If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we are busy people compressed into densely populated cities. Often our church gatherings have replicated that. We’ve squeezed people into our buildings, crammed a lot of content: songs, notices, mini-sermons, main sermons into them, rushed them through to back halls for cheap coffee and cheaper biscuits them kicked them out again until next time. Even our “small groups” have been very much the same as we’ve squeezed heavy duty Bible study, round robin prayer times that usually morph into unsolicited advice sessions and a quick cuppa before heading home having squeezed the Home Group in with a 12 hour day at work plus all the usual family stuff.
We hit the pandemic squeezed and exhausted with many people saying “how did we go on like that for so long?” I’ve not even mentioned all the other programmes we were running yet. At different stages of the pandemic, we’ve learnt a little about what it means to carve out a bit of space and time. Church online meant that some of us weren’t already exhausted before the service began from having to put out chairs, sweep up weekday mess, throw out broken instruments and wonder if key things were just lost or stolen.
Then there’s been the time and space we’ve carved out for fellowship. Partly that has been from thinking carefully about how we pace teaching. For example, many of us have been part of small groups online where we’ve realised intense Bible study doesn’t always work so well. So we’ve used that time to pray more, share more and to go over the practical application of Sunday’s sermon.
We’ve found time to eat together. Our community group at our current church has been using the occasional dry evening for barbecues and there’s been after church picnics. The bright and clever people organising things also came up with a fantastic idea that has really helped build relationships and provide a stepping stone back to normality. Raw Church meant that a couple of households were encouraged to get together on a Sunday morning for brunch before watching the service content, space was created in the content for us to pause the video and pray, reflect and discuss together. Communion was shared as part of brunch.
Now the return to normality means that things will change again. Some of the things we were able to do during COVID may be less possible now and things we managed to stop/avoid doing may become necessary again. However, I hope that we will have learnt some useful long term lessons from lockdown. There will be things we are looking forward to getting back to like singing together and seeing everyone in person but perhaps there will be things we won’t want to go back to, things we will want to keep from lockdown and maybe too some new opportunities to create space and time for each other.