As I read these Easter days the book of the Acts of the Apostles, my attention is drawn to something which I might have overlooked before: the conversion of “households”. There are a number of them. In fact, read carefully, I discovered that the conversion itself is the final point of a wider experience of faith which is lived within the household. We have the story of Cornelius, the Centurion, on Acts 10, who “feared God with all his household”, and following a vision, sends for Peter who comes to preach to them. The household gathers: “all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” (10:33) After listening together, the Holy Spirit comes upon each one of them and each member of the household is baptized.
This is not the only experience of faith of a household in the Book of Acts. We have Lydia and her household (16:11-15), the Roman Jailer and his household (16:25-34) and Crispus and his household (18:1-11). The case of the Roman Jailer contains an extra detail. Paul seems to highlight the importance of faith in the household when he tells the jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (16:31)
I have the suspicion that there are only a few of many other similar experiences.
At St Matthew’s, the outbreak of Covid-19 gave us the opportunity to delve into this way of experiencing faith and being church. Live streaming of services through the internet, zoom gatherings and zoom prayer groups were welcomed by our members, as a way of keeping connected, together with “traditional” phone calls with those who are not technology savvy or who are not on social media.
What it soon sprang to mind was the question about discipleship. Maintaining similar levels of discipleship was going to be a great challenge. Most of our leaders are not used to using digital platforms for work or ministry, yet alone have the right technology and software to produce it. On the other hand, regularly producing materials for all of our groups was not something we considered to be sustainable.
We began a Bible Study group via whatsapp. This is not your traditional Bible Study group, as it finds some obvious limitations. We post four Bible Studies a week. They aim to provide the adults in the household with some tools to study, reflect and pray together around the particular passage of Scripture. We then provide a very simple guide on how the adults in the household can use that passage with the children of the household. This has had a very powerful effect both on the children and on the adults of the household. It has also led to a greater engagement of prayer within the family.
For the services of Holy Week we used materials for the adults to prepare with the children, and also creating some crafts that were incorporated into the service. For example, on Palm Sunday, we couldn’t make reach the families the Palms we would have used during the service, so the kids made them of paper, engaging the parents in explaining what they meant and then using them in the liturgy.
Through Holy Week, we invited our families to create a prayer space at home, that they would together decorate with symbols. For example, symbols of their choice for the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion on Good Friday and so on. This space was a place to come together several times a day to pray together as a family. This ended being particularly popular among the youngsters, so we have extended it through Easter, as we read the book of Acts.
We have now focused our Bible Study and additional children’s resources into these experiences of faith in households on the Book of Acts. We would like the families to reflect in what has been their experience of faith as a family so far in their lives, but also to beging reflecting and praying on what is this lockdown meaning for their experience of faith as a family.
Faith in the family has been part of the Church experience all along, but it could have been that in recent times it has been overlooked or put more into the background. It is too early to say, but it might have been that this pandemic has brought families closer in their experience of faith.
This is what some of our families have told us so far. Carolina says: “I’ve been a member of St. Matthews Church since this project started. It’s been difficult for me and my daughter to stop going to church and not sharing face to face with members of the congregation. However, Fr Hugo and Fr Antonio have made things easier for us by sending activities to do with children, Facebook live-streams, videos to watch, daily prayers to share with family and so on. I don’t feel lonely or away from church, just the way on how we proclaim the word of the Lord changed, but our faith, love, worship and connection is still there. I do really appreciate the big effort from priests to keep us engaged and connected in a new and innovative way, thank you!”
And Luisa Fernanda has told us: “Despite the chaos that the Covid-19 outbreak has caused, we are getting to think in new ways of being church and experiencing our faith. There is four of us at home, my husband, my two children and myself. We have created a prayer space at home and each day or few days we change the symbols we place on it. We use the readings of the daily Eucharist to create our symbols, which gives us the opportunity to continue to talk together of what we have heard and learn, but most of all, gives us the opportunity to pray together. We know that other members of the community are doing the same, and we swap pictures of what we create. This gives us a sense of community and belonging with each other, even from our own homes. As a family, we also wanted to reach beyond our doors, which is difficult because of the lockdown. So we are decorating our front door with hangings that show our faith and what we celebrate, just as you would do at Christmas, but right now. We are very thankful to our priests for the time they spend ministering for us in these circumstances, and also, for the materials that they produce and help us live our faith as a family, especially passing on our faith to the little ones. Our family is becoming closer and closer as we discover to be church within the household.
Fr Antonio García Fuerte, Associate Rector, Holy Trinity with St Matthew, Southwark