There might be a lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped our parishes from creating inventive ministry and outreach over the past month or so.
Amid the return to online-only services and pastoral care by phone or Zoom, quick thinking across the Diocese has also helped some churches do the (almost) impossible to ensure God’s word gets out there.
At Quakers Hill, the QuHACKK (Quakers Hill Anglican Church Kids Klub) team were determined that the annual event would go ahead. But they didn’t have much time.
Rector the Rev Geoff Bates says that the week before lockdown was announced, the increase in restrictions meant that work had already begun to move events online.
“We had changed our holiday kids’ club to two different sites because of the four-square-metre issue, but then we realised it wasn’t going to work,” he says. “We had almost 300 kids plus 100 or so volunteers... In our larger venue, [restrictions] meant we would have had 200 kids in a hall and no adult supervision except for whoever was on the platform!
“Then when lockdown... was announced at 2pm on Saturday afternoon [June 26], that put all the changes on steroids! We got a team and did all of the physical things that needed to be done before lockdown came into effect at 6 o’clock that night.”
This included packing and delivering hundreds of craft boxes to homes across the area. The team even managed to get a box of craft to a family linked to the church that was getting on a plane that night to move to Perth. The kids were able to take part in everything while in quarantine on the other side of the country.
“Craft went out to 500 kids – we just couldn’t believe it!”
Even parents who had initially sought a refund when the church moved the program online gratefully received the packs after lockdown was announced, because it provided them with activities their kids could do at home.
“It became extremely popular in the lockdown context because they couldn’t have organised something else for their kids,” Mr Bates says. “Craft went out to 500 kids – we just couldn’t believe it!”
The music and drama were prerecorded, along with a video tutorial for the kids’ craft. Some of the memory verses were done live by a “wizard” and, in line with the Medieval theme, a king and a queen sat at a table providing a live link for each element of the morning – also including feedback from the kids and pictures of the craft they had done.
“We think we were the only church that did a kids’ club during the last holidays,” Mr Bates says. “We were so close to closing ours, but we just pushed through.”
A quick change of plans
It was also all systems go at Soul Revival Church in the Shire on the day prior to lockdown. Youth pastor Ethan Crawshaw says the leadership team was confident that lockdown was coming, and so decided to prepare for that weekend’s services to be online.
“During the first lockdown we had six separate services a week with different sermons and different people leading, which was excellent, but because of the late notice on Friday we thought we’d just put one out,” he says.
“We recorded it at 9.30 on Friday night, after youth group. It was wild!” he adds with a laugh. “But it was also really lovely, because all the youth leaders had a role. A junior leader in Year 12 read the Bible, another of our leaders prayed and our youth co-ordinator did the sermon, and it was a lovely night.
“The lockdown was announced the next day in the middle of a wedding at church, but we were ready... The service went live on Facebook in time for our 5.30pm service that night.”
But that wasn’t all. The following Friday to Wednesday was supposed to be Soul Revival’s week away. The adults were to hear local bishop Peter Hayward speak on Luke while the kids did Jonah, yet suddenly the 250 members who had planned to be away together were all going to be at home – apart.
“One of the things we really wanted to do was love people.”
More brainstorming followed, which resulted in senior pastor the Rev Stuart Crawshaw writing a sermon series on Jonah in less than a week as leaders quickly pivoted to an all-online event.
“He preached on Thursday night, and we recorded one service that night and another three on Friday,” Ethan Crawshaw says. “While we were brainstorming all of this, the Government said that we couldn’t sing, so we decided to change the format even more and turn it into a podcast.
“We had a panel of three service leaders, and they would have a chat to each other, and then we would have a kids’ segment with a puppet... and the kids sent in questions for the puppet to read out, which was hilarious.
“We also have a lady in our church who is an art teacher... she did these beautiful artworks for each of the Bible readings, then took a video as she scratched some of the paint off. With Jonah 2, as the reading was read out a whale was revealed, which was really cool.”
The church used prerecorded music clips from 2020 and then knitted the podcasts together into a package. Members also took part in a live trivia night on Facebook, and a movie watch party on Sunday night.
“I think people responded really well,” Mr Crawshaw says. “After the trivia night we ended up sitting talking to people for three hours live... it was a beautiful way to have community in that weird space.
“One of the things we really wanted to do was love people. Everyone was watching the same old things quite a lot during COVID [last year] and we got into a pattern. So, we wanted to give them something they could be a part of online rather than something they would all just sit and watch.
“At the same time, it was very important for us not to get rid of the liturgy and remove the fact that it’s a church service. Despite calling it a podcast I think we managed to pull off that ‘service’ format and stay true to that liturgy while still doing something different.”
‘Lego has been a big lockdown winner…’
Whatever works, do it
Other parishes have held daily lockdown lunches online, ramped up the Zoom prayer meetings, morphed a Christmas in July outreach event into an “iso-baking” Zoom feast with accompanying talk, and put together a video of kids at home doing the actions to a Colin Buchanan song to share at online church.
Lego has also been a big lockdown winner – particularly as parents found themselves at home with their kids throughout the school holidays. Photos of people’s latest creations have been a regular feature on social media, so high school teacher and PhD candidate Matthew Payne put the message out on Facebook about the annual “Big Family Build” run by Christian outfit Zenos Media.
This year’s theme is Biblical metaphors and similes. Mr Payne and his 11-year-old son Caleb built the “body of Christ”, while serious Lego enthusiast the Rev Joel Moroney – families minister at Willoughby Park – created the full armour of God with his older sons Oliver, 7, and Lucas, 5.
“We started off by coming up with the idea together,” Mr Moroney says. “We went through all the Bible books we had up in our bedroom and picked stories out that we thought could work... then I designed it and gave them sections to work on.
“For my five year old I built it and unbuilt it and showed him how to do it himself. Whereas all the rockwork around the side, that’s my seven year old. I just gave him the pieces and said, ‘Go for it’.
“We have been playing with lots of Lego during lockdown... I’ve been sorting through the Lego room – I have a room just for my Lego – which is spilling into the living room at the moment, so I’m under pressure to get it back into the Lego room so people can actually walk through the living room!”
Mr Payne says that, aside from Minecraft, Lego is his son’s “favourite thing, so entering the Big Build gave them something to do together that was both fun and Bible-related, which has been particularly handy during lockdown.
“We’ve had a lot of time!” he says. “It does help to have good activities for kids when they’re going stir crazy because they’re not allowed to go and see their mates.”
God’s still at work
Not being able to do things as normal has been rough for everybody, yet God is still building his church.
Geoff Bates says that this year, for the first time in the 19-year history of kids’ club at Quakers Hill, parents were able to watch the entire program. “We had ministry to the parents or carers of these children in a way we have never had before, and that was gold,” he says.
“Out of lockdown something special emerged. At Life Anglican we were able to
produce a resource that other churches – small or large – can use, which is something we wouldn’t have done otherwise. People need to see that good came out of a challenging time.
“And because we had Zoom meetings for the kids in small groups, where we did activities and taught them about Jesus, lots of kids recommitted their lives to Jesus, and 10 per cent of 500 kids said for the first time that they want to follow Jesus!
“We were blown away by the way God answers our prayers. In fact, we were surprised and delighted. He always does more than we can ask or imagine.”
More in August Southern Cross - online here.