New places. New things
During lockdown I took to walking and in doing so discovered places I never knew existed - places of stunning beauty hidden away only a few minutes from my home. One of my favourite walks is what is locally known as, ‘the circle’ and if I get my timing just right I can go and lean up against a certain tree and watch the sunset on a good day. Of course, it’s not just the sunsets that have made my walks special, it’s also the opportunity to clear my head and have honest conversations with God, and more importantly to spend time listening to him.
Over the last months so many of us have been experiencing new things. At times life seems unrecognisable and we find ourselves appreciating things closer to home, as well as prioritizing relationships in our lives that really matter. Because relationships are so valuable to us, we have found ways to grow and deepen them even if that has meant learning how to do things we have never done before.
God at work in new ways
Since returning to work from furlough I have been blessed to hear how God has been working in and through the lives of so many women throughout our congregations. Stories of how God has used his people to bring real blessing to those whose lives have been turned upside down, to those who are walking through the valley and to those who are lonely.
I recently heard a story of how one PW group set up a WhatsApp group for their women during lockdown. They shared ideas on how to keep busy, prayer requests and updates on how people were doing. Sadly, during this time one of the women lost her husband and so the others were able through this group to pray for and support her. Moved by her loss, one of the group members asked the Lord what she could possibly do to encourage her friend at this time. As she prayed, she felt God encouraging her to use what she had. As a pianist she decided to play a hymn, have it recorded and put it on the group chat as a way of getting alongside the lady who had been bereaved. So many were encouraged and blessed by one woman stepping out to do something she had never really done before.
Other groups have tentatively discovered how to have their group meeting online or to do one to one Bible studies via Zoom, or take socially distanced prayer walks in the woods. Others have written poems, baked cakes, and sung in virtual choirs. The list is endless but the outcome has been the same – women have been strengthened and encouraged in their walk with God at a time they have needed it most.
Refined side by side
As God’s people we have had to hone in on the essentials of our faith holding firmly to him, knowing that in all of this he is still the one true God who is worthy of all our praise. Whether it’s been on the phone, Zoom, YouTube, Facebook or What’s App we have had to be intentional about coming alongside each other to show our love, as well as to celebrate what God is still doing among us in this very different year of 2020.
As we look back we can see how God has been helping us to prioritise what is of real value. He has given us tools to develop and grow our faith despite the fact that we have been apart physically. As we look forward we want to continue with Him as he helps us refine how we do ministry among women.
This time last year a series of women’s ministry regional events moved around four different venues, gathering over eight hundred women to launch a new initiative called Side by side. Through these events we aimed to encourage women to think differently about women’s ministry in their congregations and to inspire one another to develop and go deeper in our relationships with other women at different stages of their life in Christ.
It seems ironic that since then we have had to work so hard to find ways of overcoming social distancing to draw side by side one another. But surely now more than ever, we need to be side by side in new ways, we need to think differently, refining all that we do, as we home in on what God is teaching us. Maybe this is especially a time for us to lean close to God and hear how he might want to refine women’s ministry in our congregations.
The phrase ‘side by side’ is taken from a couple of verses in Philippians:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27)
help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel (Philippians 4:3).
When this letter was written its aim was to strengthen young believers who were being persecuted. It’s a book of encouragement, it contains not a single word of rebuke. Some examples -
therefore encourage one another with these words. (4:18)
therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (5:11)
encourage the fainthearted. (5:14).
Growing through the glowing
We can’t imagine what it was like for the believers in the early church whose lives were literally at risk because of their love for Jesus. But it was under such conditions that the church grew and flourished. Paul knew all about being under pressure and locked up, but it was in prison he wrote letters of encouragement that still speak to Christ’s followers across our world today.
So, let’s prioritise and find ways to encourage and build each other up in faith even in these strange days. Let’s ask God to refine us, remembering that as the refiner's fire glows, it purifies, it melts down the bar of silver or gold, separating out the impurities that undermine its value, burning them up, and leaving only what is of worth intact. As we do so, God will strengthen, encourage and grow his church no matter where we are, or what we are going through.
Renewed focus. Fresh resources
Over the last weeks there has been a fresh focus on updating, connecting and communicating with women’s groups throughout PCI. The PW webpage has also been refreshed to offer ideas of how we can come alongside each other safely in women’s ministry, as well as offering the new 2020/22 Inspirations Side by side resource, containing lots of ideas for gathering either physically or digitally, available for free download. Why not take time to find out more here.
Pauline Kennedy is PCI's Women's Ministry and PW Development Officer.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.
Visit the Refined hub here.