The danger of not thinking ahead

The government seems have more leaks than our local greengrocer. So it was heartening to read of a story in a national newspaper that spoke of churches being able to reopen at the start of December. It sounds likely that’ll be announced this evening. And that gives us just over a week to get ready.

But it has made me think about strategy and preparation time. One of the biggest casualties of this lockdown for me has been advanced planning. Quick changes to tiers, lockdown, and various other things have meant responding quickly and altering well laid plans. I’ve also found that doing stuff online just takes so much longer than when doing it live eating into time to plan and prepare people for change again!

We all know that most people don’t welcome change. One of my worries as we emerge from lockdown 2.0 is that some of those who had returned to physical gathering, and we had the vast majority of our folks back, will be more reticent. Why? Because the infection rates are much higher than when we restarted in August. The number of deaths is much higher. And if we just wait until the spring there will be vaccine. There’s also the tantalising lure of a “more normal” family Christmas that may lead some to minimise contacts before then to ensure they can enjoy that. And the complexity of potentially some of our folks crossing tiers to come ( a problem of geography with 3 counties within a 10 minute drive). For that reason I wonder if fewer people will return.

So this week I’ll be trying to get people, as soon as I know of it, to begin thinking about coming back. To make resolutions. To prioritise church. To begin unlearning the ingrained habits of the last month.

But I’m also aware longer term that coming back now, whilst harder, will be crucial in preparing people for a post-vaccine world. Eddie Arthur blogged helpfully here: https://www.kouya.net/?p=11998 about how lockdown and personality might shape people not to want to go back to church. And it’s solidified something I’d been thinking about; I need a long term plan to help people ease back into church.

In a vaccinated world we weren’t planning to go back to everything straight away. But church for us has always been meals in homes, shared breakfasts, refreshments before and after the service and even in between as the children head out to Sunday school. Even our mid-week bible study was prefaced with a meal in our house with 10-16 people around a table.

I think so many of those things will feel like an overload in 2021. If we’re crossing the road to avoid people when out for a walk how will it feel to shake someone’s hand? To give someone a consoling hug? To hand someone a tissue as they weep? All those things we have spent months programming ourselves not to do and there will be a natural resistance to going back to doing so. There will be a fear. Let alone of getting 16 people together for a meal in a home, or having a shared breakfast or lunch.

And what about singing. I’ve really missed singing. I’ve quite enjoyed being able to sing with the family at home in our lockdown service. But how will we feel when in church we all take our masks off and sing in a few months time having read so much about how viruses spread and been warned about the dangers of singing so often? All those particles aerosolised! Our thinking has been so deeply changed, the fear so deeply ingrained, that a latent anxiety will remain for many if not all.

So whilst the ever changing situation demands that we adapt and adapt and adapt again often at short notice, pastors, we must plan now. How can we remind people we’re made for contact? For community for relationship? How do we help people remember this is not the norm? And prepare people for when it will be? How do we meet safely with people gradually and being subject to the government whilst we prepare for the day when we can meet together? How do we help people prepare for the day we can return to the more normal?

We desperately need to be giving time in our leadership meetings to planning for this. What will it look like and how do we prepare people for it now? How do we pastorally coach people, listen to their anxieties, and lovingly adapt so we care for them? Will we continue livestreaming and if so for how long? What if it is a help for some and a hindrance for others in returning (after all some people love the comfort of doing church in their PJ’s at home with none of that irritating bearing with to do)? What will we do then? What will we restart? And how? How will we engage people’s willingness to resume serving? And how do we coax the reluctant to reengage actively not just passively in building relationships and disciplining one another?

I found Eddies article really helpful. Because it gave me a perspective different from my own. But also because it spurred me to begin thinking about preparing people. Both for Sunday 6th Dec (if the leaks are true) but also beyond.

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