Being asked to recall and reflect on the events of the Covid pandemic and the various resulting lockdowns might feel like a painful exercise in mental archeology. Aren’t these memories best left buried underground? you may wonder. I know my wife would much rather forget the trauma of being confined to our house while nominally homeschooling our various small children! However, there is great value in remembering the painful past because often it is only with hindsight that we can see God’s various providential kindnesses.

For example, in Psalm 77, Asaph sings with brutal honesty about his experience of suffering and sleepless nights. But by the end of the song, he finds comfort in recollecting how God rescued Israel out of slavery: Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (77:19). Asaph observes how God decided to take His people, not around the swirling chaos, but through it. With hindsight he also sees what was completely unseeable at the time – that their God was right there with them in the midst of it. By way of parallel, this was our experience at Christ Church Balham during the pandemic.

Provision in captivity

Looking back now, I see the Lord’s hand in providing for us in that first lockdown. A few months before it was announced, a young man called Sean joined our church who happened to have all the tech skills needed to get us going quickly on live-streaming. What a God-send he was! Instead of changing the format of our online services to something simpler and shorter, we decided to keep things just as they would be if they were happening in person, with 30-minute sermons. At the time, we questioned whether this was wise, but in retrospect, many in the church were grateful that instead of having milk’ there was solid food’ to help sustain them.

Furthermore, the fact that nearly everyone in our fellowship was already in a midweek Connect Group before the pandemic meant that we had pastoral systems in place for spiritual encouragement, practical help (such as food deliveries), and social time outside together. We tried to help those who were living alone to move in with families so they wouldn’t have to completely forgo human interaction, which was a cause of depression and anxiety for so many.

Incarnate love

Along with every other church in the land, our elders team had to make some tough decisions about exactly how and when to return out of lockdown. Given all the unknowns at the time about the virulence of Covid-19, we questioned whether we should be loving our church by prioritising their physical health, or their spiritual and mental wellbeing. Looking back, I’m sure we made some bad calls, but the benefit of having an elders team made up of diverse characters struck a balance among our most cautious and the most gung-ho’ when it came to our decision-making.

We implemented a plan which would act within the law, but do as much as possible to continue fellowship in person. Pre-lockdown, we met at a theatre, but our landlords allowed us to move into their sports hall, which enabled the entire fellowship to gather together with social distancing in place. Again, what a God-send!

With hindsight, we can thank God for not airlifting us out of the pandemic, but graciously walking with us through it, all so that His kingdom purposes might prevail.

Singing in the rain

It was not all easy. Along with everyone else, extended time inside wearing face masks is no fun, especially for glasses wearers like me! The sports hall was absolutely freezing in the winter months. I recall one memorable Sunday when I was preaching with a howling blizzard going on outside, and all the doors of the sports hall had to be wedged open to allow air flow! Once singing became allowed again (and how strange it was to be the first generation in 2,000 years not to be able to sing together), we did so together outside at the start and end of our service. It often rained on us, but our spirits were not dampened – it was a privilege to be able to lift praises to the Lord. Indeed, some of our neighbours heard our singing and joined us as a result!

Idea Balham images 2

Unexpected growth

Perhaps the greatest blessing of all looking back at that time was how the Lord clearly grew us in so many ways. He certainly grew us in love for one another and many realised how vitally important their church family was for the first time. But most unexpectedly, the Lord added to our number.

A Portuguese couple called Mario and Vanessa had stumbled across our sermons on YouTube and were soundly converted despite never actually having been to church in person. We knew nothing about them until they rocked up for the first time on Good Friday. It has been a joy to watch them discover the church family they had been adopted into through faith in Christ.

With hindsight, we can thank God for not airlifting us out of the pandemic, but graciously walking with us through it, all so that His kingdom purposes might prevail. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” (Psalm 77:19)


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