. Especially in the times when we cannot see the change we hope for and familiar structures are collapsing around us.

The post pandemic church looks beyond the despair of the present, thanks God for all that is past, trusts God for all that's to come... and joins in.

Neil Harland
Mission Development Support

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