Easter in the ether

Filming from his home, Pastor Binh Nguyen has reaching his church through online sermons during the social isolation era. 

IT’LL be a very different Easter service for Sonlife church’s congregation this weekend as they log into an online sermon.

Sonlife’s senior pastor Binh Nguyen says leading a church through a pandemic never came up in seminary, and he’s had to think “how do we still have community and fellowship, and that ability for people to connect and check in?

“Unfortunately we cannot gather physically, but we still do digitally… 

We can connect online, see each others’ faces and pray for one another, check in and encourage each other, read the Bible together and still have that opportunity to connect digitally.

“We live in a time when technology is so advanced that we get to do this ‚Äì imagine if this took place 30 years ago.”

He has a church with plenty of young members who are good with technology: They already had a modern website and had been podcasting sermons, so were able to set up online streaming soon after social distancing rules came into effect.

Church members who aren’t as tech-savvy, particularly the elderly, still get a telephone call to check on them and share some prayers.

The church moved to its Oxford Street building in 2018, a fifth home after having started with about 13 people in Pastor Nguyen’s living room back in 2011. 

Pastor Nguyen says being unable to attend the building is not a barrier to worship.

“It’s never been about a building. I never say ‘come to church,’ I say ‘come to the church service. You are the church’,” he said. 

Sonlife members have had many questions during the past few weeks: 

“The big question is: Why? Why am I losing my job? Why isn’t there a vaccine? Why are people dying? The why question comes out when things like this happen. And the second question is ‘where?’ Where is God in all of this? Has God turned a blind eye? Has God left us?

“My answer to those questions has always been: God is sovereign and in control. Nothing escapes God, God is aware of everything, God knows what is happening. If you love and trust Him you know that whatever is happening to you while you’re alive is not final.

“Our hope is not rested on what happens in this lifetime. Our hope is not rested on shares, or bricks and mortar. Our hope is rested on Jesus alone. 

“If we know that we’ll be with Him forever… we can continue to keep moving forward.”

He says there has also been some positives coming out of the Covid-19 era: “It’s slowed society down, it’s slowed us all down. Being asked to stay at home, being encouraged for your kids to be out of school, to be given the flexibility to work from home: I feel it helps the family unit strengthen. Parents are learning to communicate with their kids and have more time with their kids.”

Pastor Nguyen says in the past few weeks “my sermons have been on future hope, and on perseverance, a message to help people keep moving forward”.

The church has also been holding daily “Midday Manna” streams, short online devotionals for people to watch over lunch while they’re staying at home.

For Easter services, “Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be at home. We’re going to have communion at home, we’re going to have singing of songs, I’ll be sharing a short message, we’ll have a testimony.”

As for communion: “It’s BYO! Bring your own cranberry juice… you find your own cracker or a piece of bread, and as you watch the service online via iPad or TV, we’ll direct you through the steps of holy communion..”

Pastor Nguyen says: “The day we get to come back physically, that’s going to be a party, that’s going to be a great glorious day, but until then this virus is not going to slow us down! This is not forever, this is not permanent.”

by DAVID BELL

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