Notes from a North Wales pastor
Nestled on the edge of beautiful Snowdonia you’ll find our small gospel church. In the summer, we are often blessed to have many Christians from churches all over the United Kingdom join us as they take holidays in the area. I love my after church chats with folks finding out about their churches back home, and it’s been a real joy to hear of the opportunities that churches have had to connect with their communities and evangelise as a result of the pandemic. The thrill and resolve of brothers and sisters who are fired up to take the gospel into this new situation really resonates with me, and I long for myself and our fellowship to enter into that.
However, as I stare at my laptop screen on a slightly gloomy Monday morning in October and try to take stock of things, it is the challenges that seem more apparent right now. It is not as if there are no encouragements and nothing to give thanks for. Far from it! By God’s grace, as a church we have been kept through the last eighteen months. The Word has been preached and we’ve sought to glorify Jesus in our lives. We’ve had online services which have been attended by many outside our fellowship, including local people.
I’m encouraged by how our Sunday school and toddlers group have kept going in creative ways, including meeting in the park. We’ve even seen a couple of families come to church once or twice because of this. I think the pandemic has caused each of our members to focus on their immediate local area and relationship with their neighbours, which is encouraging.
I’m also encouraged by those in our church who commit weekly to evangelising in the open air in Pwllheli and Porthmadog and by the member who organised food collections for a local food bank. I need to remember the Lord’s goodness that in the last two years, we have seen one of our members called, trained for ministry, and now serving as a pastor of a small rural Mid Wales baptist church and longing to reach out to that community with the gospel.
The last eighteen months have shown me that our members have a deep compassion for the lost, and a real desire to reach out with the gospel to our community. Added to that, being largely confined to the village means that I definitely feel more rooted in the place I’ve been called to and there are many more people that I’m able to greet and relate to in some way.
All of this is heartening and I believe there are opportunities for us in post-pandemic North Wales. Many local people are appreciative of anything that encourages community and getting together, particularly those things which help children and young people. Many people speak about the stress and uncertainty of the last eighteen months and these are areas that, with the Lord’s help and blessing, a live gospel community of whatever size should be able to demonstrate a tangible difference in. We need to believe, as gospel churches, that God has raised us up ‘for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14). Yet, I need to face squarely the challenges.
Challenges and opportunities
People often speak about how many of those most involved in the church are getting increasingly older and frail. Our building has seen some deterioration over the lockdown and we are faced with the perennial question. Shall we seek an accessible location elsewhere (which in hilly Snowdonia is easier said than done!) or shall we spend out to do it up? I guess this has been a big discouragement for many of our members, yet there has been blessing in this as we’ve had encouraging congregations during the summer as we’ve worshipped in the village hall.
We have had physical services for a while now, but for a variety of reasons not everyone has returned to regular Sunday worship and when it comes to organising outreach meetings, it feels like every move you make has got to be covered in several layers of risk assessment! We still feel quite cautious and frail about the Covid-situation. We long to be cutting through with the gospel in our community: having meaningful gospel conversations, making opportunities to show the beauty and relevance of the Lord Jesus to ordinary people, but sometimes it feels like we have a long way to go. As a pastor, I often feel I’m only just beginning to learn what it is to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ (2 Tim. 4:5).
However, even on a gloomy wet Monday, I find that by the Lord’s grace I am willing and eager to keep pressing on, to learn and do what it takes to make disciples in this new context. It is vital we get the bulk of the church praying together and calling on the Lord for his help and blessing and I’m excited that we are restarting a physical weekly prayer meeting this week. It is vital we try to be creative in our evangelism, trying new things to reach new groups of people and I’m excited that we are holding a meeting at the end of October on the gospel and climate change. It is vital that, as a pastor, I am asking for help and input from the whole congregation, not seeking to do it all on my own and it is vital that I am meeting with folks in the church to encourage them and hear about the opportunities and challenges in their own personal witness.
We need all the help we can get, and I am excited to plug into the Passion for Life mission over Easter and use some of their excellent training resources. It is vital that I commit to preaching the Word, being ready ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Tim. 4:2). Above all, it is vital that we look to our great Lord and Saviour, Jesus, for life and strength. We can formulate plans but without him we can do nothing. I’ve been struck by Isaiah’s rebuke of Hezekiah making plans to defend Jerusalem from attack: ‘..but you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago’ (Is. 22:11).
Whatever the opportunities and challenges that face us because of the pandemic, our great God has done this, he planned it long ago. Let’s look to him in humble, dependent faith.