After having lots of conversations with many other connect group leaders at church, I’ve realised ‘covid division’ is a genuine and big struggle for many as we navigate this whole vaccinated versus unvaccinated society segregation here in Melbourne. So I’ve written this blog to try and help us be the best women’s leaders we can be while loving others well and catering for differing views and opinions within our small groups. I really hope it blesses you all and helps you each navigate any issues you may have pop up in your book clubs over the next few months.
So, here are 5 helpful tips to help us protect our book clubs and women’s small groups against covid division;
1. Open Arms and Hearts.
Be a Welcoming place for everyone. Whether you meet via Zoom or in person, ensure both vaccinated and unvaccinated people feel welcome, loved and valued within your small group. Jesus embraced those the world despised – both the sick and oppressed, and those whose decisions went against Jewish belief. By accepting and loving them, Jesus didn’t condone wrong behaviour or agree with their way of life, but He loved them – the person, made in the image of God – despite their choices.
2. Create a Safe Space.
Allow space for people to ask for prayer against ‘covid fear’, for health and well-being, to admit they are struggling, confused or feeling ostracised, so your group can meet this very real need. Your group should be a refuge from the chaos of the world. When women gather in your home or on your Zoom meetings, they should immediately sense a shift from the tense atmosphere of life and our constant daily struggles to that welcoming, peaceful and heavenly atmosphere your Christian, Jesus-focused book club offers. In this safe environment, women can share their concerns in a healthy and productive way and feel comfortable seeking support and prayer without unsolicited advice, judgement or fear.
3. Keep Your Group Focused.
Although we must allow a ‘healthy space’ to share covid concerns, do not allow fear, ranting, or strong-willed conversationalist to overtake the book club meetings with opinions, convictions or hate speech. There is a big difference between saying we believe vaccination is a good thing and that you’re relieved you’ve had your shot OR that you are cautious, uncomfortable or do not support vaccine mandates and require some prayer in that decision making, WITHOUT allowing the conversation to be driven by these topics, become a heated debate, a fight, or a one-sided rant from an opinionated person. If this topic (or other difficult to discuss topics arise) and you sense the shift from ‘life-giving conversation’ to ‘heated debate/ranting’, it’s ok to direct the conversation back to the book and move on. We can do this by lovingly reminding our sisters that we are primarily gathering to discuss a book. We can encourage those who have a difference of opinion to continue to privately discuss the matter at a separate time and by using words such as “I can see this issue is important to you, I really value your feelings and opinions but let’s continue these conversations at a more appropriate time and move back to discussing the book. I’ll make a note to add these concerns of yours into my closing prayers.” And then begin a new question from the book club kit. If you feel ill-equipped or uncomfortable handling difficulties such as this, that’s ok! We’ve all been there. Realistically, gently redirecting conversations is awkward and just one of those things we as group leaders need to learn to do with grace and confidence. It takes time to learn these skills, and unfortunately, they can only be leant in the doing. But overall, your book club can only maintain a heavenly, healthy and life-giving atmosphere if you intentionally manage these issues promptly as they pop up. You’ll find the group will naturally learn what type of conversations you’ll allow and what you believe is harmful and should be stopped. When or if you become nervous about this, find your rest and peace knowing that the Holy Spirit is your partner and guides your words and decision making throughout your meeting.
4. Reaffirm your Group’s Values and Expectations.
Every so often when a new member joins our book club or if an issue has arisen, I like to remind the group of our agreed ‘values’ (or code of conduct) to keep the group safe. I often begin a new year by re-sharing these values at our first meeting, resharing them to our social media chat group and overall refreshing everyone on what they are. This is important because it reminds the group that life-giving and healthy friendship groups don’t just happen, they need to be nurtured, cultivated and prayerfully maintained – and every member has an important role to play. You can find our BTB values, vision and mission in the welcome pack or on the website and use these as your guide.
5. Keep Role Modelling the Behaviour you Desire to see.
We all have opinions and triggers. We are not exempt from this fact simply because we are leaders. Yet, as leaders, our beliefs and values can be quite influential and we must keep this in mind. This means we have a big responsibility to share our beliefs, values and concerns in a healthy life-giving, rant-free, gossip and judgement free-way. Friends, it is possible in this covid world where opinions, offence and fear are rampant, to maintain a safe haven of prayer, encouragement, acceptance and love.
I currently run two book clubs – a BTB book club through my church and a homeschooling focused book club within my home education community, and both groups have upheld this goal. It hasn’t been because we’ve been ‘lucky’ or that everyone within the groups shares the same options. It’s because we’ve all been intentional in our love and compassion towards one another.
We’ve had women seek prayer to secure their vaccination booking and we’ve rallied around them in prayer for God to provide the appointment, health and protection they desire. We’ve had women ask for prayer as they decide whether or not to vaccinate themselves and their children and we have prayed for discernment and conviction for their families and unique situations. We’ve prayed for the provision of peace, finances and job opportunities for women whose husbands have lost their incomes and jobs because of refusing a mandatory vaccination. All of these prayers have been sent heavenward in earnest love, with hopeful expectation of the Lord’s guidance and provision, with sincerity and grace, and importantly a judgement-free heart posture.
Sisters, we can do this. While the world divides, bickers, fights and hates, we can choose Jesus. We can choose love, kindness and compassion. We can choose to keep our book club circles life-giving, hope-filled safe places to come and seek refuge from the storm.
The women’s leader at my church recently shared these words on our social media group in regards to Victoria’s medical segregation rules and the implications it has on our churches. I will end with them because I couldn’t have said it better myself;