We are living in strange and difficult times. Things that we have probably taken for granted we are suddenly not longer able to do: have people round to our houses, hug people, gather in groups, go to events, and sing! All of this hugely affects what we have previously done as a church. There are some huge losses for us in this season.
And yet this is not the first time that God’s people have had to adapt to changed circumstances and find new ways of worship, prayer, and community. One of the stories in the Bible that resonates with me so much is the exile story – Israel, God’s people, were taken away as captives to live in a foreign land, and all the rituals and rhythms of worship were disrupted. And so there is this cry in one of the Psalms: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” Or we might express it in our season of disruption: how can we worship God together, when we can’t sing? Good question.
In fact it is such a good question that we are going to start a sermon series in October exploring that question!
We now have the opportunity to meet together in person. But it is going to look very different from what we’ve been used to: only a few people allowed to gather in the King’s Hall, and others joining in via Zoom or Facebook; we’ll have to maintain 2m distance, not sing, no tea and coffee and chat at the end. When it first became clear these were the kinds of restrictions we’d have to abide by, I was not keen on meeting up at all. And yet as time has gone on, two things have changed my view: firstly we are in this for a long haul, so we have to learn how to be God’s people in this time of disruption, and not just wait for things to return to “normal”; secondly, I began to see the possibilities of doing some things differently that would help us grow and change – I began to see the opportunities in the midst of the losses.
So from this Sunday, we are making some small changes to our pattern of Sunday Gatherings – we are experimenting with how do we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land. Some will feel familiar, similar to what we have been doing these last few months. Some are additions, exploring some different ways of gathering and worshiping. It probably won’t all work, and it might feel strange. But maybe in the midst of this, we can learn some new things about being God’s people.
I have heard it said that it is best “felt than telt”, so I’ll let you experience it for yourself on Sunday, either in the King’s Hall or online. But I want to explain two key principles that have influenced how we have shaped what we are doing on Sunday.
- As I’ve explained above, we are wanting to explore how we can worship, when we can’t sing. There will still be some music/worship songs that we are familiar with, but we are adding some other elements. We have often said worship “is more than a song”, and now we have to learn this at a whole new level!
- We believe that church should be “multi-voiced”. We have heard feedback that people have appreciated hearing many people during our zoom meetings over lockdown, and I agree. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are gifted at speaking, teaching or prophesying or … we’ll still hear from them. But we want to deliberately create space to hear other people, and share together.
This second aspect is so crucial: when we speak out what we see, hear, or have experienced, it does something for us. It roots it deeper in our own hearts. But it also does something for others, as they hear our experiences. It might encourage, provoke, challenge, help us see something different…
So I’d encourage us all to be take a risk, and be willing to share with others, as we explore together how we sing the songs of the Lord in this season of disruption.