You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. Rahm Emanuel
What a different year it has been! Although the pandemic has caused the doors of our church buildings in Area 5 to remain closed for the past seven months, it has given us the opportunity to do things and to influence the lives of people in our communities in ways we would not have thought possible had the crisis not arisen.
Here is a summary report of what each church in Area 5 within the North England Conference has been doing:
Bearwood church: The Bearwood church supported many disadvantaged and distressed people in the community during the lockdown through giving parcels of food. They have also helped their members and wider contacts to sustain spiritual well-being by delivering seminars on a fortnightly basis. These have included series on Revelation, Stewardship and Marriage. The church has a vibrant youth group. To support their youth, they teamed up with the Youth Ministries Department of the Coventry North church to host presentations that addressed timely topics pertinent to young people of today. At the height of the pandemic, they were streaming two presentations a week from their Zoom platform and now continue with a programme each Friday evening. Past guest presenters have included Dr Wesley Knight and his wife, Pastor Anthony Fuller and Dr Carlton Byrd, among others. On occasions the programme attracted audiences of over 300 onto their Zoom platform with more watching on Facebook and YouTube. All praise is given to God for this amazing ministry of our youth that is addressing the needs of young people far and wide.
Chelmsley Wood church: Homelessness among young people is a pressing need in the Chelmsley Wood area of the city. The Chelmsley Wood church helped to support this vulnerable population in their community by working with St Basils, which is a charity for homeless young people. They are now building this partnership further as one of their outreach ministries. Responding to the disruptions that the closure of schools had brought to the young people in their church, the church also ran an online Vacation Bible School over the summer to help the children prepare for schools reopening. Via a Webex platform, the children studied Maths, English and Bible knowledge and even did some physical exercises.
Dudley church: The members of Dudley church formed a Covid-19 Lockdown Response Team immediately the lockdown was announced. This initiative, entitled, 'We Can Help' aimed to help and support people who were self-isolating by delivering groceries or providing words of encouragement to help them to overcome feelings of loneliness. They also set their church hall up as a food bank which was opened to the community every Sunday, with the option to have groceries delivered to people's homes on request. The food bank was open to members and non-members alike and they provided cash support as per need. The church also distributed little books on 'The Power of Hope' and 'Health and Wellness' to homes in their local neighbourhood, as it was evident that many people were losing hope, and good nutrition and healthy lifestyle could lead to better outcomes in the face of Covid-19 infection. They also provided weekly soul-lifting programmes and between 30 August and 5 September, they hosted a one-week virtual revival series with speakers from across the globe.Erdington church: During the lockdown period, the Erdington church has used the Zoom platform to continue services online and from their communication team kept members informed of other church activities. When the lockdown was lifted their Family Ministries department visited the members to support their emotional and spiritual needs, as many of them had not had any personal contact for a long period of time. This was greatly appreciated by the members. Some of their members also help to organise food distribution in partnership with non-Adventist churches and the Aston-Newton Adventist church. Funds were also contributed to the Aston-Newtown church by members of the Erdington church to supply their food bank. Thinking of what they could do to lift the spirits of families in their neighbourhood during lockdown, one family from the Erdington church invited their neighbours to come out and sing with them on Easter Sunday. It was so successful, one neighbour sent a message saying, "it was really nice of you to organise and really lovely to see so many people out joining in." As a result the community singing continued as a regular activity for 3 months and became true street witnessing as they sang and spoke about the love of God.Halesowen Central church: Throughout the pandemic, Halesowen Central church has delivered a range of ministries to provide encouragement and support to people of all ages. At the beginning of the year, the church had established an academy to provide extracurricular support for children. The project was led by Pastor Obinnaya Iheoma who donned his former teaching hat to deliver weekly Mathematics classes for KS3-4 children. When lockdown began, the classes were moved online and by recruiting the voluntary support of other qualified teachers from churches across the city, the academy has now increased the syllabus offered to include tutoring in English, Maths, Science and French. Currently, 25 students are registered and attend on a regular basis. Throughout the pandemic, the church has continued a weekly series of programmes to support the spiritual growth and well-being of its members and friends.
Handsworth church: From the very outset of the pandemic the Pathfinders and Children's Ministries departments set about to help the community. What began as a house-to-house delivery to just a few, has grown to a weekly food distribution based at the church. Approximately 70 families are now helped with the tangible love of Jesus each week. Every Sunday at 11:30 am the queue starts to form from the church gates as people await the 12:00 pm opening. Stories abound from families reporting that the leaflet through the door was the direct and immediate answer to prayer. Some families have shared their own surplus from other sources with the food bank as a way of saying thank you. Members contribute financially, from their allotments and others purchase food to donate on a regular basis. Each bag also receives literature and details of the church.
Kings Norton church: Kings Norton church was actively involved in food distribution during the lockdown. They started by providing food parcels for 12 families monthly but as need increased during the pandemic, they sought ways to increase this support. With help from an external charity they were able extend this ministry and have now supported over 25 families on a weekly basis for about 3 months. Some of their members also helped the elderly in the community with garden clearance and assisted vulnerable people with shopping. During the latter part of the lockdown, the church presented a 3-week evangelistic series over Zoom entitled: 'Secrets of Prophecy'. As a result of the campaign, 4 people came forward for baptism. With pools and churches closed, social distancing measures in place and the pastors on furlough, Alison and Daley Thompson were baptised by the elders in a pool in their garden, whilst the congregation of family, friends, well-wishers and the Kings Norton church members watched via Zoom. The baptism was also streamed on Facebook, receiving many viewings. Georgina Mendez was later baptised in a church hall with family present and the 4th candidate awaits baptism soon.
Ladywood church: The Ladywood Seventh-day Adventist church has also been working hard to support the physical and emotional needs of its community. The 'Ladywood Labour of Love Foodbank', which started in January 2011 has operated throughout the pandemic and now includes a delivery service. In April they also began a Shopping Ministry to support residents in a local retirement village who were affected by the lockdown and their Personal Ministries Department set up a chatline to provide a Befriending Ministry to those who were feeling lonely or needed someone to talk to. This service was offered to the Retirement Village and those in the Ladywood area. As lockdown restrictions were lifted, the church started a Clothing Ministry that currently runs on the last Friday of every month. Those in need can come and select clothing. Their Men's Ministries Department also started a voluntary Gardening Ministry offering gardening services to those who are in need and unable to undertake the task.
Northfield church: Northfield church has been active in community support throughout the pandemic. The church provided food support for 36 families registered on 'The Path Finder Project' and 'The Spring Housing Project' by donating gift vouchers which can be exchanged for food. They are thankful for the donations from members and the 10% return from their 2019 ADRA Annual Appeal which enabled them to fund this programme.
Winson Green church: Members of the church have been distributing food to people in their community who have lost jobs and incomes, because of the pandemic.
Area 5 churches together: During the lockdown, the churches in Area 5 have begun to work more closely together, sharing advice and expertise to establish online platforms for worship, sharing speakers and partnering to deliver outreach projects. In May and June, the Erdington, Halesowen Central and Northfield churches enrolled as distribution sites for Lush products which had been shared with ADRA by the Kindness Offensive. Small teams at the churches packaged the fragrant, natural cosmetics into attractive gift bags together with tracts and details about their churches. They distributed the bags to various people in their local communities who had been helping others during the pandemic, such as: nurses, workers in care homes, GP practices and pharmacies, teachers, shop assistants and volunteers, as well as people who were sick or isolated. The bags were a big surprise to recipients. Smiles of joy and gratitude were exchanged and several wrote to express their sincere appreciation.During the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, medical students Jemima Naambo and Helen Gaynor from the University of Birmingham's Adventist Students on Campus Society together with Area coordinator and University Chaplain, Pastor Obinnaya Iheoma, and Hannah and Louisa Jeffery, who work at the University's Medical School, enlisted the support of the Area 5 churches to raise money to put a novel form of personal protective equipment (PPE) into care homes to reduce the spread of Covid-19 infection amongst the most vulnerable in the community. The new PPE device, called an AerosolShield, had been designed and developed by specialists in medical devices at the University of Birmingham. As well as helping to raise funds, Area 5 churches identified the care homes in their districts that required support and helped to distribute the AerosolShields to them. In total the project raised over £9000, which was sufficient to purchase and package 200 devices that were distributed to 21 care homes according to bed-size. Very warm responses of appreciation were received from most of the homes. The area is now looking for ways to build stronger lasting connections with them.