“One generation commends your works to another, they tell of your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4, NIV

“As panic and fear grip our nation, the church is rising up like never before.” “Local churches unite with radical plans to care for sick and elderly.” “Messages of hope line our footpaths.” Did you read those headlines on Stuff? No? Well, Rachel Roche’s hope is that you will. She says that while everyone is calculating statistics and stocking the pantry, the church is rising up. 

This is the most exciting time, as we are part of a movement responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive life‑giving way. The history books are being written and I wonder what will be said about you and your church community.

Why is this important?

Many of us are excited about this opportunity. Do not get me wrong, I have been extremely sad. I have had my few tears as my graduation that I have worked six years towards has been postponed. I empathise with those concerned about the rise in unemployment, domestic abuse and the mental health prognosis. However, we know the end of the story is filled with joy and hope. We can see God is working in new ways… or are we just finally listening? No matter who we are, or where we are, we can impact those who do not have hope. Together we can be Jesus’ (well-washed) hands and feet in this situation, but more about that later.  

Church historian Kevin Ward observes that New Zealand traditional churches appear to follow the decline occurring in Western nations and the impact of this decline is extensive.1 However, Ward claims there is not one way ahead for the church, and leaders need to be encouraged to experiment with new forms of church. He suggests existing structures may need to change, or new ‘fresh expressions’ of the church could emerge.2 

In a webinar George Wieland of Carey’s Centre for Mission Research and Training recorded in August 2019, he said, “Now, instead of picturing a church building, imagine the households of members of this faith community as the primary locations of the practice and growth of faith. What would be different?”3 

Ward and Wieland’s prophetic words are for a time such as this. Although the concepts of fresh expressions and church at home have been around for years, a new opportunity has opened up. The church is meant to be journeying with people. The church has never been a building. Now we have no excuses or comfort to fall back on as the way forward will be different.

Recently I have had several conversations with people about hope and faith in ways that I have never experienced before. Churches are reinventing themselves as they are moving online and basing themselves in homes. Online groups are wrestling with what life looks like to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. People are being encouraged to connect with and check on their neighbours. These stories are new and fresh, and people need hope more than ever. 

Depression and anxiety already invades our society. On a scale of one to 10, how anxious have you felt when reading COVID-19 updates, hearing a friend has lost their job, or looking at the empty flour section in the supermarket? Research shows those suffering from depression and anxiety can counter the social and spiritual imbalance with a connection in community. This requires a collective response rather than an individualistic problem-solving mindset.4 Simply put, this means once again becoming part of one another in an inclusive community is beneficial to the individual and the community. 

What story will be told? 

In a world obsessed with selfies, self‑preservation and selfish gain, imagine a story emerging of selfless embrace, inclusion and love. With every action and inaction, history is being rewritten right now. Imagine if each community, house by house, person by person, was being touched by the love of Jesus. You might say I am being idealistic or unrealistic when we are struggling to keep our own life afloat. Reality check: this story is not about us, our ability to cope, how we survived and our life hacks. This is God’s story and we are his partners. He has chosen us, he is our strength and he is the author. God has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7). We have hope in a Saviour who has been on Earth, who understands, and who knows. 

The world is watching and waiting. Let us give them something good to talk about. Let us change the news headlines. Now is the time for us to act so the stories that outlast us will have some exceptional content.

Resources and ideas

As the COVID-19 situation changes in New Zealand, the Baptist National Centre is sending email updates with helpful advice to pastors, chaplains, church administrators and treasurers, regional leaders, Association officeholders and other Baptist leaders. Churches can also access COVID-19 resources via the intranet on the Baptist Churches of New Zealand website. These include various Ministry of Health guidelines, employment advice from Gaze Burt, information on how to prepare an online strategy for connecting with congregations, and faith and theological responses to the COVID‑19 situation. There are also ideas for responses being shared informally among Baptist pastors and leaders in their closed Facebook group. 

Here are a few simple action points I suggest for faith communities and households to do within lockdown requirements:

  • Letterbox drop with a phone number to call for prayer, dropping off essential items, or to chat. 
  • Think of ways to show support and appreciation to your local medical centre. You will not be able to just drop in, so get creative.  
  • Partner with seniors’ support networks to find people with most need of a phone call, supermarket shop or prescription delivery. 
  • Help another household prepare for a few days when they can’t get out of the house (money for food and water, care packages, etc.).
  • Pray at 2pm each day for two minutes for revival, transformation and healing in our land (Acts 2:42).
  • Set up a Facebook support page for your community.
  • Write letters and ask children to draw pictures for rest home residents. Check first with the rest home as they may have restrictions on materials sent into their facilities.
  • Offer your unused church buildings as a welfare centre to distribute food and supplies. 
  • Collect up unused smart phones, type up instructions in 16pt font and deliver to households struggling to connect with others and watch church online. 
  • Write Bible verses of hope with chalk on the footpaths in front of your homes.

Come up with creative crazy cool ideas to bless, encourage and meet the needs of those around you. Pick an idea and go for it. Please share your stories of kindness, healing and transformation. We have the privilege and exciting challenge to be involved in loving others courageously to glorify God and tell of his mighty acts.

Contributor: Rachel Roche

Rachel works part-time for Carey as field education and internships coordinator. She recently finished her Master of Applied Theology. She lives in rural Pukekohe with family, and plenty of produce and farm animals to keep the freezer and fridge full.

References:

  1. Kevin Ward, The Church in Post-Sixties New Zealand: Decline, Growth and Change (Auckland: Archer Press, 2013), 11.
  2. Ibid., 225-230.
  3. You can view George Wieland’s webinar on the Book of Acts at https://player.vimeo.com/video/365656163.
  4. Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), 83-84.