View from the Front Line

2nd Nov 2020

Running a Group over lockdown is proving to be one of the biggest challenges ever in our long history but, thanks to your prayers and a lot of hard work from Leaders, a number of Groups are managing to persevere and even thrive over this time. Brian Spurling, Urban Saints’ Training Development Leader, is also a Leader of Exeter Stoke Valley Urban Saints. He explains how their Group adapted over the spring and summer.

When the lockdown was announced back in March, I had the feeling it could last a long time, so our leadership team began to plan how we could keep our Group running online at least until July, and on into the autumn term if needed. We quickly came up with over 30 ideas for games and activities we could do online via Zoom and were ready to start the week after lockdown began. Our usual Group night saw us holding two back-to-back hour-long sessions for Primary and Secondary age groups. The meetings started with a chat about how the week had been and then we ran a series of short games and activities such as charades, Pictionary, humorous YouTube clips and origami, ending with a simple biblical reflection and prayer to help us cope with life during lockdown—the new video resources provided by Urban Saints were really helpful for this.

Every month we held a ‘special event’ with the Group, and we enjoyed a farm trip (with a local friendly farmer giving  us a tour of his animals live via his phone), a visit to Mars (starting with a video clip going up in a space rocket followed by space-themed games and quizzes), and we even celebrated Christmas in the middle of June!

I had collected all the sweets from our tuck shop in the school where we usually meet, and we posted the chocolate and sweets out as prizes each week. It was wonderful to hear from parents how eagerly anticipated a pack of chocolate buttons in a padded envelope was for their children!

Having been a Leader back when Crusaders used to give out certificates for attendance after ten weeks, we sent a really smart looking certificate to all the Group members for attending ten weeks at our ‘new’ online Group! It was great to see them holding them up the next week. We also sent them a set of magnetic words that could be made into short prayers.

Despite the success of the Group over these weeks, the sad thing was that we didn’t manage to keep everyone with us. Some of the young people never joined in and several dropped out during the lockdown period. We’re still in touch with all the parents via email so we’re praying that maybe they will join in again during the autumn term. On the plus side though, a young person who had not been able to attend for a year due to illness was able to join us on Zoom and it was such a pleasure to see them engaging with their friends again.

As for going forward, with the new social gathering rules we are now gearing up to keep going online until Christmas and well beyond if necessary. We don’t know if this will continue to be successful but we’ve a few new activities planned, such as a Leader knocking on a random door of a young person during the Zoom calls with a live (socially distanced!) doorstep challenge, and we’ve added some new games to our growing list. A new stock of chocolate is also ready to be posted out as are the 25-week certificates!

It’s been hugely time-consuming running the online Group and has cost a small fortune in chocolate and postage stamps! However, it is really worth it to keep in touch with the young people and their families and to have played a small part in supporting them through this most difficult time.

Please keep praying for the thousands of leaders on the ‘front line’ that we would have the energy and ideas to keep going, and do pray also for the young people we meet each week online, many of whom are struggling to make sense of the strange new world we find ourselves in.

Parents often said our Group was a highlight of their children’s week. Here are two texts typical of those we received:

‘It has been such a vital part of her week having the Zoom calls and she looks forward to it every week, so thanks to you and all your team.'

‘Really well done and thanks to you all for organising the group. He loved the session and is excited for next week.'

Brian Spurling
Training Development Leader