The onset of Covid in March 2020, brought significant challenges for churches across the UK. Here, some of our Connexion churches explain their experiences during the worst of the pandemic, and God’s work throughout.
Broad Oak Chapel
Thoughts’ and messages from of one of our faithful speakers at the chapel, Rev. Geoffrey Collins. To keep our church family united, Polly, a congregation member, e-mailed us all scriptures each week, and Sarah, another member, gave everyone a book of daily scriptures highlighting 365 names of Jesus.
Once restrictions were eased on May 17 this year, we returned once more to morning services each Sunday, standing outside on the lane to sing our hymns, with a CD player set at full volume inside the chapel!
In the absence of a full-time minister, we turned to social media to find help with our weekly services, and were approached by Elim Oasis Church in nearby Broadstairs, which has led to the start of a monthly healing service. Our two churches have since worked together to have postcards made, which were distributed to every house in our village and beyond. The cards advertised our own Sunday services and the additional services offered by Elim Church, which has led to us welcoming a small increase in our congregation. It's early days, but we have been uplifted by this extra support and the opportunity it has given us to reach out to others, so they may come to know the Lord, and joyfully continuing to be part of God's mission here in Broad Oak.
Countess Free Church, Ely
Like many other churches we used Zoom, YouTube streams, podcasts and blogs for gatherings and making teaching available. In addition, we emphasised the opportunites of being 'small and versatile', holding small to mid-sized outdoor gatherings at the church, with several smaller gatherings happening in parallel at different green space locations around the city, plus interactive gatherings of one-family-per-table for all ages in the church building.
We put a strategic focus on 'family discipleship', sending out special resource packs to families in the church plus a few 'friends of' families. Alongside this we developed the language of 'micro-initiatives' - small grassroots initiatives that members can do with their neighbours, friends, colleagues etc. This has enabled us to connect and work with a number of different newcomers and enquirers. Through the months several newcomers have joined us in our different types of gathering, some have joined the church and we have had the privilege of leading a few to faith in Jesus. This diverse, in-the-small, relational approach has proved much more effective, and so we will be continuing to emphasise this even as the larger Sunday gatherings are now getting back into gear.
Goring Free Church
The pandemic has been a very strange time for us. Covid brought a real ‘Hokey-Cokey’ feel to the church – ‘in-out, in-out’ – not to mention feeling as if we’ve been shaken all about! Through it all we have sought to maintain a presence, which at times has been no more than a recorded sermon posted on our YouTube channel. But mostly we have either been able to offer in-person services when allowed, or live-streaming when not, at times providing all three!
Many of our ‘in-house’ groups have also been able to continue meeting with the use of technology, which has been a real blessing. However, it doesn’t beat being able to meet up physically. Thus, we were delighted back in July to be able to ease many of the previous ‘restrictions’ and recommence a more ‘normal’ feel to our morning services and small group meetings, despite not running our evening services.
From September, most of our weekday activities have also been able to recommence, albeit in a slightly different format, and for this we thank God. There remains a degree of uncertainty though, so we tentatively plan for the future, whilst praying that the Lord would use us for his glory in the present!
Hailsham Gospel Mission
The Lord has blessed us in many ways through various trials and joys since we came out of lockdown and started meeting on the first Sunday in August 2020.
- Dave and Phyl Sweetman felt led to join the fellowship regularly that Sunday to help in leadership
- Sadly Geoff Francis, our treasurer, died after a long struggle with cancer in September, and in June this year, as many in the Connexion will know, Ken Stone also went to be with the Lord, leaving another huge gap in our fellowship.
- A year ago we often only had 5 or 6 folk attending on a Sunday morning with a number either choosing to shelter or too infirm to venture out. We are grateful to Gordon Hamilton for providing sermon notes for us to give those sheltering. More recently, the Lord has been adding to our number such that in recent weeks we have regularly had over 20 in fellowship.
- We purchased a digital hymnal a year or so ago as we had no regular keyboard player but the Lord has provided Eddie Fletcher, a skilled organist of 50 years who now plays most Sundays.
- In the last month or so, we started a Tuesday morning prayer meeting. This has proved to be an exciting time, with a growing attendance (currently up to 12 attend) all eager to seek the Lord’s guidance on how we should take the gospel to our community. Various ideas are being proposed.
- We deliver about 400 Life magazines to local houses twice a year. Our building is used by two AA groups, a writers group and Hailsham Funeral Services (for parking).
- More recently, the Connexion Trustees have sponsored Martin and Gudrun Brown to join us as a part time Development and Outreach worker. They started work on 1st September and have moved into rented accommodation in Hellingly.
- Under Christine Stone’s leadership we have packed about 130 shoe bags for the children in Sierra Leone.
We are thankful for the many mature Christians who have joined us and we are trusting that the Lord will bless us with new converts, who will grow into the future of Hailsham.
Rosedale Community Church
‘And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.’ (Nehemiah 2:8)
We have been so aware of the gracious hand of God with us at Rosedale. There have been some very tough times since March 2020, with many people affected and bereaved by the Coronavirus and consequent fallout. But as we have continued to seek to honour Him, the Lord has been kind and faithful, and we are thrilled to say that we are so excited about where He is leading us.
The Spring of 2021 saw the long-awaited refurbishment of our leased building by the Council, allowing us to re-open with a beautiful ‘new’ hall to welcome back our community groups and outreach. In September 2021 we were delighted to have two young people, Joel and Becky, join our leadership team and already their ministry and service is making a difference. As folk from our congregation slowly return, we are thrilled to have new families joining us. Our prayer and hope is that we will fulfil our purpose in being a Christ centred community dedicated to impacting Cheshunt, our nation and beyond with the love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sheppey Evangelical Church
It seems such a long time ago now, but when the first lockdown was implemented, we created a Sheppey Evangelical Church YouTube channel. I recorded a sermon for this each week and sent out a weekly ‘Prayer, News and Notices’ email to our congregation and a few people on the fringes, also printing a few for folk who don’t do the internet, and delivering them with a mask and gel!
As conditions eased we took the decision to meet up physically as soon as we could. It was really strange not being able to sing aloud, or share in Open Prayer, but at least I didn’t have to record a sermon in front of a camera! One or two people felt uncomfortable, which was totally understandable, but those who persevered became accustomed to the new quiet contemplative way of doing church. Numbers grew slowly and many people commented on how good it was to be still and listen to God.
I continued with the weekly email and added the sermon as an attachment for people to read. We’re blessed with a number of preachers within the fellowship, so I learned to take notes and summarise when I wasn’t preaching. This made sure I was paying attention!
When the second lockdown was introduced, we were the only non-Anglican church on the Island to remain open, and I believe it was the right thing to do. God has blessed us, and seeing one another physically was reassuring, even if behind a face covering, and we enjoyed our socially distanced chats outside in the car park afterwards. God was good: it hardly ever seemed to rain between 12.00 and 1 pm in Leysdown, even during the winter.
Our different preachers took responsibility for the whole service, choosing videos of praise songs etc, and again this led to a variety of styles being developed and enriching our worship.
During the summer we hosted a visit from the United Beach Mission. This was successful and resulted in some great conversations with families and youths on the beach.
It was great to get outside on September 12 and sing aloud on Leysdown beach as we celebrated the baptism of Mark and Lorraine’s eldest son Marky, who is serving in the army. The weather was lovely, and the sea didn’t knock me over this time! It was brilliant having over 35 of us in attendance too.
We also started a monthly Prayer and Praise midweek meeting in the church in September. This has been well received and we shall see how it develops.
Our families with young children have returned and new people have started worshipping with us also. I believe that God has blessed us as a church, the experiences of the pandemic have brought us closer together as a fellowship and given us an extra dimension to our corporate spirituality.
South Street Free Church
- When the first lockdown came, we were able to get online very quickly -- it was rather 'rough about the edges' at first, but we found our feet over the subsequent weeks. Since then, we've had our Sunday worship live streamed to YouTube, and our midweek prayer meetings on Zoom. When church buildings have been allowed to be open for public worship, we've had Sunday morning services there, which are also live streamed.
- There have been just a very small number of covid cases, the only serious case being a gentleman in his nineties who became very ill and was in hospital, but who has recovered by God's goodness.
- The congregation has grown during this period, as a couple of households began watching online during the later lockdowns and then started attending in person when they were able to. (They were already believers.)
- During the last year, the Lord has brought our church to a greater conviction of the need to be reaching out with the gospel; as we responded to this, the Lord has encouraged us by bringing an elderly gentleman (who was 'not religious' for most of his life) apparently to new birth in Christ through our outreach.
- We are in the process of seeking to employ an evangelist to help mobilize us in outreach to our town. We have a strong candidate whom the congregation is currently considering.
- The average age of the congregation is lower now than 18 months ago, and we have more children, which is lovely!
- Financially the Lord has provided wonderfully for our needs (including through the Connexion with a generous grant towards some roof repairs).
- In summary, in the words of Ezra (which we've been studying recently), the good hand of our God has been upon us (Ezra 7:9; 8:18, 22; cf. Nehemiah 2:8, 18). Thanks be to our God!
Turners Hill Free Church
Turners Hill Free Church continues to experience the blessing and grace of God in the lives of the congregation. During the past year the Spiritual oversight of the Church has been in the care of our four Elders. The Church Trust currently has three Trustees. The Trustees and the Elders continue to have a strong relationship and meet regularly to discuss, plan and pray together. During the pandemic the Church has met together regularly using Zoom. On Sundays we have used this method for the Sunday Morning service, a weekly Sunday prayer meeting, weekly fellowship groups on Tuesday evenings and lunchtime prayer meetings on three week days.
The Church is actively seeking a new Minister and one man is currently being considered. Recently the Church has recommenced meeting together for the Sunday morning sermon, which has also been available live on Zoom. Our Mother and Toddler group has also started meeting in the Church. One Church member has just successfully completed a two-year full time course at a Missionary training college in Holland.
Wormley Free Church
Like many it has been a time of challenge and change for Wormley Free Church. How can we be and 'do' church when we can't gather to worship or physically meet? What does outreach mean, when there are times when you can look out of your window but not freely go out and mix with the communities you are part of? I've lost count of the number of times as a church we found ourselves thanking God for the gift of technology! We quickly settled into a routine of producing as a church (and it was a real whole church effort, a level of involvement which was a real blessing and want to try and continue) a weekly service video which was uploaded to YouTube for Sunday mornings. After this we meet as a family on Zoom to catch up, share news, and get to know each other better. This post-service cuppa and chat had a very different dynamic to the post-service chat after physical services as we all talked to everyone, and therefore got to know better those we didn't normally talk to.
Bible studies and prayer meetings also switched to Zoom, in fact these worked so well that we are continuing to meet online now! We enjoyed being able to meet others in the Connexion too through our joint services and quiz nights. Over lockdown we ran three Alpha Courses online. This also worked surprisingly well, lessening the time commitment it demands of guests, and meaning people could join us from their own homes (including a houseboat!) making it less threatening. We're running another this Autumn, which will also be online.
Thankfully we came through lockdown with no serious cases of Covid, although a few members were unwell, for which we give thanks. We started physical services again in July, and are grateful to find that our community has survived intact, and in many ways has been strengthened through the experience. We have been reminded that it is our relationships that are key, not the format or location of our worship, and the importance of all investing in our worship and spiritual life, whatever format that might take. We have also learnt a lot about modern communication techniques and the possibilities of the internet for our outreach and life together, and continue to reflect on these lessons and others as we look forward with anticipation to see where God takes us next.
Zion Community Church
We’re very thankful to the Lord for sustaining us through COVID. Early on in the pandemic we went online with everyone able to join in. Then, when we were able to, we returned to meeting in person still with a zoom connection. Now our services are pretty much back to normal. We thank God that new people have joined us during COVID, relationships have been restored, and through Zoom we have been able to witness to friends and family who live far away, as well as making connections with missionaries in different countries.
A very busy summer in St. Ives was marked with lots of visitors returning to the church and about 100 volunteers working in the town with United Beach Missions. It was wonderful to be able to sing again, and to no longer have to wear masks. Our large building has been a tremendous blessings giving lost of space for people. We plan to continue to meet in-person on Sunday mornings and online Sunday evenings and mid-week, but are also looking to restart an evangelistic hospitality initiative called ‘Open House’. We give thanks to God for his sustaining.