With the country almost three weeks into lockdown, our Chief Executive, Ross Hendry, discusses how the Coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated our capacity for both holiness and sin and how he has been humbled by stories of those putting themselves at risk to serve others.
Over the last three weeks, as COVID-19 related measures have become stricter, I have been humbled and moved by stories of those who have put themselves at risk to keep serving others. Here at Spurgeons, I have seen our staff and volunteers finding creative ways to keep supporting, protecting, and going that ‘extra mile’ for some of the most vulnerable members in our communities. The same I know is true of many other charities and churches across the land.
Yet, for every NHS volunteer there is a panic buyer hording goods; for every key worker delivering services there are others who believe they are the exception to government advice and can ignore guidance.
A time of crisis
This Coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated our great capacity for both selfishness and selflessness, for good and ill, for holiness and sin. These are the tensions of life brought into sharp focus in a time of crisis.
Easter is a time of similar contrast. On Good Friday we remember Jesus’s atoning death for us. Then we have the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Exclaiming ‘Christ has died’ triumphantly is only possible when it is followed by ‘Christ is risen, and Christ will come again’. This week, as we remember, celebrate, and look forward I have been struck by what Jesus taught his disciples in those final days before he was crucified.
In Matthew 24 Jesus promises that he will return, and that as we wait for that day we are to carry on doing our job, carrying out our calling. He reminds us that wars, famines, earthquakes – and I have to assume pandemics – are a part of our experience as we wait expectantly for his return. In the next chapter he challenges us to go further; to feed the hungry, treat the ill, welcome the stranger, clothe the destitute and visit the prisoner.
By serving the disenfranchised, marginalised, and oppressed we serve Jesus (Matt 25:40). While it’s never comfortable to fulfill Jesus’s commands it requires even greater sacrifice in especially challenging times, like at present.
In times of crisis I suggest there are two groups we need to be particularly mindful of.
What does faithfulness look like? Jesus is clear: it is our fruitfulness and compassion. In times of crisis I suggest there are two groups we need to be particularly mindful of.
The first are those who I would call the ‘visible but ignored’. These are the homeless on our streets, the offenders in our prisons, the young people in gangs, and the families living below the breadline. Groups we often complain about, criticize, quietly condemn, or even pity from a safe distance will suffer more than anyone else.
The second group are the ‘invisible and suffering’. These are the victims of domestic violence, young carers, or those whose mental health is quietly deteriorating. The needs of these groups are also rising. Just this week there are reports that calls to domestic violence helplines have spiked dramatically, while we know calls to Childline and metal health charities have risen just as sharply.
Both these groups need our help now. But how many churches and Christian organisations are brave enough to step into the zone of discomfort and sacrifice? To do so is scary. It also requires expertise, to know the help being offered is safe and genuinely helpful.
We need partnership
The solution will not be found in charities or churches acting, or not acting, alone; what we need is partnership. We need churches and charities to respect what others do best and to work to complement one another.
There are Christian charities across the country responding in remarkable and creative ways to the current crisis. At Spurgeons we have launched an internal good-newsletter called, ‘Always Here’, to share how we are adapting and changing to how we are now having to work. We have stories from Winchester prison, where staff and volunteers have made packs to help families stay in touch while prison visits are cancelled; our team in Peterborough, who are using Facebook to present reading and story time sessions for toddlers; Young Carer WhatsApp groups; and examples of supporting those at risk of domestic abuse through video conferencing. Other charities like, Fegans, have moved counselling and parenting programmes for children and parents online.
This is the time for the church to use its resources, creativity and confidence to communicate its message that Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. We have to offer a better present and a hope-filled future to those who so desperately need it.