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Moving from online worship to online discipleship

yourchurch rMuch has happened during lockdown to help Christians keep worshipping during lockdown, bringing an important gap. But what about discipleship? How have these opportunities helped people to continue growing in their faith and living it out in their everyday reality?

Debs Brooks explains how her involvement in an emerging online congregation has helped her and her family ‘live the life of Jesus today’.

Three years ago my husband, daughter and I left a vibrant and loving church family in the North West of England to venture south of the River Thames. Since the day we ‘emigrated’, it has been nigh on impossible to engage with a church community in the way we had previously. This was not because there is a lack of URC congregations in the south. Indeed, we visited many friendly and caring congregations within a 10 miles radius of our new home. It was more because we knew we would not be able to offer the commitment required to be an active member of a local church family.

As the Covid-19 crisis worsened, the school in which I was undertaking Primary Teacher Training was closed to all pupils, apart from the children of key workers. My days were spent planning online learning for year 2 children and I had a looming deadline for a 3,000 word essay on Educational Policy. Throw into the mix directing a production of Willy Russell’s ‘Our Day Out’ featuring 25 children between the ages 7 and 18 at our local theatre, and you can imagine the stress levels that ensued.

It’s easy to feel, when things are so busy, that making the effort to integrate into a new church family is just one step too far. It doesn’t help when your skillset (in my case working with children and families) is seen as an instant asset to an ageing congregation with a waning junior church, of which there are many! You can feel pressured to ‘do’ rather ‘be’ part of the church, and that for me was a burden when there were so many variables competing for my time and mental energy.

Fast forward to Palm Sunday 2020 and the very first online service of a new, emerging congregation, now called ‘Yourchurch’, was led by Ruth Watson and Lawrence Moore. Despite some technical difficulties, the service felt like an oasis of calm amongst the melee of coronavirus hype and confusion. The mix of eclectic music, prayer and spoken word were familiar staples of worship that I had come to know and love. What set this format apart was the use of ‘break out’ rooms, likened to sitting at tables with a coffee as one would at the end of worship to enjoy coffee with others.

The advantages of the small group interactions throughout the service were twofold. Firstly, meeting new and familiar faces from across the country and as far as Germany and the United States was a comfort when feeling far away from loved ones whilst in lockdown. For some people logging on this was their only interaction with another person throughout the week. Secondly and somewhat unexpectedly for me, was an opportunity to discuss current events relating to faith in context during the service. There have been many times during an address where I have had questions or thoughts that would have benefitted from further discussion or explanation to offer a deeper understanding.

Subsequently, we have shared communion and listened to a range of inspirational speakers including US pastor William Young, former minister with Morison Memorial URC in Clydebank and Drumchapel Essenside URC, both in the National Synod of Scotland, who shared a powerful sermon addressing the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

There has been the opportunity to learn and grow together in faith and discipleship, all in the comfort of our own homes. That is not to say that we aim to be comfortable. True discipleship means that we discern the word of God outside of what is secure.

I write this article having completed 18 days of quarantine after 3 positive coronavirus tests in our household. Having a church family to pray for us as far as the Palatinate in Germany as well as friends across the UK was a great comfort to us.

That feeling of being interconnected, of being part of something greater than oneself, a congregation of many generations united in inquisitive faith has been a great comfort to me at a challenging time. As the services relocate to Sunday evenings to enable people to meet with their home congregations in person, I am excited to see how discipleship is developed digitally in the future.

Yourchurch is an emerging congregation within the United Reformed Church focusing on ‘developing discipleship digitally’. You can join in services and activities by contacting Lawrence Moore for more information.

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