Welcoming children during social distancing

Children, especially young children cannot socially distance. Anyone who has met a child knows that to be true. And while childcare has restarted and schools are set to be fully open in September, they are finding it harder to rejoin places where they need to socially distance.

As churches gradually reopen and settle into socially distanced worship, people are reconnecting with their church family. They are seeing one another’s faces, smiling through masks, physically worshipping together and enjoying socially distanced chats outside. There is a real sense of family coming back together after months apart.

There are many families though who would love to be coming back to church and rejoining their church family physically but do not feel they can when their children can’t socially distance easily. There is no blame, it is no one’s fault but it can feel that circumstances are preventing them from being part of their physical family reunion.

All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.

Isaiah 54:13

We need to find practical and sometimes creative ways to speak to our families and do things differently so that those who are eager to return feel that they can. Not just for fellowship and for family but because children are spiritual and can learn and teach us so much about God.

We need to talk to our families. Every family will have different needs but we don’t know what without asking them. Perhaps one just needs to know they are welcome, another would feel equipped after a chat about snacks and toys being welcome and another if they knew they were near an exit or toilet. We cannot make provisions based on what we think families need, but by talking to them we may find there are some easy solutions. And when everyone involved is talking, everyone begins to work together to see what will work and are more willing to give it a go.

We need to be clear and sensitive. Ushering anyone that can’t socially distance through a socially distanced service is going to be complex. Just as we need to talk to families about what they need, we need to communicate what is needed. If people must stay in their pews; tell everyone, if there is a one way system; mention it, if there is a space for moving; explain where and how much, if you can add positives do! E.g. We are sad not to be able to provide toys or colouring for children but do bring your own! This enables parents to feel comfortable that they know what to do and it encourages them to come in the same sentence. If you aren’t sure if it is clear and sensitive; ask a parent to help by reading it over with a critical eye.

We need to keep in touch (or make contact). Every member of a church family is important. And yet, it will be easy for those who can’t attend to feel ‘left out’, even if they know it is circumstances. Keeping lines of communication open is really important so there isn’t a sense of everyone moving forward without them. Something as simple as ‘we really miss seeing you all’ can go a huge way into helping people to feel seen, loved and valued when they are unable to attend.

We can wave on our livestream. Give them a wave at the beginning of the service. Have a short children’s slot, an action song or something else. It doesn’t have to be much but just moments of clear connection through the service with those that are joining digitally. Our church encouraged the adults in the church to join in with the actions for the children at home and I’ve never seen such energy and participation! It showed that those present genuinely wanted those at home to feel included and seen and people at home really felt it (perhaps there is also a secret love for action songs). 

Worship at home. If your church has been running an online Sunday programme or has been sending out worship resources to do at home. Then keep it up! It shows they are not being left behind and most importantly helps them to connect with God. If it has brought children who didn’t come to church before, physically returning may look different. There is also still plenty of scope to start something now. If you are thinking about it, why not have a look at Adventuring for God. It has resources and ideas to run five sessions with different levels of effort and online needs.

We can worship outdoors. Worship outside can bring a real sense of God’s presence, calmness and freedom…a fabulous combination for anyone. Children often thrive on being outside and therefore it is a brilliant way (particularly now) for families to worship in the air with plenty of space. Family spaces can be created outside to bring households together and find new ways to worship as a family.

I had the joy of experiencing church under a tarp tent with my family this week. There were shared spoken words between an interactive story, prayer and creative time for the families to lead themselves. There was a sense of worshipping as community but also a real value of worshipping as a family within it. Interestingly, not even the youngest children wandered from their family space. But it did start with conversations of what was most needed and then what might work…it was a blessing to see the fruit of church leadership and families working together.

So what will make the biggest difference to welcoming our children and families back to church? Praying for them, talking to them and involving them.

Different families will have different needs, different churches will be able to offer different things. Not everyone can do everything for everyone. But if our children and families feel loved, valued and listened to, then the things we do and try will be valued and supported.

Side note: Do not consider this time ‘temporary’ but be creative! Explore with families what whole family worship can look like. And by whole family, that may not just be families with children but some or all of your church family exploring together how we can worship and connect in new and different ways. In ways that our church family can take away and continue that worship through the week to sustain them until you meet physically again.

Fun ideas for video calls

If you haven’t tried a video call for your small group, it’s worth giving it a go. The first time it can take a while to get everyone there with their video and sound on. But if you treat each other gently and with much laughter you will find that although it’s not the same as sitting in the same room it is good to see each other’s faces as you talk.

Whether the idea of video small groups is new or something that has become the new normal, it can be far broader than just conversation. Here are a few creative ways to build relationships and have fun on your video calls.

Do let us know how they go or if you have any ideas to add.

Scavenger Hunt

Can you find…

a candle? a pet? a toilet roll? something yellow? the biggest thing you can bring to the screen? the funniest face?

The challenge is set and people leave their screens to find the best answer they can. The winner is the best, funniest or most creative.

Tips and ideas:

  • Have one person calling all the questions or rotate and the winner chooses the next thing
  • Throw in some questions that people won’t find easily but can be creative/funny.
  • Have a time limit so you don’t lose someone for too long.

A Quiz

This does rely on honesty, because each screen is a team and they will mark their own answers.

The Quizmaster arrived with the questions ready to go. The teams bring their own paper, pens and snacks of choice. The prize is a hearty congratulations from the other teams.

Tips and ideas:

  • Mute everyone during the actual questions, otherwise they will whisper their answers for everyone.
  • Try a PowerPoint with the questions written on and share your screens.
  • If you have a music or sound round, test it first to make sure people can hear it.
  • If you have the option of ‘breakout rooms’ you can create bigger teams.

‘Master’ Classes

Does someone have a skill or talent in the group? Join together to learn something new. You could discover the best scone recipe, how to grow tomatoes from seeds or to how to make an origami frog.

Tips and ideas:

  • Make sure you send out the ingredient/equipment list well in advance.
  • The leader needs to make sure their camera fits in what they are doing so people can see.
  • Do this in addition to a normal group so people don’t feel they have to attend.

Guess who

Everyone write a character/famous person/Bible character/object and keeps it a secret.

Whoever is ‘on’ turns around, someone else shows their paper so everyone else can see it. They hide it and whoever is ‘on’ turns back. They can then ask yes/no questions until they guess it or run out of questions.

Tips and ideas:

  • Choose a category before writing choices.
  • Have a limit of questions or time.
  • An alternative is you write your person down and you take in turns to find out who each other wrote.

Karaoke

Screen sharing will be needed but there are plenty of apps you can try or just use Youtube to pull up your favourite songs and give it a go.

Tips and ideas:

  • Do not take yourselves or each other too seriously.
  • The best songs are the ones you all know.

Other ideas

  • Play charades: Act out your person/book/word for others to guess.
  • Pictionary: Draw your word/action/object.
  • 2 truths and a lie: share 2 truths and a lie and people guess which is the lie.
  •  Some board games you could play together. E.g. if everyone has a dice and 1 person moves the pieces on the board. If you all own a board game, is there a way of playing together?

Tips and ideas:

  • If people are acting/drawing/guessing there are a few options. Ask people to come up with their own idea. The person leading emails everyone individually a few to choose from at the beginning and stay quiet during. People are texted during the game (perhaps by the previous winner) and the texter doesn’t participate.
  • There are also online games websites that can be used on video calls. These sometimes need a second device to play on.

Thriving in an online small group

Picture a small group… Where are they meeting? How long are they meeting for? What are they doing? Do they have food?

I imagine there will be many similarities and differences as people consider those questions. But, almost certainly the picture is of people together. It’s still likely to be our default picture, even though the reality has changed our small groups over the past few weeks.

For many small group members they are a vital support spiritually and practically. Meeting together is a key part of how we build those relationships of trust, challenge and love. So, while people are appreciating being connected, these video meetings can be viewed as ‘better than nothing’ or ‘second best’. And in many ways they are but it is also an opportunity to develop relationships in new ways if we take the opportunities.

Here are eight ways we can help our small groups thrive rather than just survive as we meet through video:

Keep the language of togetherness.

We know we are separate and many of us will use that language as we talk. But focussing on the joining is important. So talk about ‘meeting at 7 tonight’, say ‘it was lovely to see you’ and ‘does anyone want to do something next week?’

This is an opportunity to reduce loneliness.

Priorities can become possibilities.

Parents, carers, shift workers, people with long commutes etc may hold coming to small group as a high priority. That doesn’t mean they can always attend. But now parents can be at home and at small group and far more people are at home instead of work and able to come too. 

This is an opportunity to be all together.

Invest in the one to one relationships.

Even in small groups the deepest conversations tend to be in twos and threes. These are lifelines. But multiple conversations on a screen is just noise. This means we need to choose to invest in those smaller relationships in calls and messages. This is actually a brilliant thing as relationships go far deeper when they go beyond the ‘designated meeting time’.

This is an opportunity for daily life relationships.

Speak up and ask around.

Asking for help is hard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. In fact being willing to receive help can help other be more open about their own needs. So make a space to ask each other what they need and be willing to receive help, whether its prayer, practical help or something else. There is a depth of relationship that comes from relying on each other.

This is an opportunity to learn how to rely on others.

Use the pauses.

Together in a room we can view pauses as awkward and a sign to move on. Video calls have far more natural pauses as people avoid talking over or overlapping with each other. A pause is not an awkward sign to move on and can be an opportunity to invite others to share in a way that feels more open than it may in a room together.

This is an opportunity to value every voice.

Be flexible.

Perhaps a 7.30 start was manageable before, but did it include rushing dinner, not putting the children to bed and arriving without a break? If so, perhaps consider what time you can start so everyone can arrive feeling prepared and ready.

This is an opportunity to slow down.

Length is not everything.

Many groups watch the video or read the Bible passage together and it works. But this may be an opportunity for people to arrive with that done in advance. It means people have had time to think and reflect before arriving for the discussion questions. It may lead to shorter and more focussed conversations because people have already done some of the thinking. It may lead to longer conversations as people bring more complex questions to the group.

This is an opportunity to come prepared.

Try new things.

If you are happy with something, why change it. But, that can limit growth in new and unexpected ways. But video calls are new for your group, not everything you did will work now. So experiment with socials (click for ideas), asking about the impact of you last session or praying in new ways. Whether they work or not, they open up freshness and new ways of exploring and growing in faith and relationships.

This is an opportunity to grow deeper together.

What else would you add?

 

Five ways to Love

You may or may not be familiar with Gary Chapman’s ‘Five Love Languages’. If you are, you have probably come across it in relation to romantic relationships and what we want and need to feel loved. But, its use goes far beyond just romance and can help us in almost any relationship we are in, including in our churches.

Gary speaks of five languages of love:

  • Words of affirmation – Is written or verbal words that show value. It’s not just ‘You’re great’ but shares what that person does or is that makes them valued. 
  • Touch – Is about physical contact. Everyone has a different level of comfort; it can be a hug, a pat on the shoulder, sitting next to someone rather than alone etc.
  • Quality time – Is not about the length of time you spend together but the quality. It is about not being distracted, being able to relax and to really talk or do something together.
  • Gifts – Is not about how much money is spent, but about the thought that has gone into it. It is knowing that you have been remembered and shows that the other person really knows you.
  • Acts of service – Is about practical help that is needed. It’s delivering a meal during a stressful week, giving a lift to someone can’t drive.

Each of these explores and shares a different part of a relationship: wanting to spend time with someone, to help them out and to show how much you value them. They are all important. However, we have a natural inclination to show and receive love in different ways. 

Someone may show their love through sharing kind, thoughtful and encouraging words, but most feel loved when someone chooses to spend time with them.

Love your neighbour as your neighbour would like to be loved.

We know that we are called to love others as we love ourselves. Most of us would desire people to get to know us and what we need, not simply to assume our needs are the same. Jesus is not telling us to love everyone identically to ourselves, but to take the time and effort to really love the other in the way that they need.

January is a time of quiet after the busyness of December. It is often a time when there is less planned, less time spent together and less to look forward to. It is a time when many of us can feel lonely, even if we are not alone. It’s a perfect time to reflect on our own Christmas and what made us feel most loved (chances are it fits into one of the five languages) and talk to others about what made them feel most loved. And of course, to those around you, show them that you care in a way that they will recognise and be aware of how they might be showing you love in their own way.

The Apple Festival

This week we decided to go to an ‘Apple Festival’. I have not been to such a festival before and neither am I a connoisseur of apples. But, we decided it was a little different and there were lots of things going on, so why not. I know I’ll pick up braeburns if I’m in the shop, but that’s as far as it goes.

 

It was definitely a good choice, there was honey and fudge to try, music playing outside, outdoor games for children, people whittling, animals to view and a miniature train ride. And, to top it off it was sunny and warm, despite the wind blowing our hair.

 

The main attraction was a barn with hundreds of apples on display. Then a whole wall with apples you could try and buy. We decided to make the most of it and joined the queue, bought our empty bag and started working down the row reading about the different varieties and aiming to try every apple slice we could. It was clear the people behind us actually knew about apples, they discussed the russet and the flesh and knew the names of the ones coming up. 

I did not expect part way down to announce that I could taste the promised ‘buttery’ taste and was not a fan or to be surprised at the slight pineappley taste of one whose name began with ‘ananas’. My favourite was clear at the end, the Odin. However, unfortunately this is not available in normal shops and I may need to find an orchard to try one again.

odin apple

The leftover braeburn I ate on the the next day paled in comparison and although I am still no connoisseur, I left far more knowledgeable about apples and my desire to eat them.

 

So how does this link with small group? A good question!

 

Driving home I wondered how I had gone because it looked fun, but returned clutching a bag of carefully selected favourites and understanding that russet apples are apples with a rough patch of green/brown and their skin among other things. I found myself drawing parallels between the characteristics of the day with those our small groups should have:

 

  • The draw may not be to learn more, but for the fun, the community and the food, which is openly and willingly shared. And means, you cannot help but absorb the enthusiasm for the core reason people have gathered.
  • You can come as an ‘outsider’ and find yourself surrounded by people with far more knowledge and understanding. Those people do not withhold the knowledge and look down on your lack of knowledge, but seek to hear your questions and share their knowledge. This means you cannot help but leave with more than you came with.
  • You can come without any real investment but can leave with a passion and desire to know more and be more involved.

What would you need to do to reflect these characteristics more within your group?

A small group that reflects these characteristics, becomes a safe space for people to be drawn into a community where they are loved, where they can explore and they can grow closer to God.

Our Place in a Culture of Isolation

We live in a culture of isolation. We have elderly people who can go days without talking to another person. We have young people who have moved for jobs and do not have family around them. We have parents without a support network to raise their children with. Many people do not know their neighbours or the people on the street. People are expected to live their lives as islands; not to impose on others, to solve their own problems and to do it alone.

There are places where this doesn’t happen, places where instead of isolation there is real community. It can be seen in a crisis, when a community or country draws together in support of those in need. But on the whole, across the country the feeling of isolation is a reality.

One place a culture of isolation should not exist is within our churches. Jesus commanded us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34) and also to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Our churches should demonstrate a culture of community between one another and that shines out beyond the membership of those who attend on a Sunday.

“Let your light shine before others”

This culture can be created in a multitude of ways; in our welcome of people, in our prayers, in practical and emotional support in times of need, through our encouragement and our desire to spend time together.

But, when we look at how Jesus really loved, we realise that it is more than being loving and kind but requires sacrifice and honesty as well.

Jesus went outside of his natural/expected friendship group. He loved and spent time with Romans, Samaritans, people who no one else went to and people who on paper had very little in common with him. Many people feel isolated and we are called to draw people into real community, regardless of the age difference or seeming differences in experiences or needs. 

out of circle

It can be as simple as inviting someone round for lunch who would normally be eating alone or standing with a parent whose child is playing away from where people are gathered.

clocks

Jesus sacrificed his time and made time in his schedule to help others. When word came to Jesus that Jairus’ daughter was dying (Mark 5:21-43), he left what he was doing and went to her. He didn’t rush off continuously, but when he was needed he made the space to be there. We are called to be involved in each other’s lives and support one another. Acts of kindness are not restricted to when we have time, people’s needs don’t wait for when you have a space. 

It might be doing something outside your natural circle or inviting someone in. It could be sacrificing a conversation with a friend to talk to someone having a tough time. It could be creating time in your busy schedule to cook a meal for someone who is having a challenging week. 

Jesus had close friends who he shared his whole life with. He travelled with the disciples, they discussed faith and shared meals. When Jesus was nearing his death, he went with his disciples to pray and shared with three that his “soul is overwhelmed” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus did not hide his thoughts, his future or his anguish from them. God created us to desire friendships that have real depth. We might meet with someone regularly, but that is not the same as sharing our personal and spiritual questions, challenges and fears. 

sharing

It is a choice to speak more openly and honestly about your life with those you are closest to. It is a step of trust and confidence in the other, that can develop a deepening spiral of openness, trust and understanding between you all.

challenge

Jesus cared enough to challenge his friends. He saw them as God saw them and the people they were called to be, so he held them accountable for their thoughts and actions. He raised them up by encouraging, teaching but also challenging them. A friendship with deep honesty creates opportunities for accountability and growth. Ultimately it is about walking together towards God.

It might be a willingness to discuss topics you disagree on, with the aim of understanding the other’s views and opinions more clearly. It may be asking the tough questions about each other’s faiths and lives. It might be encouraging and holding the other accountable for changes they wanted to make in their lives (and wanting them to do the same in return).

Jesus told us to love like him. It is no easy challenge but one that can transform a person and a community. In a society where many people are isolated and alone physically and emotionally, a church that loves as Jesus in these ways brings people together in a culture of love and community that shines out. There are things you already naturally do and others that you will find challenging.

  • How are you already showing love like Jesus?
  • Who is loving you as Jesus loved?
  • What area is the biggest challenge? How can you begin to show love in that way?

Holistic PCCs

“We don’t have any small groups”

“We don’t have any small groups” I have been told several times since I started my role. There is often a recognition of their importance and a desire to have them combined with the reality of a tired and over-stretched congregation. This comment is usually shared with me during a PCC meeting. I respond by pointing out that they themselves are a small group.

The recognition that your PCC is a small group can help the members realise the responsibility they have for one another and deepen relationships with openness, honesty and support.

“You are a small group”

There are three main elements to a small group: faith, fellowship and outreach. A holistic small group is working towards the deepening of faith, the support of one another and a desire to reach others. A PCC is unlikely to have time for a full Bible study, social time, extended prayer and engaging with outreach and also complete the important business that it is called to discuss. So how can a PCC develop a more holistic approach, while still being an efficient body?

Here are just a few ideas to help you get started:

aaron-burden-343933-unsplash

 Faith:

  • Take it in turns to bring a Bible passage (personal choice or decided before). The person leading shares the passage and what they feel God has been saying to them from it.
  • Designate time at the beginning and/or end to pray specifically for the conversations you’ve had and God’s hand in any decisions.
  • Have a few minutes for individuals to share how God has answered prayers or acted in the past week.

These kind of changes can help the group to recognise that God is at work in their lives and the life of the church. It encourages them to notice God in their daily lives. 

Fellowship:

  • Start 15-30 minutes earlier for tea, cake and conversation.
  • Have a PCC social evening at Christmas/New Year and before the summer, without an agenda.
  • Each meeting a different member is asked to share something of their faith and life journey for 2 minutes.

Social times but also times committed to sharing, actively encourage people to learn more about each other in their spiritual, physical and emotional journeys. It encourages the group to invest in each other beyond making decisions.

philipp-cordts-326252-unsplash
dev-222588-unsplash again

Outreach:

  • Keep it on the agenda; what is happening in your church? If there isn’t anything currently happening, what is next?
  • Pray for your community beyond the church walls when you gather together. You could pray for different groups of people or pray and mark off different streets as you go.
  • As a PCC send out letters of gratitude to individuals engaged in outreach. They may be people running or helping outreach linked to the church or they may be doing it in other areas.

Prayers and thanksgiving keep outreach in the forefront of people’s minds and remind members that church exists to support Christians and to reach out to those who don’t know Jesus yet.

Learning from bees

Earlier this month the Serving Christ Team discovered a bumble bee nest just outside our window. Obviously bees are crucial for our ecosystem and we are allowing them to stay. The plan had been to leave the windows shut but weather has different ideas. And, so several times a day we have a giant bumble bee struggling to make it out through the glass window until someone comes to its aid and releases it outside.

They work together for the hive.

Bees are remarkable creatures. Bumble bees seem to defy the laws of physics in their ability to fly. Honey bees somehow create a golden liquid that is lovely in cakes and on toast. Despite being small, they work together on mass, each with their own role for the hive.

As I’ve watched our bees coming and going over the past few weeks, I have thought a lot about their ability to live together and what we can draw from them. I keep coming back to the way they communicate to help each other. 1

Bumble bees tell each other where the best pollen is by dancing and releasing a pheromone in the hive, so the bees go out to look for the flowers with the same scent. Honey bees take it a step further and have specific dance moves to communicate distances and direction, so the other bees can head out. The sun is used as a point of reference and so the dance changes as the sun moves. When sharing with the hive, they are honest about where they have been, hold a shared point of reference and respond to what they have been told.

There is much we can learn from the bees and apply to our own church communities as we socialise and chat.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

We need to be honest about where we have been and where we are. Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). But people cannot know who is rejoicing and who is mourning unless people are willing to share were they are. It takes trust and vulnerability to answer the question ‘How are you?’ with honesty. But so often one person’s honesty begins to break down barriers for others and truth is shared about where we are and where we have been. 

We need to respond to others’ honesty. If people are willing to trust us then we are called to respond in love and care. The bee’s response is to rush off and find the flowers. Our response is to stay and travel alongside that person. This might be practical help, a listening ear, sharing experiences or an offer of prayer. Equally important to our immediate response is that we remember and ask them about it later too.

We need to remember our point of reference. Jesus is “the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Whether we are sharing joys or struggles we need to keep our eyes focused on God. We need to encourage ourselves and others to recognise God working in the good things that happen. We also need to raise difficulties up to God in prayer and to look for where God is working within the situation. Telling someone that you are praying means they may see God’s answer themselves. Our honesty and responses are not about what we can do, but about what God can do.

Bees are sustained by the honey created by their careful, precise communication as they share and respond. We are sustained by God. Keeping our focus on him as we share and respond to each other reminds us to see the sweetness of God’s involvement more and more.

Are you willing to share honestly about your life? Will you respond with love and grace when someone opens up to you? Will you seek where God is working in your life and help others to do the same? 

I am because we are

On Trinity Sunday, I was worshipping in Canterbury Cathedral. The preacher was the Cathedral’s Canon Librarian (Click here to hear the sermon). As part of his sermon he used two quotes, one from a famous philosopher and one he had heard repeatedly during his time in Central Africa. I have been musing on how these two quotes work together since that Sunday.

In his sermon he mentioned Descartes, and his famous quote “I think therefore I am” 1. This quote came from his search for something that he could have absolute faith in. He found that everything he had trust in could be doubted, no matter how unlikely. Finally, he found he could not disprove his ability to think and doubt. He concluded that he could trust in his existence because he could think and that could not be taken away.

Descartes is often seen as the father of modern philosophy. His understanding of the world was based on using reason. He believed everyone had the ability to use reason and gain knowledge and discover truth. This has had a huge impact on the world we now live in as we seek to understand it through reason in science, philosophy and experience. But it was not Descartes who struck me.

It was the second quote used, “I am because we are.” The Canon had heard this many times during his twelve years working in Central Africa. It speaks not of individualism but of ‘interconnectedness’. Its emphasis is the importance of those around us in forming the people we are and the person we will become. It speaks to our desire to be in community rather than in isolation.

‘I am because  we are’

Descartes taught us that we can seek, question and find truth for ourselves. But, God did not design us to be alone. Rarely is an individual experiment or study enough to prove or disprove a theory and rarely are those experiments carried out by a lone scientist. What we see is teams and groups of people working together to find and demonstrate truth to then share with the world using their personal experiences and expertise. Both the individual and the community are vital.

The main point of the sermon was that the Trinity is the perfect example of “I am because we are.” Father, Spirit and Son have specific attributes but they are one and rely on each other for perfect unity, they cannot exist apart. 2 As part of God’s creation, we learn that we can be individuals and be part of something bigger at the same time.

The Bible tells us how we are to live in a Trinity inspired community. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12. This verse reminds us, not just that we have different gifts that work together, but that we are designed to be together in community. Each person is crucial to the whole, we need each other.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

Every member of our community brings something vital that makes us more ourselves. This is in part their gifts, but also their personality, ideas and experiences. Positive and loving relationships are central to a community and its individuals thriving. Do we recognise the importance of our church community and at the same time love the individuals that shape it?

It seems like a huge task when faced with a world that advocates individualism, independence and separatism. And yet, appreciating and drawing together a community can be as simple as loving and authentic words to connect us together.

 

park-troopers-221402-unsplash
  • Is there someone with largely unseen gifts or roles that we could thank?
  • Could you tell someone the impact they have had on your faith?
  • Is there someone on the fringe (new, busy with a task, chasing children) you could physically go to and start a conversation with over coffee?
  • Could you invite someone back for Sunday lunch?

These seemingly small gestures may feel insignificant. But, it is not the size of the gesture that matters, but creating a culture of love and recognition of individuals within our community. It’s showing that ‘I am only because we are’

Called to friendship

When we make friends, we are likely to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. We share the same hobbies, are in similar life stages, we share the similar backgrounds, values and beliefs. On the whole they are easy, you gain as much as your give, and what you give does not seem like a sacrifice. These relationships are important because they allow us to relax, share and have fun but they are not the only people that Jesus calls us to love.

“A new command i give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Jesus spent time with sinners, tax collectors, women and Gentiles. People would not have expected the Son of God to hang out with these groups. So much so that the Pharisees complained that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2). And yet, Jesus connected with each one of them on a personal and deep level. His love for them reached them on a level beyond their background, beliefs and society’s expectations.

So when Jesus tells us to love each other “as I have loved you”, he is not just talking about the people we are naturally drawn to. He calls us to love those we struggle to hold a conversation with, those who irritate us and those who are different from us in any way.

Let’s be clear this love comes naturally to some people, but for others it is something that takes effort and commitment to do. It means actively stepping out of our own circle. It may be that that person has a real need that you can provide but they cannot repay. You might need to work hard to keep a conversation going. You may need to let go of or work through irritations again and again.

Motives are important. Loving others like Jesus can mean providing and sacrificing but it should be a genuine effort to bridge differences and knock down walls to reach a place of community and love. The aim is not to continue awkward conversations indefinitely but to seek to find common ground to share and discuss. The aim is not to hide your irritations but to get to a place where they disappear from your mind or have resolved between you. The aim is to love more like Jesus.

And for a moment, think of all you would gain from someone investing and loving you in this way? When you realise someone values you for you. How you can be challenged in your faith and life by a different perspective. When you are opened to a new group of friends through them. Everyone benefits from this type of love.

Jesus calls us to love as he loved. This may need to start as a conscious effort, it may call for sacrifices, but increasingly it becomes part of who you are as you welcome everyone, love anyone and grow in community together.

Who is God calling you to show love to?

What barriers and walls are in your way?

How can you practically begin to remove those barriers and walls?