For weeks now our ecclesiae have been closed for actual gatherings. All of our face-to-face meetings are still cancelled for the time being, though we will take every opportunity to keep in touch and have remote services, via Hangouts, Google Meets and Houseparty.
It is not clear how long these social distancing measures will be in place for, but it seems likely that this will be measured in months rather than weeks. Whilst a few months seems like a long time, there are spiritual opportunities within seclusion. It’s not an angle on spirituality or worship that we often consider – and we are not suggesting any vows of silence! But worth thinking about.
Luckily we have found some very good systems to have virtual contacts (Hangouts, Google Meets and Houseparty, and there is the CIL Meet platform) and to have our Breaking of Bread services streamed on the net (on Sundays and a few ecclesia services on Tuesdays) as well as our Bible classes on Wednesdays.
In a short space of time ecclesiae across the world have introduced new IT and software which some of us hardly new existed. We have become experts in Skype, Zoom, WebEx, 8×8, Google Meet, CIL Meet, and perhaps others too. Breaking of bread services have been conducted over the internet or by phone, taking us into different homes as prayers and readings are said and exhortations given. The many ecclesiae bringing streaming services have differing policies on who is allowed to join; some ecclesiae are happy for anyone to watch and make archives freely available. Some consider the streams to be a facility only for local members or (like us) only for baptised members who are unable to attend in person. However, those living in Great-Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.A. can find a listing on the Internet. If you contact an ecclesia listed please understand if they need to ask questions about where you are from. > Stream index
Our ecclesial life, in the blink of an eye, has been transformed and everyone is now concentrating on the really important matters, such as how do we remember our Lord together? How will we maintain contact in our isolation? How do we care for the (physically and spiritually) poor and needy in our ecclesiae? Unimportant, peripheral matters, some of which have acquired unwarranted significance and emphasis in our ecclesiae, have suddenly been forgotten. Instead we are phoning and writing to each other (old style communication is getting a new lease of life) and we have time for each other. Ecclesiae and divided families are connecting online to do the readings together.
Closure of our meetings creates its own risks to the welfare of our members, visitors, and children, and ecclesiae will need to review these urgently. We noticed in some provinces or regions there was a drawback to go on the net. It looked like several members in Holland, for example, were considered too old and not able to adjust to the modern technical tools. From Belgium we sent out an invitation to Holland and to our Belgian subscribers of the printed magazine, but found nobody interested to have a virtual contact with us here in Belgium. We are aware that not every ecclesia is able to have people arranging a net meeting. We also understand that not every ecclesia is well prepared, and wasn’t making frantic arrangements. But that an ecclesia near to you isn’t as well prepared does not have to mean you have to stay in isolation. Maybe they’re short of nerds to set up virtual services, or maybe they’re small and just need a supportive phone call. If you can help, please do, but also know that all the members of your church also could join with other believers at their internet meeting.
We would love to invite non-baptised people to have contact via the net as well. The Sunday and Wednesday service on the net are only open to baptised members and there we could meet regulary with several people (about 25 families each Sunday), but we think of having a service on Tuesday for sympathisers and people interested in our community.
None of us should feel alone during what is a challenging time – those who want to follow Christ should want to become united under Christ and should act as a family. Considering each follower of Christ being a member of the Body of Christ, we should have an eye and an ear for them. This way we should look after one another in meeting our spiritual, social, material, and health needs.
We noticed that in England there was by some, a desire for fellowship for smaller groups to meet in homes, but this would also have contradicted Government advice since infections can spread easily in small groups. Individual ecclesiae were urged to make the most of modern technology, and to make efforts to meet digitally. And for most of them that did, this was a great opportunity to have others from other places also joining their meeting on the net.
Some ecclesiae could find for their services Iranian asylum seekers and/or people from other places. Newbury, Mons and Leefdaal were pleased to find also people from South-Hampton, Birmingham, Bournemouth (Winton) and some other places joining. As a prayer theme for March we had:
Give thanks to God for being our refuge and help in the storms of life and …pray that in turn we will be ready to help others in difficulty and in need of shelter in love and faith,
Thankfully we could find refuge in our own cocoon and have save contacts with people from all over the world. In Belgium, we managed to have more contacts with certain people, even with people from other time zones. We also could deliver more help where needed. The longer the lockdown took the more we got bad news from people who found they lost their job because of this corona crisis.
The 14th March – Northern Praise Day and the 28 March, Kent Prophecy Day got cancelled, like many other planned events. Also, most professional conferences scheduled over the coming several months have also been either postponed or cancelled.
The Dendrite platform enabled every teacher to create a private classroom in the cloud for each of their classes at the click of a button, and to invite both students and also, if required, their parents, into this classroom community.
Ecclesiae will also want to consider the impact on loneliness, social isolation, and the practical material needs, particularly of older and vulnerable members. Where possible, the burden of visiting and support should be taken off those who are over 70 years of age and those who are suffering from underlying conditions (see Government advice).
The Covid-19 outbreak meant that we have had to temporarily close the doors of our meeting places. However, outreach work is still ongoing and we do hope enough people can find us on the net.
We remain one body, whose one head is the Lord Jesus. Our isolation and separation come at a time when technology helps bind us together. Let us pray this time of confinement, like for Noah and his family, or the Children of Israel on Passover night, is the final act before our Lord’s return.
We sincerely pray that you and your loved ones remain well and that our shared faith is a comfort in these anxious times.
May God bless us in these difficult and anxious times. Let us pray for strength to do the right things and show the love of Jesus to those around us.
The NHS has some excellent online resources, which are updated regularly as the picture changes, including updated requirements for self-isolation if you or one of your household develops cold/flu-like symptoms.