Isolation and community

As we absorb the government measures for containing the coronavirus, people are starting to work out how to do life in these difficult times. Some – the elderly and those with long-term health conditions – face a long period of self-isolation. Others are self-isolating because of a temperature or new cough. All of us need to make choices about which activities of daily living to continue, which to modify and which to cease. And that means a lot of us will be in uncharted territory, potentially spending more time at home in unstructured ways and uncertain times.

Aspects of that might seem scary. Aspects of being at home, short term at least, might actually appeal! But it will have challenges for us as individuals and as a body. A church is designed to be a place of sharing, a place of community – how can we maintain that well when we won’t be meeting together as usual in the coming weeks? Here are 7 things your church might like to include in their quest to keep the family connected:

  1. Keep feeding the flock – whether it’s live-streaming the Sunday service(s) on a platform that most can access, doing Bible studies online or posting the transcript of the sermon to members of the congregation who struggle with tech, it’s important to keep church members nourished with God’s word. There’s never a crisis – viral or otherwise – that should distract us from digging deep into Scripture and seeing the wonderful treasures the Lord has in store for us there.
  2. Keep praying together – periodically circulating prayer requests by email or post, can ensure everyone in the church is continuing to pray in a united way. And creating a culture where people phone each other for a short pray (5-10 minutes is fine, longer works too) can provide the isolated with much needed encouragement to keep turning to the Lord who loves to hear their prayers and answer them in the ways he knows to be best. There may be moments when being isolated feels overwhelming – taking those strong emotions to the Lord, alongside a brother or sister in Christ, can be a source of immeasurable hope.
  3. Keep loving each other practically – we all need food, household cleaning items, medication and, dare I say, toilet rolls. Many will have stocked up already but those on a low income may well not have been able to buy in advance, those with poor mobility might not have been able to carry extra items home from the shops. Churches can make sure people know who to call (maybe a small group leader – or someone in pastoral care – or a deacon / elder) if they run out. And they can ensure that people are proactively asked if they are in need – let’s face it, not everyone finds it easy to say, “please help”.
  4. Keep telling people about Jesus – the big events may not be able to go ahead but quiet conversations can. We can continue to pray for our non-Christian friends (indeed we may have capacity to pray much more for our own friends and the friends of others in our church). We can call them to ask how they are doing and share a little of how we are choosing to trust God with the things we don’t understand. We don’t need to pretend we’re coping brilliantly – we can be honest about our anxieties and pain – but we can talk about how our faith is helping and offer to answer questions they might have about suffering and fear (or point them to a video that can do that instead). Of course, with extra time on their hands, they might just be willing to read the Bible with us via video call – no harm in asking at least.
  5. Start something new – the virus can seem all doom and gloom (and I’m not suggesting it is anything other than serious) but it’s also a chance to start something new. Encourage people to read a specific book and discuss it over the phone with another member of the church. Nudge people to listen to a Psalm or a podcast every day and text a friend one encouragement they’ve found. Ask people to get out their phones, record their testimony, and share it with others in their small group. Livestream some midweek sessions on doctrine and help people see how God’s sovereignty, provision and his action in sanctifying us in all the circumstances of life is a wonderful thing. Enjoy sharing songs with one another. Revel in the opportunity to practice the biblical discipline of lament. We won’t be able to do it all but look for the opportunities God has placed in this time of need.
  6. Guard the vulnerable – there are some groups who will find isolation harder than others. Those in later life might find getting supplies or support with daily tasks difficult, those with illness might find their carers less able to come round but vulnerable groups go beyond the elderly and unwell. Those homes where marriages are in distress, where abuse is known, where special needs children are away from the familiar structure of school, may be under significantly more pressure than usual. Church leadership can be proactive in helping people develop and enact biblical coping strategies for being in close contact with those they might find difficult. Having a point of contact for people in crisis can help people know that they are not alone.
  7. Model perseverance not panic – people will look at what we are saying, what we are doing and what we are posting on social media. We can encourage trust or engender despair. We must use words well to build each other up not tear each other down. As the writer of Hebrews so eloquently reminds us, our call as a church is this:
    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3