Missionaries Paul & Marjorie Dowling report from Châteauroux
As Burns famously said “the best laid plans o’ mice an’ mengang aft agley”. Or, as the even older saying goes, “Man proposes, God disposes”. In the last issue of France Mission Perspectives, we laid out our plans for our retirement and move back to the UK, blissfully unaware of the dramatic impact that the Covid-19 virus was going to have just a few weeks later. Late on the evening of Saturday 14th March we learnt that all church services were banned in France with immediate effect (including those planned for the following day!) and from lunchtime on Tuesday 17th the country went into lockdown. You know the rest!
The most immediate impact of the crisis was to put all our careful handover plans on hold. In the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, Paul had to take back the reins and try and steer the church through this challenging period. He began by preparing short daily video messages, posted on YouTube (bit.ly/300BUMa) – and church members found this very reassuring. He kept this up until the end of lockdown on 11th May. He also prepared the first online services – pre-recorded messages put on a playlist, also on YouTube, and interspersed with worship songs from YouTube. This seemed to work well for us. Once a fortnight we followed the online service with a virtual apéro on Zoom to give a bit of interactivity and this, too, was appreciated. We have also held our church council meetings and midweek meetings on Zoom – Tuesday evening prayer and share and Wednesday morning (fortnightly) English conversation. These, too, have been well appreciated and have permitted a number who could not easily have been present in person to take part – something to keep in mind for the future.
Gradually, over time, other team members have started to put together online services and go in front of the camera. It’s been great to see their creativity and to see whole families taking part, including children. It seems likely that this period will have brought about a sea change in the way the church does Sunday services, especially as our departure will reduce considerably the size of the team available. And we’ve been amazed at the number of times some of our video services have been viewed – nearly 600 for the Easter one! Again, a pointer for the future.
In fact, lots of good things have come out of this challenging period. Doing meetings by Zoom has allowed the couple who will replace us next year to begin to get involved in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The church voted for them at the AGM by Zoom on 17th May but we can’t yet tell you their names because, quite reasonably, they feel that this is not the right time to tell their church that they’re going to leave. So, watch this space! We can say that they’ll need to raise some financial support as the church can only promise to fund them to 50%, so, if you might be able to help, please contact Paul Cooke (email@example.com). Thank you.
As far as our own plans are concerned, obviously we didn’t get to the UK in April to house-hunt, but our son managed to look at a couple of potential houses to let before the UK went into lockdown and made videos of them for us. We decided to take one, sight unseen and moved in on 23rd June. Our biggest regret is that we weren’t able to have the big leaving party that we’d planned. We hope perhaps to come back once things have settled down and have a more satisfactory farewell. We’ll let you know!