Coming Back Together

A few weeks ago, Pastor Chris spoke about tapping deeper into the spiritual well which we do by coming together again as a church family. As we encourage people to return to church and get back into community, Hoboken Grace is expanding in-person services, using the Lawn for more connection opportunities, and promoting in-person serving and teams again. We are seeking to love each other well through connecting in-person again in a safe and responsible manner. 

The Story Team recently sat down with one of our own to speak to Al from the Photography Team to discuss how he was able to serve this year and what it has been like since he’s returned to serving in person. 

Story Team: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Al: I’m from England originally. We’ve been in the US for 5 ½ years now. We left England close to 10 years ago and moved to France for a few years, mainly for my wife’s job, and then had the chance to come to the US. We started coming to Hoboken Grace a few weeks after moving over here and liked it straight away.

Story Team: Why did you join a team?

Al: I’m a photographer, so I’m part of the Communications Team at Hoboken Grace. I had never really heard of a church having photographers, never mind a photo team. I saw a photographer in one of the services and got in touch with someone from the team and said if you have a need, let me know if I can help. I’ve been on the team about 5 years now and it’s just been great. 

Story Team: Have you been able to serve during the pandemic?

Al: Early on, all of us were figuring out how to do things, how to adapt, how to change things. We started photographing as much as we could to represent the online activities. There’s a picture of my daughter sitting in front of our TV with some soft toys next to her that’s been used a fair bit. I guess we were all photographing what was around us before we could really get out and interact with other people. We did a little bit for promotions, the Threshold series. But it’s way more limited – normally we’d be photographing every Sunday and those connection events. Going from that it was suddenly really quiet.

Story Team: So you’ve found some ways in the beginning to continue to serve. Is it getting better now that we’re doing more things in person?

Al: Yeah, absolutely. When the Lawn started up, we started photographing that as we would normally do for services at 301 Garden. It’s great that we had that space and services which gave us some kind of “back to normal” ability to serve. 

The other photographers went back to in-person services certainly before I did. We were talking as a family as to what we were comfortable with but I didn’t believe that was the right approach. Comfort shouldn’t be our primary goal and characteristic, but there’s also an element that I didn’t want to do something that my family wasn’t happy with. 

It’s been a case for me of wanting to love best, and that includes my family alongside service and trying to understand what God wants. I don’t think He wants family division or for me to step away from family and them to feel like they’re being put at risk by something that I’m doing.

Story Team: Of course! Everyone went through the same thought process. There were so many questions and no one had any answers. What ultimately made you decide to come back to in-person services?

Al: My wife and I started conversations about if there was a point we wanted to consider going back as a family. I photographed the Christmas Exchange, which was the first time I had been into 301 Garden since February or March last year.

Story Team: What was that like?

Al: I had photographed the event 3 or 4 times before, and I knew it was going to be well organized. I know how good the leadership are in terms of loving the community. I felt privileged as a photographer to be able to record those moments and see the sheer joy and amazement on people’s faces. 

Those are really special moments and they’re not easy to photograph since they happen so quickly. It’s like photographing baptisms. I genuinely feel privileged to be up there and close to those moments of real life experience. On Sundays, I love photographing as much as I love being in the service. It doesn’t feel like work – I love being able to give something if I can. 

Story Team: What did it feel like your first time coming back to in-person service? 

Al: Going there in person, the difference struck me more. I loved being back to serve, and initially it was missing serving like I had before – I’ve always been part of a team and it was great to be back alongside them, particularly on Easter Sunday. I realized how it’s a different experience. The songs and the Starting Point promo visuals – I thought it was amazing. It was a really special time to be there and I realized how much I appreciated it. I also realized I had my first hug from a non-family member for the first time in 12 months! In some ways, it’s the small steps, but it does feel pretty significant to be there. 

Story Team: So what does your wife think about coming back to services?

Al: She very much appreciates the family experience of us all going together. Going all together on a Sunday and bringing our daughter makes it a communal experience for us as part of the bigger church. She also loved being able to take our daughter back and see her attending Grace Kids. Seeing our daughter start to understand Jesus and who He is and sometimes the wisdom that she brings is an incredible part of our church experience now. Our daughter is already asking to go back, and which day it will be!

Story Team: What would you say to someone who is debating whether or not to come back to in-person service?

Al: I think we should try to figure out what’s the most loving thing to do. For me and for us as a family, it was the right time for us to start going back in. I fully expect a lot of people will be struggling coming out of this. I’m sure it’s affected us in ways that we don’t realize. It seems like great timing – as people are seeing the world returning to elements of normality. 

But other people may feel pressured to go back into situations they don’t feel ready for, and that’s going to be difficult. We have to stand by each other. We have to respect each others’ views and differences. At the same time, if we see someone who would benefit from getting back into community more than they have been, we can try and encourage them in the right ways.

Story Team: Anything else you want to talk about?

Al: this year, I’ve been very challenged to adapt my rhythms and made some changes that have been very positive for my interactions with Him. He’s been challenging me on a few specific things – making the changes while you’re in transition rather than waiting to get back to something else.

Story Team: Any good tips for what’s worked for you to keep your rhythms?

Al: I revised my morning routine around the Morning Show. As much as I occasionally want to go back to bed, I try to have a bit of “God time” in the morning. It gives me time to get things done, and I read through the passage every day before the morning show. I’ve also been journaling pretty consistently for the past few years now and I recommend that to everybody. I’m terrible at understanding my own feelings and emotions and thoughts. Just writing those down is really helpful. 

If I’m struggling to pray, or my mind is wandering, then I’ll just pray in writing. I’ll just write thoughts that become prayers. And if I hear anything that I think God is saying, I’ll write that down as well. It’s also really interesting now to look back a year ago and look through my thoughts early on in the pandemic. It gives me more clarity on how I’m relating to God. When I read back through my prayers and how I’m addressing God, that can be interesting in and of itself. 

Story Team: As you go forward to the rest of this year, what are you most looking forward to in terms of serving and attending in person?

Al: I love being part of this team. I’ve photographed some of the connection events already and Sundays and the Easter Egg Hunt of course and I’m looking forward to doing more. 

I’m also hoping we can recruit more people. I like training, I enjoy sharing the experience, knowledge, and skills. I think we can use that as a bit of connection as well, or an opportunity to invite other people to connect with the church. I’d love to explore more how we use our photographs on social media and other potential forms. I’m trying to think more about artistic creativity in general and how that sits with our faith and ways we can encourage each other to be more creative. 

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