Discipleship in Households

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


Starting Spiritual Disciplines

We are living in unprecedented times with the pandemic shutting down much of our daily lives. There are, of course, some for whom this is an enormously busy time – especially the emergency services and NHS. For others life has slowed right down. Shut at home and with little outside contact.

For those in lockdown, now is the time that we can start to do something that can start to transform our Spiritual lives. The normal busyness of life and where to start stops many from practising what are collectively called Spiritual Disciplines. How do we form practises that will help us grow Spiritually and deepen our understanding and faith.

Taking our first steps can be daunting and bewildering, especially for those who have never practised these before and this is aimed at those who would like some guidance on how to start. One of the key things to note is that different people need to do things in different ways. Some people like the framework of liturgy, some like the support of notes and some just want to read and reflect prayerfully. In addition there is the question as to whether you are doing this on your own or with others – a friend, a partner, a family.

Before getting into the “what do I do” lets think about where and when.

Finding the right time and place

There is no overall right time, there is only the time that you can do and that works for you (each person has a different cycle as to when they are most alive). Some ideas (but remember to look at your own rhythm and see what works for you

  • First thing in the morning. You could make a cup of tea or coffee and take time to start the day
  • Find a natural break in the day. Maybe at a natural mid morning time or at lunchtime
  • Early evening. If you have been doing some things in the day then an early evening might work for you
  • As you go to bed. Some people find that this works for them as they are relaxing

If after a few days it doesn’t quite work then review the time and see if you need to make changes. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference.

Who are you doing it with

Some people will be wanting to do this on their own, others will be doing it with others in their house. Who you do it with alters what you do. For example:

  • If you do it on your own then you are likely to want to find a place where you don’t want to be disturbed. This might mean using a bedroom or a place where people know to give you space. There is a famous story of Susanna Wesley (the mother of the famous preacher John Wesley) who had a large family and told her children not to interrupt as she prayed with an apron over her head!
  • You may have others in your household who would like to join you. Agree a time and a place that works best for everyone. Compromises may need to be made! if someone is working from home then it may need to have some flexibility
  • If you have a young children then you are likely to have to often have times of chaos when you do this together. It is more important that the children see you take it an important part of the routine of your life rather than it is quiet and reverential!

What should I/we do??

There are lots of resources on the Internet that you can search down. These are just a very few ways of getting you started.

If you like structure and a liturgical way of praying together or on your own then there is the Church of England’s Daily Office. The daily office is the standard way to read the scriptures and pray that is used by thousands of people. It has as part of it, daily scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments, prayers and time to reflect.To access this online you can either use the Church of England Website or download the Daily Prayer App from your smartphone’s app store for free

Holy Trinity Brompton have produced a very popular Bible app that aims to help you read the Bible in a year and has commentary against each of the readings. You can access it via their website where you can also subscribe to their daily emails. Again they have an app that you can download from your smartphone’s app store for free

If you have young children then think about how you might include some singing and create a structure that would help them to engage. It could include some drawing or banging pans to music. Depending on the age of the children you could try having children finish a sentence “Thank you God for….” or “Please help…..” There are whole load of resources for young families and some good examples that occur that you can join in with. The Diocese has put up a lot of resources on a separate page on the website.

A call to action

It would be great to hear what you have found works and what else you can suggest that has helped you to start to pray and grow in your faith. Do let us know and feedback so we can help each other to grow in our faith and journey with Christ.