This may sound like a ridiculous idea to some, perhaps even an idea contrary to basic Christian principles regarding ‘meeting together to fellowship’. After all, you may say, there’s a plethora of teaching on-line, why add to this overcrowded marketplace?
Thinking differently has always been our watchword at Foundations. Consider first the situation we are faced with, then the solution we propose. We are facing an unprecedented situation:
- A virus that preys mainly on the majority demographic of our conferences, for whom it can be deadly
- A virus that can spread like wildfire despite all precautions made
- A virus that is undetected in the first few days of infection, making it a silent disrupter
If F13 goes ahead we are responsible for the welfare of up to 100 people to leave their homes, perhaps travel in public transport, and enter a crowded conference centre at a time that is expected to be a peak danger period for the virus, when it is expected that we will be asked by the government to keep minimum distances between ourselves. It just takes one suspected infection in the whole conference centre (not just our group) to send us all into self-isolation for 2 weeks in fear and uncertainty, two human frailties guaranteed to hijack anything we are trying to create in our conference. We may be full of faith, but we all need to be prudent people with common sense. More importantly we must always be conscious of what God may be saying in all of this. And I believe that, for those booked up for Foundations 13, a crisis has been turned into a glorious opportunity that will hold us in good stead in years to come, way after the virus has burnt itself out!
What I believe God is saying is to create a model for Christian gatherings (‘spirit to spirit’ if not actual ‘flesh to flesh’) that may become the norm in the time when the Church may be forced underground. Our desire is to connect folks up, from home to home, to allow them to fellowship seamlessly and experience most of what we do at our gatherings, despite not having physical proximity and, in fact, doing much more that can’t feasibly be facilitated at a conference. God is present in all that we do and, although we may miss the hugs (probably prohibited anyway in the new climate!) we will actually be closer to the early Church, with the accent of small gatherings in familiar surroundings. So, how does this all work?
You need a PC/tablet/smartphone and an internet connection. You also need a safe ring-fenced place where you can cut yourself from the everyday concerns of home life. Preferably you can also have a few friends with you too. You click on a link (or two) on Friday at 6pm and … you have arrived at Foundations 13.
You would already have had a chance to participate in a training session to acquaint you with our system and, a week before the conference, have received a box of essentials to prepare you for the virtual conference. It is the beginning of Sabbath. You light a candle (along with everyone else in their homes). The flickering flames will fill your screen with lights kindled from all over the nation. You hear a prayer, you sip on some wine, wash your hands (singing a 20 second hymn perhaps) and have some cholla bread (that you may have baked yourself from a recipe already sent to you). Already you have modelled the early church and have done something impossible in a packed conference centre. Our worship team in Sheffield will play some songs and we all worship together in our homes. Prayers and exhortations will also be offered.
It is time for supper. You have a choice. You can move to your dining room and eat as you normally do. Or, you can eat in front of the screen, along with a group of conference buddies, who will join you in a ‘virtual’ room, where you can have fellowship. After supper we can all meet up together and the programme begins …
This is all possible. It is also possible to meet in virtual rooms for prayer, intercession, confession and workshops. You can learn to make things with your hands ‘Blue Peter’ style, or learn Hebrew or take part in a discussion, or play games together, or watch a dance workshop. This is all possible.
When the Bible says ‘they all met in each other’s homes’, they didn’t have the Internet and the idea of a National Church was unthinkable. We are still meeting in each other’s homes, we are just not physically close, yet this is the very thing that we are urged to refrain from health-wise, at the moment. Meeting virtually is not as alien and unnatural as it may seem. We have been using this technology for two and a half years now and it is totally natural once we realise that we are still, at the end of the day, real flesh and blood meeting together … just in a new way!
I believe that this conference will prove a watershed in the way we can interact and feed from God’s Word together. We will be true pioneers.