The lockdown period has been different for everyone. Even different for the same person on different days. How easy it is to know that the gospel should give us perspective in all of this. Yet how hard to bear that in mind when our world collapses in on itself and we feel stuck in a rut.
Some days I’ve felt capable to try new things, to imaginatively create new patterns of life and to grow in godliness. Other days one is satisfied if a half-day of work has been done and one is able to fall asleep trusting a sovereign God, looking forward to better days!
But there are opportunities to look outwards and upwards, that may help us as well as grieving what we have lost. The road ahead could be hard for churches – social distancing will make things hard, and even when we have social distancing, it still appears we may not be able to have congregational singing for a while, if our recommendations are anything like other nations. The volume of air projected out of us when singing is bound to be different to when we’re sitting quietly apart from each other. For those longing to get back to congregational singing, this will be a painful realisation.
But its been encouraging to hear of one church in Italy who are seeing opportunity in this adversity. An adversity, I must add, that is not unique to this season for the worldwide Church – many settings will not be able to belt out Christian anthems together, due to fear of being reported by Police (secret or otherwise).
Rather than campaign for us to be allowed our rights far quicker (which may be questionable health-wise), or having people focus on the vacuum that is left by not singing (or for that matter, disobeying potential guidelines and singing anyway), this church have decided to do something positive:
Learn a new language
What?! How is that replacing singing? And why on earth would one expect a whole congregation to learn a new language? Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?
Well, a church near Turin have decided that they can sing congregationally, if they use sign language! Perhaps “learning a new language” is a bit of an over-statement. I’m guessing it’s learning some basic words from a simple song or two, or perhaps a chorus that can be repeated. And before anyone tells us that they could never do that, let me suggest that we learn plenty of similarly big things as whole churches, without batting an eyelid. What a humbling thing that brings parent, child and single person onto an even footing as we learn things together – in fact, I would fancy the chances of the young ones being far better at this than we are! What joy!
Here’s 3 other ways I think they’re on to something!
- We can raise awareness of some of the neediest communities in the world for the gospel. You see, although the Church is gradually awakening to the great needs of the gospel amongst Unengaged People Groups and God’s heart for the outsider – the least reached – the population of said groups is growing fast enough that it’s a hard task to ever make a dent into the numbers. And then in most of those people groups, one has subsets like deaf peoples, who sometimes (depending on culture) are dis-connected from the dominating culture of those around them (given they don’t share a common language). It means many like the Joshua Project, count them as separate peoples.
But what are the chances of them being reached? Well even if the main predominant culture within that demographic is eventually reached with the gospel (which we’re still far behind on), the chance of a small sub-section of that community (one that tends to be quite insular, for obvious reasons) being reached, in this different language, is hard to imagine in many places. So many of the deaf communities fall high up on the least reached lists. They may not be the most strategic numerically, but then again, when was Christ’s Kingdom ever primarily shaped by reaching the most people, as quick as possible? King Jesus has a very different outlook on life, which by many of our models, seems weak, ill-advised and utterly frustrating.
- What a great way to engage or to make ourselves aware of the deaf communities on our own doorstep too. Who are they? Where do they meet? Do any churches in the local area provide sign language interpretation or assistance? One small church in Carrigaline, County Cork has been giving their devotionals on Facebook with an intrepretation too (they’re uniquely equipped to do so, but have shaped lots of life round being able to serve the deaf community as well).
- In learning some basic words about the gospel in another language, you’ll often find yourself thinking afresh about the meaning of it, and how best to communicate such. Could we be brought to marvel at the gospel again, by being children and struggling to learn some basics in another language like this? For those that wouldn’t be keen on this taking place in service, I suggest we teach other new forms of language and communication to people already, in our services, and expect them to pick it up and learn. Taking it slowly shouldn’t disrupt the tone of the service.
But wherever you are, and whatever your congregation may be able to manage or not manage, can I encourage us to look outwards and upwards, and to perhaps in doing so, start to see opportunity, amidst the adversity and loss.
In the meantime, let’s not forget what we lose: it is massive.
May this international collective warm our hearts as we reflect:
PS: Thanks Kim for flying the Irish flag in Sydney!