Photo: Physical distancing didn’t reduce the impact of this sunrise for Winter School participants. Image: Marianne Crowther

By Emily Ferguson

Being moved by the love of God is a common experience each year at two major events – Fresh Hope Youth’s Uprising and Navigate’s Winter School. Despite concerns around COVID-19 this year, physical-distancing restrictions were no barrier to God, who once again impacted many people with His presence.

Around 60 people attended each event, held in consecutive weeks in July at The Tops Conference Centre, with rigorous physical-distancing protocols in place.

“My fear was that the protocols would impact people’s connection with God and each other, but I came to see that was thoroughly not the case,” said Charlie Burke, Fresh Hope’s Youth Ministry Catalyst and leader of Uprising, a three-day formation experience for those in their senior years of high school.

“The young people were just as immersed, and the sessions were still as powerful. God still moved very, very powerfully as we created space for the Holy Spirit, and people were moving in words of knowledge. It was all still very vibrant, and the Spirit was well and truly alive despite some of those alterations we had to make.”

Josh Ferris, from i61 Church in Rouse Hill, is one participant who had a powerful encounter with God.

“I feel like God has just stirred my Spirit so much,” he shared. “He’s made me grow more passionate for Jesus, more passionate to go back into my school (and) show people how Jesus loves people, what Jesus looks like.”

Images: Tom Fewchuk

It was a similar story at Winter School.

“The social distancing didn’t feel like a huge barrier; people were just so hungry to be together that it didn’t matter,” said Laura Payne, Fresh Hope’s Key Event Leader and organiser of Winter School, the mid-year retreat for Fresh Hope’s Navigate programs. “People still engaged just as deeply and put themselves as fully into the situation as they would have if there wasn’t social distancing. It showed us that God will do His thing regardless of the circumstances.”

One common experience across both events was how powerfully people encountered God in the absence of corporate sung worship.

Winter School participant Kate Aird (pictured right), from Restore Church, said: “Something I learned big time was how to engage in worship without actually using my voice,” she said. “I learnt a lot about just sitting and being. We don’t have to get to a certain place to be with God; you can just be there and just sit with him. I think you always know that, but it’s not until you have to experience that for yourself that it impacts you.”

All of this was made possible because of the hard work in putting safety protocols in place.

“There was a lot done by The Tops to ensure we could meet safely,” said Laura.

“They installed hand-washing and hand-sanitising stations outside the dining rooms, the dining room was set up to accommodate physical distancing and not touching shared items, and for all activities done with them they made sure you used hand sanitiser before you touched a piece of equipment. We also screened everyone on arrival and each morning to make sure no symptoms were popping up, we had fewer people than normal in each bedroom, and regularly reminded everyone to stay 1.5 metres apart.”

Find out more about the Navigate program HERE