Fear and loneliness aren’t the only symptoms of life in lockdown – and nor has the pandemic been the first time that people have suffered them. But it has brought these feelings into focus, and has been a reality for many.
Fear of disease is instinctive, but government information campaigns have sought to heighten those instincts to fight Covid – with lasting effects. Our individualistic society already led to many people feeling lonely, but being physically separated from friends and family worsened the situation for many.
This is also true for many within the Church. Although many Christians are keen to come to fully-fledged services, many remain anxious about the possibility of being infected or infecting others. And simply meeting once a week may be merely papering over the cracks of the loneliness that people really feel.
We caught up with several church leaders from various church backgrounds and denominations to find out how they were tackling fear and loneliness post-Covid.
Pastoral support for those in need
Pete Cornford, pastor of Redeemer Church, Ealing, speaks of various initiatives that the church started as a result of seeing people struggle through lockdown.
“I remember at the start of our awareness of Covid, someone commented that the situation could be one of three things: a shower you shelter from; a season you live through; or an ice age that leaves a scar for years to come. I think we’re all seeing that the third option is proving accurate. One thing I was certain of from the beginning was that going into this crisis would prove easier than coming out.
“As a result of lockdown, we began to develop new ways of caring for the church. Our termly small group structure came to an end in March 2020, so we started a new system called ‘community circles’: an online/digital collection of individuals to look out and care for one another, it was based on the concept of New Testament ‘one anothering’, circling the wagons and looking after each other!
“As well as being committed to every member ministry, we also concluded that it would be good to have some dedicated church members that would be trained and willing to support folk going through difficulties. We were able to establish a group of people and launch a pastoral care team that could be contacted by email and would follow up generally over the phone.
“We believe the gospel brings hope and we were able to gather ten written testimonies from people in the church of how they came to know Jesus. We printed this as a booklet and have had 400 of these printed and available for the church to give away to friends who are asking questions, or struggling, or trying to come to terms with Jesus. We were also able to pull together a book, Faith Locked Down, which was a gathering of psalms, prayers, poems, posts and portraits about how people were feeling and coping with the situation they suddenly found themselves in, which has also been an encouragement to many within the church.”
Looking out for single people
Lorita Bryden, who pastors Living Stones of Birmingham with her husband Gary, says their church reached out to ask what people’s needs were. She says single people in particular expressed a vulnerability around the fear of something happening to them and nobody knowing. What if they didn’t wake up? Who would know?
“We’ve been emphasising our teaching that God wants us to be family throughout the pandemic and beyond. It’s a false concept that we don’t need to gather together. We need to experience the greatness of God in corporate worship where we can experience the anointing together, in addition to small group intimacy.
“That said, we know that especially during this pandemic, people have just needed a hand on the shoulder, and this is what has been missing in isolation. We’ve set up WhatsApp groups for the men and women in the church for people to share how they’re doing, prioritising groups for those who live alone to strengthen that feeling of connectivity and family. We’d give people a deadline to check in with the group by 12 noon, and if they hadn’t checked in, we’d give them a quick call to follow up and see if they were OK.”
Having a correct view of God
Oliver Allmand-Smith, pastor of Trinity Grace Church, North Manchester, says that it’s important to deal with fear and loneliness theologically:
“We want people to get a really big view of God. If they can see how big God is, how great he is, how powerful he is, how sovereign he is, and understand that even through a pandemic, through lockdown, through loneliness, God is still working out his purposes. That is the message that we want to be getting over to people.”
Addressing the topics nobody likes to talk about
Matt Cliff, pastor of Chenies Baptist Church in Buckinghamshire, shares how the church has been addressing topics that might previously have been left behind, such as the significance of gathered worship and the reality of death. You can watch the church’s playlist, Reflections from Lockdown, which deals with some of the ‘harder issues’ on their YouTube channel.
“Covid-19, as we are all tragically aware, has had devastating effects on many people’s physical health. Due to the threat of virus, enforced isolation has likewise greatly impacted people’s mental health. However, what you won’t hear in the media or see on social media feeds is the damage to people’s spiritual health. Although there may be those who have thrived spiritually, as a pastor I have generally seen the opposite. Far too many believers, in spite of Zoom, have actually felt more disconnected, thereby cutting themselves off from the support of their Christian community.
“That being said, in God’s providence, events such as Covid can provide churches with a unique opportunity to address issues that otherwise may have remained on the ‘back shelf’. Issues such as loneliness, the reality of our mortality, the significance of physical fellowship and the importance of sung worship have become ‘hot topics’.
“I pray we, as a Church reflect deeply on the lessons our Lord is teaching us through this season.”
Looking out for the needs of others is part of the Great Commission
Rev. David Hall, pastor of Christ Church Chorleywood, encourages Christians struggling with fear to continue on the mission of God – part of that mission being to look out for the needs of those around us.
“We do need a reset, I think, and Christ can give us that. I think the value of the Great Commission is that it is outward looking. Don’t worry too much if you’ve suffered mentally as a result of the pandemic; if you’ve suffered in that way, it’s normal. Now is the time to take control, to take command and follow Christ. He has said that for those who follow his Great Commission, to go out, to make disciples, to work for him and look out for the needs of others; that he is with us always till the end of the age.”
In-person fellowship, reaching people with the truth
Paul Levy, pastor of the International Presbyterian Church, London, believes that gathering in-person has been key to combatting fear and loneliness.
“We’ve been hugely encouraged coming out of lockdown and been glad to be meeting together. It’s made us value what we once took for granted. I think it’s also helped us to see that the Church is on the outside looking in on our culture. The leaders in our country in many ways have thought of the Church as on a par with the leisure industry. This has helped clarify the that the message of Christianity is counter-cultural – but it’s the very message our country needs. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our hope in life and death; it is the antidote to fear – we have what the world needs.”
A message for those struggling with fear and loneliness
Pastor Ade Omooba MBE encourages those struggling with fear and loneliness with a message of hope.
“Every one of you that God created, if you’re facing that fear, I’m saying this to encourage you. God created only one of you for your time in this place. You may be able to identify with things that are on around you right now, but you are not defined by them.
“He loves you so much that he’s kept you alive up till now. God doesn’t sleep on whatever the issue is that you’re going through; he works on around the clock. He hasn’t forgotten or neglected you; he’s so in tune and so understands what you’re going through. He wants you to be encouraged. What you’re asking for might seem slow to happen, but He doesn’t delay. It will surely come to pass, because he makes all things beautiful in his own time.”