The good things that came from a tough year

It wasn’t just the joy of singing – through a mask – at church for the first time since March that made Sunday wonderful. It marked a week where singing together again seemed to underline some good things that have happened through our Coronavirus year, alongside the things that have tested us tremendously. So here’s a collection from Eternity writers who, on this occasion, will be focusing on their own church.

John Sandeman

You could see by their smiles that the musicians were glad to be back live. But it also seemed as though God was sprinkling good news through our service – which will go down in local history as the week when we began to sing through masks.

There were also the missionaries who were barred this year from leaving for (destination withheld). “I thought it was going to be a dead year,” they explained.

They lost their Plan A. And Plan B seemed very second best when the maths teacher of the pair, relieved to have a job, was asked to teach English. It took until the end of term one to realise that teaching people to carefully read and precisely describe a text was what they would be doing in teaching at a theological college. And a Master’s degree, which the other one had started, not knowing whether it would ever be finished, now looks almost certain to be completed, due to the coronavirus delay.

Then, a quiet mention in a prayer – the Quiz Worx Christmas video has been downloaded in 1000 schools.

Then, a surprise at the end. The return to “normal” came too late for our traditional carols festival – and the answer is … jam. Homemade – that should be “church made” – jam, produced by the 7pm service for us all to share with our neighbours, along with an invite to our almost-normal Christmas services.

Kaley Payne

We bought a house the week before coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. Perfect timing, I know. We were so excited to check out the local church that we rocked up the week we signed the contract, despite still having six weeks before moving in. I think God had us in his hand, though – we ended up visiting the Sunday before public gatherings were shut down because of COVID-19. We met so many lovely people at the church that day. A few people got our details and took note of when we were moving in. We said goodbye as though we’d see them the next week. Of course, it turns out we didn’t see most people for many months after that.

We probably spoke to more people online than we ever would have in person …

Being new in a church that now met online presented challenges. But our Zoom church meetings opened with a few “breakout room” groups to socialise online before the service started. Those meetings really forced us to talk to lots of different people in the church – people we may not have necessarily gotten to know as quickly had we been at church in person. Actually, we probably spoke to more people online than we ever would have in person in those first few months of being new at church.

I have felt so blessed by my new church family. I had a new baby when we first arrived at church, and was looking at moving into a new neighbourhood where I didn’t know anyone, during a pandemic. For an extrovert who already struggled with the isolation of maternity leave, it was already going to be a tricky time.

But a few women in our new church contacted me in the weeks leading up to and following our move. They brought us meals. They sent encouraging messages. They invited me to their online Bible study group. And when we could finally start meeting in person again, I felt as though I had already made friends and was connected with a group of women who were praying for me and supporting me.

In 2020, our church family was new and virtual. But still, very much, a family.

Bec Abbott

COVID has turned our church into a low-budget Fox Studios, with around 250 videos being created this year – and that’s not including sermons or service recordings.

Kids ministers Kym Abbott and Sarah Legge, along with their team, are responsible for a large part of this new video library, with a full digital kids program being created every week. Videos include Bible memory verses (by a swathe of characters like “Bazza the Cabbie”, “Hamish McHebrews” and “D Diddy”), kids songs with actions, chalk art demonstrations, new takes on the Christmas narrative, as well as kids talks.

Church families joined in the creative splurge, submitting videos of memory verses, Lego stop-motion Bible passages and fun family challenges, like obstacles courses and juggling competitions.

Prior to 2020, Abbott (who happens to be my dear husband) says their kids ministry team had only made a handful of videos, which received a mixed response from kids. But this year forced them to invest in new recording equipment and video editing software, and to revisit the content style.

“We looked at some of the bloggers who kids watch to see the way they do it, and that changed the way we produce our videos. So, for example, speaking to the camera in short, sharp segments, cutting away to other sections quickly and leaving mistakes in, because kids love laughing at mistakes! I think the lesson learned is that when you do videos really well, kids will engage with them,” he says.

On unexpected COVID blessings, he adds: “All of this has been a wonderful opportunity. It’s taken our kids ministry in many different directions that we never would have felt prepared to do. But because we had to go digital, we just had to make it work.

“It’s really expanded the reach of our ministry, the way that we engage with young people, and the way that our kids and their leaders can serve. I can’t believe our roster now includes producers and editors! We hope that this video library might even be a resource we can share with other churches.”

Bible memory verse videos produced by St James' 'Alive' kids ministry this year

Bible memory verse videos produced by St James’ ‘Alive’ kids ministry this year

Ben McEachen

My church has been running “Build a Gingerbread House” events each Christmas for about a decade.

I’m a church member who has looked down their nose at these annual times of constructing makeshift homes with lollies, icing and biscuits. Come on, gingerbread houses. Really? Can’t we do something more this century? Gingerbread house making is about as quaint and cutesy as a soft drink ad from the 1950s.

But despite my eye rolling, the gingerbread house event has gone from strength to strength. Even COVID could not stop our church again turning into a sweet construction site.

Gingerbread this year went for a whole week – to cater for socially distanced crowds.

Instead of ongoing restrictions doing a demolition job on gingerbread houses, they opened the door to expansion. Where previous years only provided a few well-attended opportunities for building, Gingerbread this year went for a whole week – to cater for socially distanced crowds. Yes, every day for about a week our church transformed into a COVID-safe hub of confectionary assemblage.

Imagine how my eyes rolled, even while I was hearing of how each session was booked out.

Because I’m a Christmas spirit kinda guy, I went to the final gingerbread house session for 2020 with my family. And, erm, I loved it. It was so great, getting to build a sugary dwelling of cheer with my daughter Ingrid, while my wife Amy and other daughter Elodie worked on another. Surrounded by other kids and adults doing the same thing, we had a blast.

Sure, I made rookie’s mistakes – too many lollies on the roof, not waiting long enough for the foundational icing to set – but it was cool to be part of a gingerbread house village grounded in celebrating Jesus’ birth. Tasty, too.