The supporters of the Church Missionary Society are a determined bunch. For decades they have trooped up to Katoomba to begin the new year sitting under God’s word at Summer School, and they’ll do it again this coming January – COVID or no COVID.
That doesn’t mean they (and CMS) are not taking the pandemic seriously. Far from it. Onsite restrictions means there won’t be the usual crowd of 3000 or so adults and 1500 kids and youth packing the KCC auditorium and nearby venues, but no one’s going to stop these people learning about Jesus and showing care for missionaries who go across the globe to teach others.
“We’ve been tremendously encouraged by people’s support and enthusiasm,” says the executive director of CMS NSW & ACT, the Rev Canon John Lovell.
“[Once registrations opened] a number of people immediately registered for our full conference... people in vulnerable age groups who were thinking they might need to attend online have subsequently donated the discounted amount in support of a CMS missionary. That generosity and support has been a wonderful encouragement to CMS.
"People in vulnerable age groups who were thinking they might need to attend online have subsequently donated the discounted amount in support of a CMS missionary."
“One of the reasons for our commitment to proceed with the conference in whatever form possible is the important message this communicates: that the work of global mission continues. We respond and adapt to the challenges and circumstances we find ourselves in, but the need for the gospel to go out is unchanged and we remain committed to doing all we can to support that work.”
Instead of the usual week-long conference with talks, missionary sessions and a big kids’ program in the morning, then different speakers in the evening, Summer School in 2021 is going to look a bit different.
For starters, it’s a little shorter: starting on Saturday, January 2, and finishing a day early on the following Thursday. There will be a morning and afternoon session and the main speaker, the Rev Carl Matthei, will speak at both. This will enable more than 900 adults to be divided into smaller groups, which will gather in three distinct onsite locations at different times.
The youth and children’s programs will also be divided between the morning and afternoon, with about 700 kids meeting in smaller year groups at a number of locations – including the local high school and primary school.
Missionary sessions will be available online
Missionary sessions and other speakers will be prerecorded and available online. The talks will also be livestreamed for those who want to be part of the conference but don’t have a place in the main auditorium due to space restrictions.
“Summer School is a unique opportunity for our missionaries to share with the CMS Fellowship how God has been answering prayers and working through them.”
“We share people’s disappointment and frustration about the necessity of these changes – and not being able to welcome certain age groups such as crèche and preschool as we would like to – but of course we want to abide by Government restrictions and provide a conference that assures people’s safety,” Canon Lovell says.
“We look forward to Summer School returning to its maximum capacity in 2022, if the Lord wills.”
He adds that, while CMS was (and is) ready to pivot to an all-online conference, there are a lot of positives in having enthusiastic CMS members onsite in Katoomba, spending time with missionaries they have been supporting for years.
“Summer School is a unique opportunity for our missionaries to share with the CMS Fellowship how God has been answering prayers and working through them as they have shared the gospel in different locations around the world.
“For our workers who are missionaries in secure locations an online conference is not an option... to connect face to face with representatives of the Fellowship is a really significant and valued opportunity – particularly for those on final home assignment after many years of faithful service. It’s a privilege to be among faithful people who have prayed and cared and given financial support over many years.”
COVID has meant a number of missionaries who would normally take part in Summer School 2021 have been unable to return from overseas – and there are others who have been unable to leave Australia and go on location. Canon Lovell asks people to pray for them amid the disruption of their ministries and travel plans.
In addition, he says, “We would appreciate prayers that, in spite of a very different-looking Summer School, God will be at work as his word is preached and as missionaries share stories of how he’s at work, growing people’s commitment to be actively involved in God’s global mission”.
It’s still possible to register for the online-only version of the conference. See www.nswsummerschool.org.au