The Locked-Down Church
What happened when the church was closed for more than a year? It might not be what you imagined. Download our experiences here or carry on reading:
The Locked-Down Church
Jesus Christ said:
" This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other." (John 13:34-35 MSG). Love isn’t just about having nice thoughts. It’s a verb – a doing word – and is shown by our actions.
Bolton, in Greater Manchester, has been an epicentre of the COVID pandemic in the UK for many months, experiencing lockdowns, extra testing and special measures. It could be expected that our churches would suffer greatly during this time – but, by the grace of God, the opposite is true and are able to see a real qualitative difference. Christ Himself said that “… everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other”. That love has grown visibly during the pandemic.
Claremont Church, Bolton, a community of believers with average weekly attendance of 50 – 60 people, closed our building after the meeting of 15 March 2020. However, we always made it clear that the church had not closed – we simply relocated. We opened in August 2020 before the infection rate in Bolton again grew exponentially and we closed our doors again 3 weeks later. We re-opened on 2 May 2021, with full COVID safety measures.
Now we are taking stock of what God has enabled us to do by the very real assistance of His Holy Spirit – because we are a small church and couldn’t have done it alone! We are also grateful to God that, despite having a significant number of shielding people in the congregation, no-one has been lost or hospitalized due to COVID.
These are some of the ways that God blessed us through this difficult period:
The Church and the Internet
· We first heard of Zoom two weeks before the lockdown – yet it rapidly became an important part of our church life and has brought us a richness that we could hardly have imagined. After some apprehension, many people have come to enjoy our Zoom meetings and found that the same Holy Spirit who gracefully joins meetings in our building was and is present even in our own homes.
· We ‘Zoom’ed’ every Sunday and at many other times during lockdown. Our attendance has remained essentially the same as before the pandemic and we are seeing new people added to our flock, as others have moved out to serve the church in other locations and situations.
· We were able to locate and provide sufficient webcams, computers, tablets and expertise to provide for everyone who wished to participate.
· Several people, who are not able to join with us weekly because they live too far away or are housebound, have become part of our extended community through Zoom and Facebook Live. We now count regulars from the UK, Spain, Portugal and Burma (Myanmar) as part of our wider community.
· Claremont’s own music (past and present) has been made available to everyone on our website, via Facebook and on You Tube.
· Testimonies to what Jesus has done in people’s lives were made available on our website for anyone to play or download.
· New ways of presenting music to the Church, so that everyone could join, in were developed for Zoom and Facebook Live, which now serve us well as we return to face-to-face worship under COVID rules.
· We learned how to spotlight our speakers and provide the best possible experience for everyone who joined us.
Caring for Those who were Shielding or had no Access to the Internet
· CDs of the whole meeting were delivered every week during lockdown for the members who could not be with us on-line for whatever reason.
· Every person associated with the church was contacted regularly by telephone or by a ‘doorstep visit’ (visiting the home but remaining socially distanced on the doorstep).
· Members and friends who may have been shielding or struggling financially were helped by gifts, donations and/or food parcels, delivered in a COVID-safe way – often anonymously.
· Members of the church have been reaching out to those who have not yet accepted Christ, inviting them to our on-line meetings and handing them meeting CDs.
· Members reached out in Christ’s name to family and friends with regular acts of kindness.
· Many people with illnesses or problems were prayed for at our various meetings and many saw real improvement as God entered their situation. Some of those were already church members, but many were not.
· Even during the worst of the pandemic, people who urgently needed surgery were found slots when the church prayed.
· Our bible studies and Discipleship / Caring group meetings also became times to pray for individuals and situations.
· Our monthly PowerHouse Prayer Meetings moved to Zoom with almost the same level of attendance that had been enjoyed in our building (and we consider that around 30% of the church attending every prayer meeting is a great ‘batting average’).
· Some members who were obliged to stay at home used the time to pray for the church and it’s people – which may be why the church prospered under lockdown.
· We have benefitted from excellent teaching throughout, both from our regular teaching team and from guest speakers, including one message from Nepal and contributions from Burma (Myanmar) and Spain, through Zoom and by video.
· Our mid-week ‘Discovery’ bible studies on Zoom became a source of fellowship and learning for those who attended.
· We were able to establish a caring Discipleship Group, which has helped people to make more sense of the Christian pathway, while providing friendship and fellowship.
· We held numerous social evenings such as ‘Dodgy Quizzes’; Testimony Evenings; Desert Island Discs and others.
· 2 weddings of church members took place in a COVID-safe manner during the brief period in which the building was open during Summer 2020, in full compliance with the government approved COVID attendance limit. We provided an overflow video meeting and an audio / visual feed to Zoom, reaching friends across the world who couldn’t attend in person!
· Several new worship songs have been written, performed and recorded by our musicians.
· Approx. 150 music videos have been produced, thus avoiding playing downloaded YouTube videos, which is not permitted by their terms and conditions.
· Our leaders deliberately engaged with everyone in the church community, making sure that they felt loved and were genuinely cared for.
Spreading the Gospel
· At least one person accepted Christ and was born again through contact via our web site and follow-up by our members. Several others have become interested or renewed their previous interest.
· Many conversations have taken place because of our social media and personal outreach. Church members tell us that people who were previously agnostic to the Gospel of Christ are now openly interested.
· Some members initiated street parties (socially distanced, of course) with a singer sharing music and the Gospel.
· Church members in hospital have been showing our Sunday services to other patients and staff.
· A number of people who had drifted away from the church have been fully restored and are now very active participants.
· Our live streams are taking God’s Word to people who would not consider themselves to be active Christians and to others who are, but cannot regularly get to Church, in Bolton and in various places around the world.
· Several CD’s of Claremont’s own music were shipped to people throughout the UK and Spain.
Acts of Kindness
· Thousands of cupcakes were made and personally delivered to members and friends.
· Hundreds of letters, cards, thank-you notes and other encouragements were sent out.
· Special church meetings were arranged for the lonely (in COVID-secure conditions) as soon as the rules permitted.
· On several occasions, members gave gifts, food and/or money to those with less than they have.
· Members have provided meals to others – sometimes because of a specific need and others just as a love gift.
· Perhaps most of all, we re-learned what it means to love each other. Although Claremont has always been a church which loved and cared for people, our members found all sorts of ways to demonstrate love-in-action during this pandemic.
The Way Ahead
· Our church building has been made COVID-safe with household groups and individual seating spaced to give 2m between households / bubbles and/or individuals. Antiseptic gel dispensers have been installed; antiseptic wipes provided, additional cleaning; restricted access to certain areas and one-way traffic flow systems.
· Face coverings are provided free of charge and face shields used by everyone involved in ministry and anyone who finds masks difficult.
· Perspex screens have been provided for musicians and speakers, who are now at least 3m from the congregation. Everyone who visits now feels safe.
· Having equipped our building with a simple video system, we now live-stream our Sunday services to an overflow meeting room, as well as to Zoom and Facebook Live.
· We will continue to provide live streams of our Sunday meetings to our ‘on-line congregation’ for the foreseeable future.
· We anticipate that the genuine love which has been generated and demonstrated will bear fruit and commend the church to a community which truly needs and desires to experience genuine love.
In the words of Joseph; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). God was not taken by surprise by this pandemic!