Even as the president of the United States makes a ‘miraculous’ recovery from Covid-19, communities are counting the cost of the epidemic and identifying the hidden impact.
The coronavirus pandemic has rapidly shifted life as we know it. Schools, restaurants, offices, and entertainment have shuttered. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, and the NHS continues to be under potentially overwhelming pressure.
The effects of the pandemic can be felt across nearly every aspect of life, but some causalities from the virus have been less obvious.
Cancer patients, those who need organ transplants or blood transfusions, and others with pre-existing illnesses to face difficulty receiving treatment.
Thousands of vaccinations have been cancelled, putting children across the world at higher risk of contracting other diseases.
Since tourism and funding for conservation efforts has declined, poachers have killed more Rhinos in Africa, and endangered wildlife face greater threats.
An estimated 400 million flowers, including 140 million Dutch tulips, were destroyed in one month due to a decline in sales.
Mel Clarke was in an abusive relationship for 15 years, suffering mental, physical and emotional violence. Being indoors with her abuser was “absolute hell”. Now she is gravely concerned for those trapped in similar circumstances. “Women are treading on eggshells and trying not to start disputes. Now it’s so much harder to run away,” she says.
Most church-based Winter Nightshelters will not be able to open this December, especially those using the Housing Justice model where a church hosts a dormitory one night of the week.
We have been compelled to think through what church looks like without buildings.
I have been reflecting on these last two consequences of the Covid pandemic. Rethinking church and practical solutions to the need to host people with lived experience of homelessness.
Whenever someone has in his or her mind a definition of “church,” that definition is usually a building. This is true for Christians and not-yet-Christians alike. Too closely identifying a local body of Christ with a building diverts the focus from the identity of the church as a community of called ones.
Many Christian communities are finding it liberating to be free of a building that can easily demand more attention, more money, more emotion, and more division than that which is truly important.
The modern world has been distracted by buildings. When people think of the church, they picture a building with a high-pitched roof and a steeple. However, a building is not a distinguishing feature of a church. A building is not essential for a church to function.
The New Testament church met primarily for fellowship. A large meeting in a large building tends to be an obstacle to fellowship. The persecuted church has demonstrated that it can always survive without large meetings, but without fellowship together becomes challenging. Christians primarily meet for fellowship, and special buildings and architecture are not necessary for fellowship. It depends much more on the quality of the relationships that Christians have with each other.
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus is present in the church building. This can lead to a lifestyle, which is split between spiritual and secular. The spiritual is what is done when in the church building. God is left out of the rest of life, when we should be aware of his presence with us always. Because the early church was not tied to buildings, it had a flexibility and a resilience. Gathering in a church building allows people to feel like we are doing something for Jesus, even though they are not.
Church led social actions projects are striving to reimagine themselves so that they can continue to serve those most in need. Remarkably, God’s people are doing an amazing job of coming up with creative solutions so they can quietly and faithfully act in love and mercy.
As part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, approximately 15,000 people who were sleeping rough, in unsafe communal settings or at imminent risk of rough sleeping have been placed into emergency accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) makes available the financial resources needed to support local authorities and their partners to prevent these people from returning to the streets. Wonderful local partnerships are emerging and evidence of collaborative working is inspiring.
Churches can respond by setting up their own supported housing project. Take a look at the churches who have done just that. Green Pastures, with over 20 years of experience, will actually purchase property for you and has a wealth of expertise to guide and support you to make your project successful. They can fast track your partnership application, so you can be housing formerly homeless people this winter and making a positive response to the hidden Covid consequences.