So, this is Week 3 here on Planet Lockdown. Many of the things I used to to in the course of regular pastoral ministry are out of bounds. No visiting, no church services or activities. No church officers’ meetings. No meetings with leaders of other churches, and so on.
At the beginning of all this I thought I might have more time to read and stuff, but since the Week 2 update, I’ve made no further progress on Bob Letham’s Systematic Theology. Not that I’ve been diverted to read anything else instead. It’s just that Covid-19 seems to have messed around with the speed of time, or something.
A time consuming thing this week was trying to find an alternative to using Facebook’s ‘Go Live’ for livestreaming Bible ministry. Last Sunday was something of a disaster. At the end of the day I posted on Facebook, “With wonky camera angles and signal losses this has been a challenging day in the work of ‘Guy Davies Global Ministries’. All I have is a mobile phone, three points and the truth.”
In the morning’s talk in Psalm 44 I didn’t notice that I’d inadvertently disabled my phone’s auto-rotate, with the result that to people watching I was at an odd angle. The burden of my message was that ‘faithfulness sometimes looks like failure’. I didn’t intend there to be such an unhappy convergence of style and substance.
In the evening I spoke on ‘The Suffering of Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King’. I’ve been using our dining room as a makeshift ‘studio’ for videoing talks, as it has a table to rest stuff on and plain walls as a backdrop. I elevated my phone to eye level by placing it on top of a pile of sofa cushions, and then a book or two. Trouble is the WiFi router is in the study upstairs and the signal failed midway through the livestream. In something of a scene change, I had to scarper upstairs and complete the talk in the study. The trouble with filming in the study is that my books are a distraction to viewers, not to mention my pet monkey David Sky, and other assorted random things.
People have suggested I use Zoom rather than FB Go Live, but I don’t get how it works. Skype is OK for small group chats/prayer times, but no good for online ‘services’. Yes, there’s YouTube, but because I’m limited to using my mobile for vids, YouTube won’t allow me to livestream. You need 1000 subscribers to your channel for that. To date, I have 2. I could livestream on YouTube using my PC. No minimum subscriber then, but the inbuilt mic on my creaky old Dell is pretty useless. I’ve ordered a tie mic from eBay, but stuff takes an age by post these days.
On seeing my confession of failure on Facebook, a friend commented that in their church they pre-record on YouTube and then publish online at the regular service times. I worked out how to do that on my mobile and used the format for Wednesday evening’s ‘Prayer Meeting’ talk on Colossians 1:9, ‘Your will be done’. Seemed alright from a tech point of view, anyway.
Next week we were due to have a Holiday Bible Club, but we had to cancel. In its place I thought I’d have a go at creating some YouTube talks on ‘Jonah the runaway prophet’. I obtained some PowerPoint slides from the excellent Free Bible Images and sought their permission to use them online, which they were fine with. The thing then was to work out how to set up our living room so we could use a digital projector for the PowerPoints, with me narrating the story. All filmed on my phone. We had to set up the projector on a dining room chair, on top of a small table, elevated ever so slightly using some coasters. We used a selfie-stick for my phone, attaching it to the chair with some big elastic bands. We’re not expecting a BAFTA/Oscar for cinematography.
The demo was OK, so we moved to ‘full production’ yesterday morning, hoping to get all three talks ‘in the can’. We only managed to do one, as my phone’s memory card ran out of space just as Talk 1 was coming to an end. It took ages to upload the 10 minute film to YouTube, so I could delete the video to free up space. One talk was was all we had time for in the end. Hopefully all three talks will go out at 10.15am, Tuesday-Thursday of next week.
I’d prepared the talks for Sunday morning and evening and made a You-Tube video for Sunday’s 10.30am ‘service’ after we were done with the Jonah ‘Holiday Bible Club’ talk. Pre-recording isn’t quite the same as livestreaming and I couldn’t get my head around videoing myself praying for people to watch later. But the pre-recorded YouTube ministry will still include Bible readings and a talk. As in preaching I use notes as prompts, rather than reading from a script. That leaves a bit of room for improvisation, usually within the overall structure of the message, and makes for better ‘eye contact’. God willing I’ll pre-record Sunday evening’s talk earlier on Sunday afternoon, for sharing on our FB page at 6.00pm.
Sarah (my wife) and I have been keeping in touch with members and friends of the church via emails, phone calls, text messages and Skype chats. They all seem to be doing well at the moment. While we’re doing what we can to maintain fellowship and offer Bible ministry online, there is no substitute for the meetings of the gathered church. I agreed with Garry Williams’ piece on the Pastors’ Academy blog, The Lord’s Spper in Lockdown? No.
The Lord’s Supper is for the physically gathered church. I’m glad we celebrated Communion at our last meeting before social distancing measures kicked in. I look forward to meeting around the Lord’s Table with our fellowship when we are next together on a Sunday. Go Live, YouTube, Zoom, or Skype are no substitutes for the gatherings of the church. Bread and wine can’t be downloaded. As Garry puts it provocatively, ‘cyber suppers’ are ‘pseudo suppers’.
As for us, we are keeping well, practicing social distancing and frequent handwashing. We only leave the house when necessary to go to the shops or pharmacy. The floor of our local Tesco store has been marked out in a grid to ensure social distancing. It’s like being in a video game where other customers are zombie flesheaters, poised to devour you if you stray into their square. Government guidelines allow us to go outside for daily exercise. We have enjoyed some nice local walks. I’m a school governor and on Tuesday evening we had a virtual governors‘ meeting using the Windows’ Teams app, which seemed to work well. It was a nice slice of (almost) normality in these strange days.
The government is coming under increasing pressure over its handling of the coronavirus crisis. The NHS is not getting the equipment it needs and staff aren’t being tested in sufficient numbers. That said, a great job was done in opening the Nightingale Hospital in super quick time. PM Boris Johnson is continuing to self-isolate, as he still has symptoms of coronavirus. While some people are calling for even stricter social distancing measures, others are questioning whether the current lockdown is a proportionate response, given the likely economic and social consequences.
A steep economic downturn will lead to high unemployment, which leads to poverty, which in turn shortens life expectancy. Post-crash austerity may be nothing compared with the post-coronavirus cuts to public services. Without wealth generation nothing can be paid for. The government must give the NHS what it needs to cope with COVID19 cases, the most vulnerable should be sheltered, we should maintain social distancing and good hygiene, but leaving the economy in ruins would only serve to make a bad situation worse. The Times reports this morning that a key government advisor is calling for a ‘way out of lockdown‘. May the Lord grant the authorities the wisdom that they need to make the right calls, 1 Timothy 2:1-4.
The seriousness of the situation was brought home to me this week by the death of Norman Wells of coronavirus. Norman and I were students together at the London Seminary and he went on to become Director of the Family Education Trust. He was a serious minded and godly brother in Christ. See this report on the Christian Institute website. May our gracious God comfort Norman’s wife and family at this time.
Lord, have mercy.