Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Leading through a time of Division with John Stevens and Ray Evans.
1. It is not unusual to feel heightened levels of anxiety (for self, family, health, congregation, ministry, long-term future of church) at the moment. This is compounded by the uncertainty we are living in. In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul recognises the problem of anxiety, and his prescription is to pray. This is what he urges the church to do, and the promise is not that God will remove the source of anxiety but give peace. A peace that is a settled confidence that God is in control and working out His purposes which enables us to live in this world as God intends us to. For us as leaders, as those who rejoice in the Lord and whose gentleness is evident to all.
2. The overriding restrictions of the National Lockdown in England are that from Thursday you cannot leave the place you live without a reasonable excuse (stay at home order), and cannot participate in indoor or outdoor gatherings (two or more people are gathering) unless there is an exemption.
3. Main excuses/exemptions are:
– Gathering with your household, linked household, linked childcare household.
– Take outdoor exercise with household or one other person (excludes child under 5).
– Work and provide voluntary/charitable services where not reasonably possible from home.
– Education or training.
– Provide care assistance to vulnerable person (over 70 or underlying health condition).
– Visit person in hospital/hospice/care home (and is member of household, close family member, friend).
– Support group of max 15 people (not in private homes).
– Visit dying person (and is member of household, close family member, friend).
– Provide emergency assistance or enable a person to avoid injury, illness or escape risk of harm.
– Attend funeral, wedding, place of worship (only if permitted gathering).
– Outdoor gathering to commemorate Remembrance Day.
4. Note the personal liability of officers of ‘body corporate’ who have consented/connived to break these rules e.g. by continuing to hold services.
5. Implications of the lockdown for churches and ministry:
– Church buildings only open for private prayer (no gathering in church = two or more people).
– Can use church building to broadcast/record service. Unclear how many people allowed in the church building for broadcast or recording of service (waiting for guidance to be released).
– No outdoor worship. This includes Drive-In services.
– Funerals for maximum 30 mourners.
– Weddings with maximum 6 attenders if one person is seriously ill and not expected to recover.
– No gatherings for multi-household Bible Study/Prayer Meetings in church premises/homes.
– Churches can continue to provide services to community (e.g. food banks/blood donations).
– Support groups for max 15 people. Parents and toddler groups count as long as they are providing support!
– Education/training can continue.
– Staff meetings/trustee meetings/volunteer meetings if not reasonably possible from home.
– Care for vulnerable individuals (over 70s, medical conditions, at risk injury, illness harm). Doesn’t have to be only done by pastor and church leaders.
– Is ‘ordinary’ pastoral visiting work? Debatable, as leaving the house for work is only where it is not reasonably possible from home. Catching up with people can be done on the phone or online via Zoom, email etc. Burden is for us to prove it has to be done in a physical way.
– Youth and Children’s work, Sunday School not possible (unless it is a support group e.g. young people struggling with an addiction).
6. Response from church leaders to lockdown.
– There has been an overwhelming protect from all constituencies (letters from CofE, Catholic bishops, Churches Together, EA, church leaders) because of the lack of justification for closing churches that have worked so hard to be COVID-secure. There is no evidence that churches are cause of risk or rise of infections.
– Judicial review has been launched by Christian Concern. Every right to assert legal case as there is protection for freedom of religion.
– Threat of civil disobedience – some leaders have indicated that they will continue to meet inc. couple of FIEC churches. But expect restrictions to be enforced.
7. Advice to churches and leaders:
– This is a political decision by PM – don’t blame the scientists or the DHCLG. Minister of Faith was not expecting for churches to be closed for public worship.
– Expect the restrictions to be introduced – there is a majority of MPs in favour. Lockdown will be imposed.
– Pray for and await outcome of judicial review challenges.
– Understand the consequences of civil disobedience (penalties, insurance, reputation of the gospel).
– Minister to your frustrated people and community. There is not the same universal support as in March. Be careful about what you say publicly.
– Make the most of online opportunities. We are more set up for it this time. Consider boosting facebook posts, using local media – newspapers, radio.
– Maximise personal ministry/discipleship within the law (e.g. walks outside, visits to vulnerable, linked households).
– Don’t distort exceptions to justify ordinary activities (e.g. claim they are education/training/support group).
– Don’t lose sight of fact thousands are ill/dying/bereaved and the heroic efforts of health care professionals and others serving the common good.
8. Three questions to ask based on Acts 15:1-16:5 (with help from John Stott) during a time when Christians are divided. 1) Is the truth of the gospel under threat? 2) Is Christian fellowship under threat? 3) Is the spread of the gospel under threat?
9. Assessing whether the truth of the gospel is being threatened is not easy. Christians are capable of teaching wrong stuff because they get the truth muddled. In Acts 15:1-18 the truth of the gospel was under threat from confused Christians. The response of the leaders is to defend the truth of the gospel vigorously.
10. When Christian fellowship is under threat as it was in Acts 15:19-35, things can be done to help Christian fellowship. When it is not a salvation issue, it is a wisdom call about how to make fellowship possible.
11. Whether something threatens the spread of the gospel is usually not a moral issue (right/wrong) but a wisdom issue (wise/foolish). In Acts 15:36-16:5 Paul decided that it wasn’t wise to take John Mark, but was wise for Timothy to be circumcised. Our understanding of what threatens the spread of the gospel is in a different category to what threatens the truth of the gospel. Wisdom calls not always easy.
12. At present the government is not threatening the truth of the gospel – they have acted to save lives.
13. Christian fellowship may be under threat in the church at the moment because some are keen to/able to meet whereas others are not. We should all be looking to help one another as much as possible and to be willing to flex as much as possible to keep unity. It is important to be patient with those with sensitive consciences who are trying to work things through.
14. Are we in a situation when it is better to forgo our rights and share in suffering with others. This is an individual judgment call. There is a time to assert our rights and a time to forgo our rights. The apostle Paul does both. Because of the way churches have made so much effort and because the government did not consult church leaders it is not wrong to do so under these circumstances. Remember if we don’t ever defend our rights, they’ll be treated as not important.