Displaying items by tag: Religion
Churches are taking innovative steps to keep congregations safe as public worship restarts. All Saints Church in Crowborough welcomed 200+ people to its drive-in church service in the Sussex countryside. St Barnabas held their drive-in service in Swanmore village hall car park and parishioners wound down car windows to join the worship. Waterlooville’s St George's welcomes pre-booked worshippers by ticking their names off at the door for tracking and tracing, directing them to hand sanitisers and a seat two metres away from others. A worshipper said, ‘It has replenished my soul to be here today. I just sat there and wept.’ In front of St George’s altar is a webcam and laptop for livestreaming the service.
In response to US parents not knowing what to do with their children who had been sent home from closed schools, Verses for Zion (VfZ)was born, a biblically-rooted project connecting Christian children to Israel, as an opportunity to engage them in a multigenerational project with parents and grandparents. Now, as summer is starting and schools that had opened are closing again, it offers parents a way to add meaning and substance to their children's extended vacation. VfZ, the brainchild of an Orthodox Israeli Jew and an evangelical Christian pastor in Texas, aims to give children the opportunity to learn more about God, His Word and His people. One mother said, ‘It entrenches children’s faith and deepens their understanding of God, the Bible and how that relates to us today through Israel.’
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, called on the Church of England to ‘learn afresh how to share the gospel in the world’. He said the Church’s voice remains over-dominated by people who are usually white, male, with a certain education, and over 60. He is engaging in wide-ranging discussion with people from across the church, and intends to draw in and listen to the voices of younger Christians and those whose voices are not usually so easily heard in Church. He said we are going to have to learn again how to love one another, love the world, and love God so that we can be the place where God is revealed, adding, ‘We have allowed ourselves to become tribal and divided, with secondary things obscuring our belonging to each other. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ in us; and through us may we learn afresh how to share the gospel in the world.’
A children's illustrator and an author started a conversation about death, after being told the subject was ‘off the table’. ‘Where is Uncle Al?’ is for 4- to 7-year-olds. Author Eva Hubs and artist Sarah Harrison published the book after being encouraged by health professionals. The book is about hope not darkness, from a Christian and Buddhist perspective. It centres on Lily, who hears about Uncle Al but is given different answers when she asks where he is. Sarah says we pretend to know about death and stop exploring it, so Lily asks adults questions that they find difficult to answer. A childhood bereavement charity comments that stories play an important role in helping children make sense of death. The book’s pictures and words feed children's imaginations, making them feel less isolated, when they are very alone with their grief.
The pandemic has been disruptive for centralised service-based models of congregation. However, churches based on small groups are less affected by the crisis. With self-organisation in simple, organic, house church movements, there is no dependence on church buildings and pastors - making these groups more financially resilient. Their resources are available for mercy ministry and mission in discipleship movements. In the last twenty years, we have seen a gradual paradigm shift in the church on what it means to follow Jesus. The emphasis is no longer on church membership or a program you follow, but on a daily life led by God's Spirit in connection with others, both inside and outside church walls. The church is seen as an organic network. This requires abandoning control and systems, and discerning with other Christians how and where God is at work. Coronavirus can help the church become such a movement, consisting of people who live and act in dependence on Christ: see https://mailchi.mp/joelnews/jni-1177?e=10cd13704c
After more than three decades of Islamist rule, Sudan has passed reforms that include allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol and have abolished the apostasy laws and flogging. From a Christian perspective, reforming the laws of the old regime allows Sudanese Christians to feel welcome in their country again now that Sudan is moving towards a government based not on religious values, but on general human rights is a major development. Pray that this move leads to an ongoing democratic transformation; so that continued reforms within government and society will favourably impact the lives of all minorities. Pray for Sudanese Christians to take advantage of new freedoms and begin to provide hope to the Muslim majority population.
Every six minutes a Christian is killed for following Jesus. For millions, the truth is an extremely dangerous thing to believe. 58% of Iraqi and Syrian refugees are Christian. Ongoing wars and continued presence of terrorists have created the largest refugee crisis in history, forcing over four million Christians from their homes. Imagine facing torture and death for just saying ‘I believe in Jesus Christ’. This is a reality for over 245 million Christians today who often face physical violence towards themselves or loved ones. They lose homes and jobs because of their faith. May persecuted Christians experience renewed strength to follow Christ, particularly during this pandemic, when refugee camps make it impossible to implement social distancing. Our brothers and sisters in Christ need help and support more than ever. From Morocco to Iraq various forms of lockdown are in force, there are food shortages and hospitals are under strain. Christians are at the bottom of the social ladder: see https://htp.org/how-covid-19-is-impacting-persecuted-christians-and-how-you-can-help
After fleeing from North Korea to China, Prisoner 42 was captured and sent to a North Korean prison camp, where she spent one year in solitary confinement. Guards shaved her head and stripped her. Each morning when they called for her, she crawled out of a door flap, typically used for dogs or cats, and kept her head bowed low because she was not allowed to make eye contact with the guards. They would ask her the same questions, ‘Why were you in China? Who did you meet? Did you go to church? Did you have a Bible? Did you meet any South Koreans? Are you a Christian?’ She lied to stay alive. She was beaten and kicked daily. She said,’ It hurts the most when they hit my ears. My ears ring for hours, sometimes days’. She was later sent to a re-education camp where she met other secret Christians. After two years she was released from detention.
There are many vital areas still needing prayer. The virus, the economic challenges, and fear do not take a holiday. Likewise the church, the 'house of prayer', cannot afford to ease up at this crucial time. We need to devote ourselves to pray with perseverance until we receive the answers and achieve the breakthroughs so desperately needed in all these areas. There has been an unprecedented outpouring of prayer in this nation and throughout the world. We cannot afford to slow down now. Please pray that the virus will be halted in its tracks and sent into reverse - 'thus far and no further' (Job 38:11); for our Government as it continues to grapple with huge decisions; for our health and social care services to cope well with the impact of the virus; and for the safety of police and all frontline emergency services, maintaining order and security.
Church leaders led by Pastor Ade Omooba continue their legal challenge of the lockdown restrictions on churches. The group has been stressing to the Government that churches, not civil authorities, have the legal and moral authority to make decisions over worship services. This challenge has already led to speeding up plans to allow churches to meet. A recent guidance document lists restrictions on activities like singing and baptisms. Nearly all the points made are listed as things for churches to consider, not rules to follow: so churches that emphasise the importance of singing may be able to do so, having considered how to avoid any risk. Nothing has changed yet: the Government must update coronavirus regulations in line with the guidance. If they do reflect the guidance, church leaders should be emboldened to open their churches and resume services in the way they see fit.