Norwich church gratefully leaves the wilderness
God’s provision during lockdown has been overwhelming for Oak Grove Community Church. Pastor Darren Woodward gives thanks for God’s goodness through a tough season.
Cast your minds back to the Mother’s Day weekend this March. We like every other place of worship were compelled to close our buildings as of that weekend in response to the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, some five months on, not much has changed. Whilst places of worship have been allowed to reopen for around six weeks now, what can actually happen within the building appears to bear little resemblance to what we have previously known and had got used to.
So here is a reflection on our continuing journey through lockdown to date and where we have seen God at work amongst us and in the community we serve.
Those first few weeks were mad, weren’t they? Figuring out the minefield of online church and attempting to remain connected when our formal meeting places had all been declared out of bounds. In addition, supermarket panic buying meant that none of us could get hold of pasta, hand soap, toilet rolls and many other items.
With this in mind and having some funding that had been underspent, we put together some simple care boxes for around 17 families that we had been working with through the Kids Matter Parenting Programme. They contained some basics as well as a few treats for the families. These were received gratefully and, upon securing further funding, we went on to deliver boxes of basics, treats, activities, crafts and all manner of other things to the families roughly fortnightly to the end of June.
We delivered again at the beginning of the summer holidays and the final (?) box delivery will take place this Friday. Feedback has been amazing, and it has been so rewarding to bring the love of Jesus in the form of practical support as well as joy into households and family life. These deepening relationships have also enabled us in our role as advocates for the online giving charity Acts 435 to secure funding for some of these families to obtain items such as a cooker, a child’s bed and a pushchair.
Alongside this work we successfully moved the Kids Matter Parenting Programme online through Zoom, maintaining contact with parents at exactly the time when stresses and strains were being exacerbated by life under lockdown. Funnily enough this third presentation of the programme for us has proved to be the most successful in terms of engagement and relationship building.
Further funding success has led to the establishment of a telephone befriending service in partnership with Linking Lives called Two’s Company. We have trained our first set of befrienders and already have four clients. We are also in the early stages of setting up a face-to-face befriending project amongst parents as restrictions allow, again in partnership with Linking Lives.
God’s provision has been overwhelming over lockdown for us. Our forecasted income streams were hit as for many others, but we have been successful in securing a number of small pots of funding as well as receiving some one-off gifts from our church members and some other unexpected giving too. God is good!
As we begin to emerge from lockdown we are in the position where we have been able to increase the hours of our Family Support Worker for the forthcoming year and also secure the future of our Money Advice Service. The government furlough scheme for us has proved helpful as we have managed to retain all of our existing staff too. Again, God is good!
Currently we are delivering a summer food project from our chapel building – takeaway lunches and activity bags for 16 local families (75 meals) twice per week throughout the summer holidays. It’s so good to be part of a greater project that is alleviating some of the food poverty of our city.
As perhaps our minds turn towards the future and re-establishing some form of gathered church, the challenge I believe is how we as the church continue to minister as we are scattered and not simply focus all of our energy, time and resources into the gathered expression of church. So watch this space!
Our thanks go to Norwich Foodbank, Norfolk Community Foundation, Norwich Opportunity Area, TLG Boxes of Hope, Samaritans Purse, Catton Grove Big Local, Greggs, Tesco, Morrisons, Kids Matter, all of our volunteers and our faithful church family who have got involved and supported us over the past few months.
Pictured above are the contents of one of the Oak Grove care boxes