Summer slowdowns and breaking everyone in gently

Every year, our church has a summer slowdown. We call it a slowdown but, in truth, it often ends up being one of the busiest times of year for us. Instead of running all the usual ministries of the church, we wind everything down and try to spend more time together socially and build fellowship in different ways.

This year, of all years, it seems particularly important. One of our reasons for normally doing it is to give those who serve week in, week out on the regular ministry programmes some much needed time off. This year, the church has been held together by an incredibly small, elite team who have undertaken crash courses in live streaming, health and safety, ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions, lots of new online initiatives and much more. We have had fewer hands picking up a huge amount of extra work. None of this, of course, is unique to us. But the slowdown really does seem appropriate.

But our other major interest in the slowdown is the building up of the fellowship. One of the things we have largely been unable to do for over a year is to meet together. We couldn’t have church services and we were extremely limited in what time we could spend together. At various points, two people couldn’t meet indoors, let alone two households or whole groups. We have been starved of social interaction with one another. Fellowship has been stymied. Many of our people have become isolated. More than any other time during my tenure as pastor have I felt the need to have time where we can just be around one another, enjoying each other.

We are eagerly anticipating this coming Sunday at which we no longer have to be masked. For us, this is a big deal. Not because we’re particularly anti-mask. Rather, masks make it difficult to hear people at the best of times. I think we forget how much we rely on lip reading to fill in the blanks of what we haven’t fully heard. But when you are dealing with many different languages, things get harder still. We have enough barriers to our fellowship already without adding further ones! And this is not me whining about masks in general, I understand all the given reasons for them, but they have impeded churches like ours in particular. No doubt others have found them less than helpful in various ways, but the particular makeup of our church has made them far more of an imposition than they have been on the occasions I have visited exclusively English-speaking churches.

We have also missed singing. Services have felt deficient without it. We have listened to music and songs being sung, but it simply isn’t the same as being able to join our voices together. We are glad that this Sunday marks the first opportunity we have to legally do this again.

I read a brilliant post by Al Gooderham not very long ago in which he encouraged us to fight against atrophy. In it, he noted that we have been out of the habit of social interaction. We are out of the habit of hospitality. These are muscles that are likely to have atrophied over the last year and it will take some exercise and breaking ourselves in to get back into them again. I would encourage you to read the full article. But the point he makes is a good one. Many of us will have to get used, again, to meeting with people, to discipleship, to many of the face to face things that fellowship requires.

I mention that because I think the summer provides a great opportunity for us to do this. We all know that the real New Year is not the first of January, but September. It is the school term that we all really work our calendars around. And we have been afforded an opportunity to have a degree of comparative freedom to what we have had over the last year between now and then. That is why we have laid down a marker in our church that we expect all the usual ministries to be back up and running by September. This means we can plan the necessary team meetings without the pressure of it all starting tomorrow.

But in between now and September, those things aren’t running. We have wound down our usual ministries. We have a degree of freedom. Those fellowship muscles that may have atrophied over the last year now have some space to get working again. We have 2 months to slowly, gently, start meeting together properly again, to enjoy each other again, to be with each other again so that when September comes, we can hit the ground running.

But let me encourage you, whatever it is you do and however you choose to do it, maybe try to build in some time for your church to do something similar. See if you can help people slowly back into the swing of regular meeting, active church ministry and fellowship. You may, in the end, be pleased that you did.