After a long shut-down period resulting from the Covid-19 virus, the Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft District under the capable leadership of Pastor Mark Borrett came together under a new experience of 'going-to-church' on Sabbath 3 October.
Since the shut-down began last March, our two churches have been joining online through Zoom for our regular meetings: Monday night Bible Study-Prayer Meeting; Friday Evening Vespers & Sabbath School Lesson Study; Sabbath morning Children's Sabbath School followed by Family Worship; and a monthly Sabbath Afternoon Christian Family Fellowship (CFF Meeting).
For those who were unable to use Zoom, we had a telephone connection so they could at least hear the service. In addition, we recorded the meetings on DVDs and posted them out to several who were unable to connect directly with the meetings.
During the long-haul period of the shut-down, and with intermittent furloughing of our pastor, we endeavoured to maintain an ongoing ministry so as not to neglect the flock. A regular weekly newsletter has been sent out via email. Further to this, an occasional periodical has also been emailed, or hard mailed, to members and interests alike as a nurturing instrument. It is called The Shepherd's Voice − i.e. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and we, His servants, are the under-shepherds. It contained essential information, promotional items, a pastoral care article and a Bible study for each person to personally spiritually digest.
After the government allowed churches to open once again, albeit within certain restrictive guidelines, our joint Church Boards studied and worked over the plans and self-assessment required by the South England Conference to satisfy the requirements and receive approval to commence our services in the church building once again. It was agreed that the Lowestoft church, being the larger building, could hold a larger congregation than the somewhat limited space of our facility in Great Yarmouth; and it was agreed to have our reopening service on Sabbath 3 October. During the week running up to the event, Pastor Mark gave a virtual tour via Zoom to help prepare the congregation as to what the new layout and expectations were.
Children's Sabbath School was brought forward to Friday evening preceding the Adult class, and on Sabbath morning the church doors were opened. Twenty-six people came along to engage in the service, while others who still felt vulnerable or for other reasons, joined the service via Zoom in the church. Church was not specifically the building but the people who were able to see and interact on a physical-combined-virtual basis. The service was also livestreamed on Facebook. In this way our combined physical and virtual church Family Worship Service engaged in an act of worship that brought blessing to everyone. There were between 50-60 people combined. Assisted by the writer, the service got underway with a warm welcome to everyone.
Although we are currently not allowed congregational singing in the church, we are allowed to have a soloist or small choir; so, while the organist played and the hymns were projected on the screen, Helen Wilkinson sang the hymns while we internally shared the words in our hearts. Pearl Walker told the children a very interesting story with an important lesson. Pastor Borrett preached his sermon from the pulpit on the account of Jonah, bringing out very important lessons about the grace and mercy of God. Tithes and offerings were once again collected in appropriate boxes for both congregations as the folk filed out of the Sanctuary. It proved a blessed experience and it added great joy to meet each other and personally greet, while social distancing, in a more realistic way than seeing each other on the screen!
Whether we shall ever get back to 'going-to-church' as we used to do, we do not know. Maybe we shall but we are also conscious that we are rapidly approaching the end of this current world. How things emerge in the final winding-up and unfolding of Bible prophecy yet remains to be seen; but we trust in God that He will continue to provide for us and care for us in everything we need (Philippians 4:19).
Meanwhile, we rejoice in having a new experience in 'going-to-church'.