Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King
Reverend Gerard Goshawk has been a Baptist minister for “probably about 18 years.” Working first as a lay pastor, he became a full time pastor 13 years ago – finding his way to Six Ways Baptist Church after coming “from Nottingham, and it’s been brilliant. I love Erdington.”
But the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus crisis has established new ways of working, socialising, and even worshipping – as everywhere from classrooms to congregations have been subject to physical and social distancing restrictions.
Reverend Goshawk’s working week before lockdown “was a different rhythm. It was more based with things happening up at Six Ways Baptist Church. The different groups, activities we had there, being around for those, and visiting people – and lots of meetings, meetings, meetings! Lots of worship based at the church, and (the Erdington) foodbank based at the church.”
An important part of the community, the Erdington Foodbank is based at Six Ways Baptist Church – providing ‘three days nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to us in crisis.’
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Trussell Trust – who support the Erdington Foodbank – have seen usage across their UK network increase by 89% from April 2019 to April 2020. For Reverend Goshawk, his active role helping the people who need access to food has become even more pertinent.
Although reaching his congregation was also a concern, as places of worship across the country were completely closed during the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s been a big learning process,” explains Reverend Goshawk, as social media became the most viable method of communication with people in self-isolation.
“We have a service on YouTube that we pre-record for each Sunday, that goes out… I do some Daily devotions on Facebook live each day and I send them out on a WhatsApp list as well. That’s Monday to Friday.
“Then, we also have a zoom fellowship – a service on a Sunday where most people that can do that get together. That’s been really great and we’ve kinda adapted to how we do that.”
Excited by the prospect of this new normal, Reverend Goshawk notes that “there’s statistics out there about people who have not done church before but are watching church services online. There’s a whole new field of people out there who are being reached, and in our small way, Erdington is part of that.”
But while he can’t yet meet his congregation at church, Reverend Goshawk still goes out to members where they live – spending a lot of his time “cycling round Erdington, delivering news sheets, written information for people as well… because we have… 25 people in our church not connected on the Internet.”
There’s even a chance for prayer, as Reverend Goshawk finds himself “sometimes praying with people on their doorstep… 2 meters away.”
Places of worship are now set to open for private prayer in England from the 15th June, and Reverend Goshawk is preparing for “coming out of lockdown, as of next week. We’ll be able to open up for people to come in just for quiet prayer, socially distanced and everything.”
But like many businesses and social groups in the UK, Six Ways Baptist Church has seen how some engagements are actually better off being at least partly conducted online.
“We wouldn’t want to be losing all the new things that we’ve done,” tells Reverend Goshawk, “because we are reaching different people in different ways, you know.
“Sometimes I used to do a bible study for a very small number of people who would turn up on a Sunday evening at the church – on a cold winter’s evening, about four faithful people perhaps sometimes just turning up. And now we’re in double figures every time and growing with the number of people that will come to bible study [via zoom].
“I believe we’re made by God to connect with each other and to be alongside each other. I think we will still do lots of things online. It would be a shame to lose that experience and that benefit that we had. It just means a bit more work!”
Outside of the coronavirus crisis, and the changes Reverend Goshawk has made to stay in touch with his immediate community, Six Ways Baptist Church has received recognition for its hard work helping migrants and asylum seekers.
Reverend Goshawk is also the chair of the group Everyone Erdington, which celebrates diversity, and in the past has organised “get togethers”, lunches, and festivals specifically inviting people from different backgrounds. And whilst institutionalised racism is a constant concern, affecting communities worldwide, following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota people and protest have risen up across the globe in solidarity.
“Our church at six ways is a black majority church,” explains Reverend Goshawk. “I don’t really feel equipped to speak on behalf of people that would identify themselves as black. But the response has been deep… actually looking at the practical ways that we as a church can make a difference for ourselves and for this community to actually be part of that transformation.
“That exciting change that seems to be out there as a possibility at the moment. There’s a whole range of feelings about it. One of those, the more positive thing about it, there’s a move that’s happening. It does feel like there’s potential for real change.”
Reverend Gerard Goshawk is pastor at Six Ways Baptist Church. To find out more about the church, visit: www.sixwayserdington.org.uk
For more on the Everyone Erdington Facebook group, visit: www.facebook.com/EveryoneErdington
For more on the Erdington Foodbank, including information on how to access provision or to make a donation, visit: www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk