Peter Gower tells us about the challenges and encouragements of leading his church plant in Liverpool during the COVID-19 lockdown.

"'Zoom, zoom, zoom...' (And no, I don’t mean the video conferencing platform.)

Those are the opening words to the song, ‘Zoom to the moon’ (I’m not sure of its proper title). It is one of my baby daughter’s favourite songs. My wife, and my mother-in-law (over Zoom, obviously), sing it to her a lot. I normally wouldn’t get to hear either my wife’s singing or my daughter’s cackling as I usually work from the church office - but it turns out there are benefits to doing life and ministry in lockdown, after all.

But ministry in lockdown is not without its challenges.

If this time in lockdown has helped me to realise anything, it is why the gathered church is such a beautiful, God-glorifying, saints-edifying experience

Ministry is ultimately about people. It’s one of the reasons I love what I do - visiting people’s homes, listening to people try and work out where the Lord is in the midst of messy lives, reading the Bible, praying together - all these are great joys.

That’s also part of why I love and look forward to Sunday mornings. If this time in lockdown has helped me to realise anything, it is why the gathered church is such a beautiful, God-glorifying, saints-edifying experience: the sound of voices collectively lifted to the Lord in song or prayer, the sight of struggling saints turning up and trusting themselves to Jesus, receiving the love and care of brothers and sisters, the weight of hearing the living God addressing his people through the Scriptures, the sight and smell of the bread and wine we share together in the Lord’s supper, the smell of coffee and the sound of conversations filling the room after the service. 

Try as we might to mitigate the effects of lockdown (and we are very grateful for things like Zoom which enable us to see and hear each other in remarkable ways!), these things simply cannot be replaced. 

This is was a particular sadness in our own church when one of our elderly members died from the Coronavirus. How do you pastorally support those who are bereaved and grieving when the only contact you can safely make is a phone call? How do you mourn and hope as a church family when you cannot be together to weep and rejoice?

We have some additional challenges because of our particular context. We’re just coming up to our one year anniversary at a church revitalisation in a fairly deprived area of north Liverpool. In our area, many people have no internet access at home. We also have a large proportion of elderly saints, some of whom have no internet, others simply lack confidence using their devices. Part of our job as leaders has been part-time IT support!

With all this in mind, we’ve been encouraged at how the church family has adapted to this new situation. They have shown remarkable resilience, patient endurance, and a willingness to go with the flow as we’ve tried and tested different things. They have also been brilliant at caring for each other, ringing through the week and checking in.

We’ve had pretty good engagement with online content. On Sundays, we have an order of service on our website, which includes readings, songs, the sermon and some things to pray through. One of the leaders has been distributing material for parents to work through with their kids at home. And for those that can’t access the internet at all, I have been delivering hard copies of the sermon transcript. People work through the service at home, and afterwards, we all get together on Zoom (including a bunch of people on their landlines) to talk and pray. We’re hosting our Gospel Communities on Zoom, and we’ve also started a short devotion in the Psalms on Tuesday  and Thursday mornings, particularly for those who find it harder to be involved in a GC.

But it does feel hard, like we’re in survival mode.

In all this, we know we are not unique, and we trust the sovereign Lord who knows our needs and our situation, our struggles and our fears.

Since the new year we had just begun to feel a growing sense of momentum at church - we’d even seen a couple of people become Christians in the months before lockdown! And we are incredible grateful to the Lord for those people, and the way he has been working in their lives, nurturing and protecting their new faith in Jesus. But in all honesty, beyond that, trying to keep momentum growing has been a real struggle for us.

I often read lots of stories of seekers engaging with online church in fantastic ways, for which I praise God! But this hasn’t been our experience. At the moment, our main evangelistic connection to our local community is through our youth and children’s work, and those who have recently moved into the area seeking to love and serve their neighbours. Our youth team have done a fantastic job in getting videos and other content online, and done their best to keep in touch with the families whose children attend. My wife has been hosting a Zoom meeting for the parents at the toddler’s group once a week. But it has felt like an uphill struggle just to maintain contact, let alone to develop those connections into more series gospel opportunities.

In all this, we know we are not unique, and we trust the sovereign Lord who knows our needs and our situation, our struggles and our fears. We trust He knows what He is doing, even as we often don’t know how best to lead. And we trust He is with us, even as we cannot be with one another."

During these lockdown circumstances, all of Union's programmes – GDip, BA, MTh, PhD, Priscilla - are accessible through community-focussed and interactive online learning.

Visit our UST website to discover more.