The impact of COVID – 19 through the eyes of
Network Youth Church Leader, Chris Mason.

On the 23rd March 2020, the UK announced the strictest lockdown in living memory,
parties postponed, work suspended, families separated, shops closed, Church services

The last 'normal' week of Network Youth Church in the Windermere Deanery was surreal.
On Monday, 16th March, we had our final Youth café in Ambleside, taking the kids to the
park to play laser tag in a reasonably sterile environment. The relief when all the guns had
been collected and put in their cases was palpable. Offering the kids hot chocolate, the
final act of the night was now a meticulous operation. The doors shut, I said goodbye to
Brenda and Carole, who faithfully volunteer each week. I was relieved to get to the safety
of my car; I could breathe again.

The next day, I did an assembly at a local secondary school, I loved sharing the Easter
story with the kids, yet this was so different. 'Be careful not to go near people,' I said to
myself. Relief, as all the 200 young people sat more than a few metres away. Once
finished, I said thanks to the receptionist. Breathing the fresh Windermere air never felt
better once I stepped out of the glass-fronted doors.

In the evening, we had Soul in Staveley, the jam and toast no longer allowed, and
instead, we offered wrapped biscuits and hot chocolate in disposable cups. Everyone
sat a meter apart. Careful, do not touch anyone, wash hands, use anti-bacterial sanitizer.
Nervousness filled my head, yet I was sad to say goodbye to the kids. Relief embraced
me as I got back in the car; I could breathe. 'When will we see each other again?' I said
to myself.

As NYC leaders, we were supposed to be visiting the 'Message Trust' in Manchester for 36
hours away. Leaving on Friday and returning the next day. 'Help! I don't want to go.'
'Manchester is rife with COVID – 19,' I was told. The thought of travelling with my fellow
NYC leaders filled me with fear, travelling, eating together, meetings now unpalatable, I
cannot possibly go, but I will if I must. 'Phew,' on Wednesday, I find out it was cancelled.
So was the rest of my week, the two remaining assemblies at the school were called off,
schools were going into lockdown.

Then came the message from the Diocese and most workplaces across the country, we
are to work from home and cancel, well almost everything. The NYC leader's meeting
was to be held on 'Microsoft teams. 'What on earth is that?' I thought. 'Its video
conferencing,' I am told. 'Video conferencing,' help I can't stand speaking to people
online, how embarrassing, I don't know what to say,' I thought.
It wasn't too bad in the end and being able to mute people was quite refreshing 😊, not
that I did.
Then came the message from Boris – Lock Down!

Everything that we hold dear, our friends, work, shopping, family all had to be put on
hold. Home now a sanctuary the kids off school; no one knows when they will return. An
hour of exercise allowed each day. We dare not go to the shops, so a midnight trawl of
the internet to get a good delivery slot became a weekly fixture. Seeing people in the
street was now a threat; instead of a cheery 'hello,' we turn our backs on one another.
The world had changed overnight.
So, what was next!

At Network Youth Church, we knew that the world kept turning, and people carried on
living; it was just that it was all behind closed doors. Suddenly young people are allowed
double or treble the amount of time on Fortnite; Netflix was the go too app. The world
was baking; the internet trawl found no sugar, flour or baking powder.

What about young people?
As NYC, all the leaders responded in diverse ways; some of us recorded daily YouTube
clips, even eating chillies to give the young people something to laugh at. Daily
challenges were introduced, and before long young people across Cumbria were being
asked to make a cup of tea for their parents or guardians. Facebook, Instagram, Tick
Tock, and YouTube was suddenly alive with all sorts of creative ideas to keep young
people in the loop and Intune with God.

Many of us, including me, set up zoom groups so that our already established groups
could meet, not in person, or over a hot chocolate, but online. At first, they came in their
droves to come and say hello. As the weeks went by and the sun got warmer, more of
them chose to stay outside, but many stuck with it. When the last group finished at the
end of July, I received a card from a young person who was so appreciative of the time
and effort we had put in. He loved meeting each week, and it kept him sane. The fact is
that for a core group of young people, Network Youth Church has been a lifeline across
Cumbria. Lives that have been put on hold have been enriched by the contact and the
love of NYC leaders and volunteers. This has made the last 5 months although
desperately hard so precious as we have been able to throw a huge lifeline for young
people who would have otherwise been lost and isolated

What the future holds we do not know? We keep talking about the 'new normal,' but I
am not sure that anyone knows what that is. What is clear is that through this pandemic,
young people have suffered, and there is a allot of catching up to be done. Please pray
for the young people as they step back on to the eggshell laden road of life. Pray too for
Network Youth Church as we stand alongside them, encouraging and equipping as we
muddle through this together. Pray that God will move in the large things and the small;
I am so grateful that he is on this journey with us, and I am excited as to what is next.
The autumn will bring fresh challenges. Isaiah 41 v 10 says - So do not fear, for I am with
you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will
uphold you with my righteous right hand.

God has taught me over lockdown to trust and depend on him, fear gets me nowhere,
and as life continues and as this pandemic rumbles on, he has got each one of us young
and old in his hand. We need to be wise and careful, but as God told Joshua in Joshua
1 v 9 we are to be 'strong and courageous' as we continue to take the message of Jesus
out into the communities. I look forward to seeing what God does through me, my fellow
NYC leaders, and the rest of the church as we point people to Jesus in what is now a
completely different world.