Tag Archives: church

Enabling Others to Meet Jesus (or who is going to mend the roof?)

I have written this for our Circuit Daily Devotions, a subject very dear to my heart. If you would rather here the spoken version, you can find that here.

A good stuff has been shared with us in our Circuit in the last few weeks about Equality and Diversity and what that means for us in the church.  It has been really good to have some theological underpinning for that, and much of it has been really powerful.

As part of the exploration I wanted to look about look at disability and accessibility. As churches begin to re-open, or think about it, these are important questions to ask. We have an opportunity to get it right (or better!) as we have to make some changes anyway.

“The Equality Act 2010 (using a definition from previous Disability Discrimination Acts from 1995 and 2006) defines a person with disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment which is substantial and has a long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Whilst this is the legal definition which offers additional legal protections to people with disabilities, it should be remembered that anyone may be temporarily disabled (for example when recovering from a serious illness or accident), which may also require them to need additional support or adjustment. Many people with disabilities consider that their impairments are not the key factor that disables them. Instead they are disabled by a built environment that is not planned with their needs in mind, or they are disabled by the attitudes of other people towards them.”

The Methodist Church EDI Toolkit Module 4.

That maybe comes more alive in personal story, so I am going to tell you mine, and share some of the problems that I have in in church. That’s not saying that my problems are unique or that they’re all the problems that are possible, I’m just using my example to give an idea of some of the problems that people can face. The problem with a lot of the disability’s is that the disabilities are not necessarily visible, and you wouldn’t know that someone was dealing with them or you had to help them with them.  I hope the questions I raise might give you some thoughts about the accessibility of your church building.

In Mark 2, we hear the story of the men who brought their friend who couldn’t walk to Jesus. There was such a big crowd that they couldn’t get him to the door, so they carried him up the steps to the roof and made a hole in the roof so that they could lower him down to meet Jesus. Everyone focuses on the miracle of the man walking and the big question about Jesus authority, but we overlook the man’s friends and what they were willing to do so the man could get to meet Jesus.

For those of you that don’t know me, I use two crutches to walk, mainly for stability.  I suffer with a chronic inflammatory illness that effects most parts of my body.  It causes dryness – pretty much everywhere there should be lubrication in a body, I have little or none.  That effects way more than you might think.

None of what I’m going to say are criticisms, they are questions, pointers to make us think about our church buildings.  I’m also acutely aware that my accessibility may mean someone else’s inaccessibility – something that is there to help me may be making someone else’s needs impossible to meet – and for that reason the conversation needs to go on.

The first question I asked when we moved to our new Circuit was, “which church has the comfiest seats?”! That might seem trivial, but to me it is vital, and without which physical church in a building would not be possible.  But actually, when you have a disability, churchmanship, style of worship and a lot of other things go out of the door, compared with issues of accessibility in its widest sense.

  • But let’s go back to getting in the building.  I am incredibly grateful to have a Blue Badge, but that is no help to me if there is nowhere near enough the building to park, or someone without a Blue Badge is parked in it.
  • Next there is getting up the path, hoping that there are no steps.  Is there a drop kerb where necessary – and nothing obstructing it?
  • What about the entrance into the building?  Is it level?  You would be amazed how big an obstacle a raised door frame (there must be a technical term for that!) is when you are are wobbly, in a wheelchair, with a pushchair, or just have your hands full. Is the door too heavy?  Can someone open it by themselves?  Is there someone there to open it for anyone who needs it (remembering it might not be obvious who needs that help)
  • Can I find an appropriate seat?  I really need to sit with my right leg in the aisle, preferably with a large space between rows.  Pews are quite simply an impossibility.  Would someone let me have the seat I need, or would I be “taking my seat”? Can I sit at the back, or the front, if that is necessary for my disability?  Is the seat comfortable?  Can I shuffle and change my position in it to move the pressure points?  Is there a way I can raise my legs if I need to?  How long I personally can sit comfortably is very limited (and yes, it’s less than an hour!)
  • A lot of people with disabilities are very energy limited, and cannot arrive at church half an hour early to get the seat that they need, they may need to arrive at the last minute and need to be able to have the right space.
  • What is the lighting like?  Is it too bright – or not bright enough…!  Everybody’s needs are different.  Is there perhaps the possibility for some individually controlled lights?
  • That also applies to screens.  Are they in the right place?  Are they legible?  Are they too bright, too dark or using the correct colour contrast?  (Different colour contrasts work better or worse for different people, so it can be tricky) I actually have my own individual screen at our church, so I can set it to the setting I need.  Is that a possibility in your church?
  • Likewise, if you use videos in worship, can they been seen and heard by all?  Is there some way their point can be explained.  I love a video in worship, but can rarely process them in that space.
  • Are there paper copies of words?  Preferable in large and appropriately line spaced text?
  • Can someone manage to carry, or hold during the service, anything that you are asking them to. Normal hymn books are really hard to hold and turn pages if your fingers or wrists are not good.
  • In break-out groups, can everyone understand what you want them to do?  Is everyone able to participate?  Can everyone hear, process and respond in that environment?  Can there be an alternative option?
  • How do we use language?  Do we invite everyone to “stand to sing” for example?  When not everyone can stand – or sing. Do we use phrases like “everyone can do this” – can they?
  • Is our service very singing focused?  My illness means that I can’t sing.  I appreciate what a great tool in worship singing is and one I always used a lot, but if someone can’t sing are they excluded from worship in a big way? I guess post-lockdown we are all going to have to think about that!
  • Do we speak at a speed that people can hear and process?  It takes me a long time to hear what you have said, process in my mind what you have said, and then respond.  That applies even to things like the Lord’s Prayer, which I have to dredge from my mind and process through my brain before I can say it –  slower than most.  I am usually a couple of lines behind and give up.  I stand no chance of remembering a response to a phrase in a prayer that you might ask me to share in, or what the lead in is that I am meant to respond to.  I’m fine with that, but please don’t be offended – and be aware!
  • How does celebrating communion together work?  Is there a way to be a part of the body if you can’t kneel at the rail with everyone else, or even stand? Have we found a practical way around that?
  • And after the service?  I love to share fellowship, to hear how people are and what is happening in their life, but it is incredibly hard to have that conversation in a noisy room where everyone else is eagerly doing the same.  Is there a quieter space where anyone who needs that can go and talk without the aural distraction?

As I said, that’s my experience, others will each have their own story.

No church can meet all these needs, But it is good Christian living to be aware of other’s needs and do what we can to make church buildings and services as accessible as possible. Have we at least thought that they may be needs, and ways we could work around them?  What is most important is to ask people what works best for them, and be willing to do all you can towards that.

I am very happy to share advice or experience.  Better still ask anyone you know has needs how to make worship more accessible what would help them – don’t assume.  But also, don’t forget those who won’t say.  Try and think if what might be excluding somebody and try and think of an adaptation before they have to ask.  Try not to assume what someone needs…

And for those who can’t access physical church at all, I have some thoughts coming in a couple of weeks…

We thank you Lord
for the uniqueness we each bring,
for insights,
gifts and challenges that we all have.

Thank you that all are welcome,
to your love,
to your place of worship,
to be in your presence.

Help us to be aware
that our normal
may be restricting someone else,
or keeping them away.

Help us to be bold
to ask for help,
to share our needs

And help us all to listen carefully
to what the needs of someone else are
and seek to help.

God of love and acceptance
help us to meet together
in worship of you,
that we may learn
more of one another’s story
and through that
learn more of you.

Let Us Build a Church Where Love can Dwell

The World Wide Web is My Parish – Zoom Edition (part 2)

Difference between Internet and Web - WWW and its services | Websites Management | The Internet is a network of connected devices that covers the entire world. The Web is a service that supports it, such as browsers, emails, FTP, etc

There is a video version of this available for those who prefer that:

Following on from some of the underpinning theory and theology of yesterday, where I reminded us about John Wesley’s words of the whole world being his parish and how that might apply to the World Wide Web being our parish too.  We were also reminded of Jesus’ commandment to go into all the world and make disciples.  All the world is a bit bigger these days than were perhaps once thought it was.

In this part I wanted to move on to some of the practicalities and realities of today.

One of the major benefits of lockdown and much of church moving online, has been that those for whom church buildings and structure have been difficult, have been able to take part in all kinds of things, that they never could before, or found very difficult to before.  All of a sudden they found themselves able to join in online things that they had been missing out on. 

Now I have to declare an interest in this, because whilst not housebound, I am very restricted in where I can go, what I can do and how long I can do it for.  So to me , this has all been an amazing revelation and given me opportunities to do things that I haven’t been able to do for ages.  My greatest joy is that I have been able to take part in leading some of the Daily Devotions for our Circuit. Something that I could never have done in real time, but being able to record them, pause regularly when my voice runs out, edit them and do them in my time has made that possible – and I am incredibly grateful.

In general day to day life, online is where I live a lot of my life.  It is where I have my community, where I chat with people in similar circumstances (and by chat I mean mainly ‘writing’ chat!) and it’s where I do a lot of my shopping – it is where my life is.  To me it is my native land, it is a normal place to be and so it’s perfectly normal to do worship there as well.   

I’m incredibly am ashamed to say that the house restricted community is something I never thought much about until I was a part of it. I guess none of us do, we are all busy leading our lives in the way that we can.  But there are so many people who struggle with the physical church building, either because of health reasons, their own caring responsibilities, work commitments or myriad other reasons that make half past ten, or whatever time you meet on a Sunday, in a church building physically incredibly difficult for them. Zoom worship has opened ‘church’ back up to so many of those people.  We can sit at home, where the conditions are much more conducive to us, in a chair that we find comfortable, with the things that we need around us, a drink, or whatever it is that makes life and worship more comfortable for us – and worship God together.  Or if it is recorded people can access it at a time that suits them, whatever that time is or join in at a time and place that suits them, or play it in small chunks if you can only process or manage small parts at a time. Zoom worship has made all of that possible for us.

I know that personally, that if zoom worship hadn’t been a thing, if we were not in lockdown and we had still been meeting in our church buildings, I wouldn’t have made it to church my health would have kept me away from physical church the last six or seven weeks, I just haven’t been well enough.  Yet I have been able to sit on my sofa and see people that I know, or on really bad days just lay on the sofa with the camera off and hear what was happening – and what a blessing that had been!  Very selfishly, but on behalf of all others in that position either temporarily or permanently, I do not want to lose that.

I’ve also this year been able to be a part of Cliff Festival, as that went online – Festival at Home.  I haven’t been able to go to Cliff Festival for fifteen years, just because of the physical impossibilities – and how amazing that was to be able to go to a festival like that, to hear international speakers and amazing Christian teaching that I would never have been able to encounter if that wasn’t available on the online.

I’ve also been able to go to some church meetings as well, which doesn’t sound that exciting, but when you haven’t been able to go to go to them for years and years, how amazing it’s been for me to be able to be a part of the bigger picture, to be able to sit in meetings, hear what people are saying, and  maybe even be able to say something into that meeting.  I never thought that the opportunity to go to a Methodist business meeting would be a thrill, but it’s been an absolute joy and a blessing to me to be able to be a part of that again in a small way.

I don’t want to stop those who can worship in buildings, how lovely it would be at the moment to actually see some people in real life!  And better even to hug them – though I don’t think that is going to happen for a long time…  But I think as we start to go back to our buildings, or consider going back or deciding what we are going to do, we need to consider what, how and why.  What the missions of those buildings is in the place where they are, as much as we are talking about what the mission of our church is in the online world.  I’d be really quite upset if online worship disappeared, but we need to work out how we are meant to be God’s people in our community physically or online.  I very much long to be a part of the worshipping community – and to give and receive in that way. 

We have also continued to have our house group meeting via zoom.  Zoom is not just for worship!  Our house group was set up specifically for those with chronic health issues or caring responsibilities.  It’s very short, quiet, contemplative, and we have been able to take that online.  Much as I would love to see those people and hug them, I can see that because of the situation that some of us are in, much as we love to meet in person, zoom will continue to have a use in our house group – and I’m sure in others. 

What I hope is that what has been termed as ‘hybrid worship’ will become a possibility, where yes there will be things happening in buildings, but there will be things happening online as well.  That we can have some kind of mixed economy where we can continue to reach, if not all, a lot of people where they are.   

Obviously digital poverty is something that we need to be really aware of.  Not everyone can, or wants to, access the internet. Not everyone can afford the equipment that they would need to join in online, or necessarily have the knowhow to work it.  That is why I particularly like Zoom, because you can at least phone in to it, though obviously that has its drawbacks as well as people can’t see what is happening, they can only hear.  If you have got hearing problems or processing problems and you need to be able to see to grasp what is happening, it is not ideal, and we need to work at overcoming.  But at least it widens it out to a lot more people than just the church building.  I think that there is probably a fine line between worship online and that kind of worship becoming a spectator sport, where you can still be involved in it.  I think we need to think quite carefully about that, though I have to say I’d be happy to sit at home and watch worship happening much more than not being able to go at all.  I’m sure we can come up with some creative ways whereby people digitally involved in worship can still contribute to the worship that is happening in a building.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that Zoom or Facebook Live is not the answer to everything for the church, but for times of isolation it can be a great help – and it can be, and is, a place where God is entirely alive, where God can be worshipped, where God can use the structures that are available and where discipleship can happen.  We need to be careful that we don’t make online or Zoom or Facebook Live the idol, but we can certainly use it as a tool. 

Do join the conversation.  Let’s think creatively in this opportunity that has landed upon us when we least expected it, to explore how we can usefully use online for God’s mission in the world today.  For ultimately it is for the glory to be to God and for people to come to know and love him.

We thank you Lord
for all the opportunities that the online world brings to us,
for opportunities to worship together in new ways,
to worship when we would not ordinarily be able to worship,
to take part in things that are happening a long way away from us
or places that are inaccessible to us.

Thank you that we have been able to learn more of you
in more ways than we would ever have imagined.

But we pray Lord too
for our buildings.
We thank you for them
and all the good things that happen in them
for the people that come into them during the week,
for the people that see the building,
and understand something of what it stands for,
for the work that is done from those buildings.

Help us Lord
not to overlook that work,
not to think it’s no good
because we have found other stuff that we can do.

Help us to treasure all that you give us,
all the different ways you give to us to be your people,
to be faithful,
to learn and to care and to share.

We offer to you Lord
everything that we do,
everything that we do in concrete places,
places where our feet walk and our hand touch,
but also those places online.

We offer it all to you Lord,
that it all may be for your glory
and that people may come to know and love you.

Amen

The World Wide Web is My Parish – Zoom Edition(part 1)

Difference between Internet and Web - WWW and its services | Websites Management | The Internet is a network of connected devices that covers the entire world. The Web is a service that supports it, such as browsers, emails, FTP, etc

There is now a video version of this blog available at:

Twenty one years ago, as part of my ministerial training, I wrote my dissertation.  It was called ‘The World Wide Web is My Parish’. Focused on whether and how churches should be using the, then relatively new to general use, internet.  At that time the big question was mainly about churches having websites, whether they should and if they did how they used them – was it mainly as a notice board, or for interaction.

All these years later, the internet is a very different place and the advent of social media has brought much more space for the church to consider how it uses.  And in 2020 a global pandemic has brought a whole new slant, opportunity and, for some, questions. Zoom worship is now a pretty established thing that has, in my opinion, been a great blessing to the church, particularly as it has the ability for people to phone in to via a landline phone, which means most of the population of the UK could access it.  How awesome it has been in a time of isolation to be able to ‘meet’ together, to share fellowship with one another and to worship God together.

But as lookdown eases and the possibility of churches re-opening their buildings for worship, even with restrictions, the question is raised of what happens to zoom worship. Perhaps now is the time to look at some theology of online and our place in it…

In June 1739, John Wesley wrote in his journal:

“I look upon all the world as my parish. I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it, meet, right and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.  This is the work that I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it.”

Jesus parting words to his disciples, which includes us, were:

“Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Online, in all its forms, whether we like it or not, is very much a part of our world, and therefore an entirely legitimate place to be in worship, mission, discipleship.

In his book Mission and Dialogue, Michael Nazir-Ali reminds us that the Church is called to “proclaim the gospel afresh in every age”  Part of being christian and being church is to live out our experience of God where we are, within our community.  To do this the church needs to be a part of its community and not hide in a “holy huddle” in the safe place.  If we are to bring the gospel to the world we have to be where the people are. 

Historically Methodism plays its part by breaking out of imposed structures and boundaries, when necessary, to be where people are.  John Wesley left the buildings and preached in the streets and fields to reach people.  To believe in God incarnate is to want to see the church incarnate in the world, not just clinging to its familiar ways.  Unless we express church in a way our community understands, we are failing to be Christ’s body to them.

We could question if there is is a need to liberate Jesus from clutches of a church focussed on institutional buildings, so that he can be experienced and encountered anew for each generation – relevant to their experience and understanding.

Throughout history, particularly by the church, there have been profound misgivings about machines and technology and the effect they may have on the social and spiritual wellbeing of the nation. The printing press and television were both seen as highly dubious in their time!

Frank Wright in his book, The Pastoral Nature of Ministry asks the pertinent question if we have so conceptualised faith that we have forgotten it is primarily an invitation to see (1980, p15)? Have we become to hung up on our buildings that we forget what God can do, or even that he exists outside them?  Buildings very much have their place, but they are not the only place. For the Church to fulfil its mission, it has to be changed and learn new things (as Leslie Newbigin asks in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, p124), not to move from its core foundation and principles, but reinterpret the way it expresses them.  The church can join the search for new community, taking its place in it, and not missing its voice in the discussion. 

The Church is a place for people searching for truth, love, peace and wholeness.  We have that to offer and should seek to make that offer in any place where people are.  Online is such a significant part of the lives of so many people, the first place to which they turn.  The church is failing to fulfil its mission to go into all the world if it is not in that part of technology that covers the whole world, regardless of any political, geographical or physical boundaries.

In part 2, I will follow up with questions about where we are today, what lockdown has taught the churches about an online presence and where we go from here.

We pray Lord
for those whose lives have been so upset
by the Corona virus pandemic,
those whose certainties and sureties
have been taken away.

We pray for those isolated,
who feel that they have lost their community,
those who feel that they have lost what they held dear,
those who have lost their routine
and those who feel they have lost their connection with you.

We thank you Lord for all the ways we have been able to connect
whilst being aware that those ways are not for everyone,
but we thank you for the gift and the blessing that we have found
in services in Facebook Live, zoom, in the Daily Devotions,
in things that we have time to read,
that we wouldn’t have had time for before.

Thank you Lord
for meeting us in so many ways,
in the place where we have found ourselves.

We pray that you will continue to bless us,
that you will continue to meet with us,
as we begin to be able to meet together as we are able
and for those who still want to meet online.

We pray for all those seeking to find a place
where they can meet you
and know the reality of you.

We pray
not just for those who know and love you
but for those who are seeking
and for those who don’t even know
they are looking,
may they encounter you
in the place and in a way that they need to,
that all the world may know,
that all the world will hear,
that all the world may fall in love with you.

For we ask it in Jesus name

Amen