In March 2020 the world was brought to existential limbo by a virus, a thing we couldn’t see. No one knew what would happen next or how it would all play out. Amid lockdowns, Adventist families around the world were quickly adapting to serve and minister to each other and to those outside the church. Many used this time to join distant Sabbath School classes or watch sermons from locations far from home. In most cases, not meeting in person meant losing the personal contact and relationships we crave.
A friend, new to the St. Albans, United Kingdom (UK), area, where I live, managed this early pandemic period well through her job, exercise, and joining an online video conferencing Sabbath “family church.” She said her online church was excellent. She knew a couple of the people attending, and the rest were extended family and friends of the leader. She invited me to join. I did, and was more than surprised to find it being led by Daniel Bruneau, a coworker of mine at Adventist Review Ministries!
This was more than a Sabbath Bible study. Over time I realized many of those in attendance were not Christians, and in addition to those in the United States (US) and the UK, many were joining from around the world, countries including Austria, France, the Philippines, Cyprus, and Australia.
God has wired our brains for stories. It’s how we make sense of the world around us.
Online meetings every Sabbath were personal, covered significant biblical topics, and provided inspiration and a few questions.
Sharon: What started these Sabbath studies, a time you referred to as “family church, brunch, and afternoon tea”?
Daniel: Since I am originally from England and my wife is from the state of Georgia, where we now live, we saw this online video call as a way to bring our families and friends from across the globe together to support each other and ease the inherent anxiety and uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic. We also wanted to make sure that the invitation was open to whoever wanted to join. As I prepared the first remote session, a thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to open God’s Word during our time together, share a devotional thought, as well as pray and fellowship together?
I gave that first gathering a lighthearted and hopefully inviting name—Family and Friends Church: Brunch and Afternoon Tea—to cover as many of the different time zones as possible for those attending. The name has since morphed to Project Dunamis. In the Bible, dunamis is the underlying Greek word for physical power—God’s power. My hope and prayer was that from week to week, God’s power would manifest itself in our gatherings, that the messages being shared and the time set aside for prayer and fellowship would affect the hearts and minds of those attending.
Your presentations were done in a storytelling, narrative style and not simply a presentation of facts. What model were you using?
I didn’t have a specific model in mind other than to follow the story of Scripture from beginning to end, connecting every message to the big picture of where we came from, where we are now, and where God intends to take us in our journey with Him. The beauty of our Adventist message is encapsulated in the life-changing biblical narrative, a grand story arc that paints the picture of a loving God who pulls out all the stops to win us back to His heart. The bottom line is this: God has wired our brains for stories. It’s how we make sense of the world around us. I felt impressed that our underlying story theme through every Bible study should be to paint the beautiful picture of God’s character and reveal to those attending that God is not vindictive, stern, and distant, as He is often portrayed, but rather is a God utterly in love with His creation.
Precisely how long has this group been meeting now? How do you sustain the passion and energy needed to meet week after week?
The group has been meeting close to 80 weeks now, a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit rather than any one individual. Personally speaking, because we have people joining who represent Seventh-day Adventism, those who have stepped away from the church, those of other Christian faiths, those of other religions (such as Hinduism), and still others who simply don’t identify with any religious belief, the drive to keep crafting messages with universal appeal has been strong. It reminds me of the truly profound statement that Jesus made in looking ahead to the cross: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). The gospel truth is universally attractive. Whether an unbeliever regards it as simply an intriguing story or a believer revisits the wonder of God’s selfless, sacrificial love, it has the power to transform. I am superprivileged to have this opportunity to potentially plant a seed.
Has anything surprised you about those attending?
There have been things that have both surprised and warmed my heart. Lifelong Christians were grateful to understand topics that had been perplexing before. Others, who are nonbelievers, have made such statements as “When you put it that way, I can see the logic, in just needing to believe.” Others have spoken about the strength the group provides them as they deal with the heartbreak of losing a spouse or loved ones during the pandemic.
What is the future of this gathering?
When I look back at the nearly 80 weeks together, I am reminded how in the midst of unusual and challenging times God still finds a way to draw us to Him. I am not sure how long we will continue to meet together. I am certainly praying for God’s leading on that front. In the meantime we continue to adapt and build on the epic story of God’s eternal love for us. Right now we are doing a series of TED-style devotions. TED talks have a core tagline: “Ideas Worth Spreading.” They are all about sharing one powerful idea within an 18- to 20-minute time frame. In light of that, we have called these new devotions “Truth Worth Sharing,’’ a biblical play on the TED tagline, with the same goal of sharing one core truth that people can walk away with.
Joining this online “family and friends church” early in the pandemic was more than a blessing for me; it was sustenance. We sang together, cried over personal losses, and connected as human beings in such a sweet, meaningful way. It was an absolute joy to see God actively at work in this group.
Sharon Tennyson lives in England and works as distribution coordinator for Adventist Review Ministries.