Self- isolation. Social distancing (or the more helpful distant socialising).
Terms most of us had never heard of that have become commonplace. The Coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down.
Fear and anxiety are affecting us all. Our instant reaction can be self-protection, to close down, to put up the defences and the walls, don gloves and masks.
What does letting love be the ethic that guides us look like? Love for others, love for neighbours that seeks to keep them safe, protect them, provide for them when they are vulnerable, isolated.
How will the church choose to respond, to show love in this time?
Two things have stirred me to action in recent days.
Firstly an excellent (and very practical) article by Andy Crouch called ‘Love in the Time of Coronavirus’.
He offers brilliant suggestions for churches on how to keep people connected.
And he finishes with the following words:
The Roman world was full of plagues. Epidemics regularly decimated cities and regions. Though ancient people did not understand the germ theory of disease, they knew enough to flee cities, if they had the means to do so.
The first Christians, who saw themselves as the household of God in their cities, did not flee the plagues. They stayed, and they served. In his book The Rise of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark develops a statistical argument that this commitment to providing meaningful care to people stricken by the plague was, all by itself, a major contributor to the growth of the church in the first centuries of the common era.
After you had recovered from the plague, after all, where would you want to worship? The pagan temple whose priests and elite benefactors had fled at the first sign of trouble? Or the household of the neighbor who had brought you food and water, care and concern, at great risk to themselves?
When this plague has passed, what will our neighbors remember of us? Will they remember that the Christians took immediate, decisive action to protect the vulnerable, even at great personal and organizational cost? Will they remember that, being prepared and free from panic, the households of their Christian neighbors were able to visit the needy (while protecting them by keeping appropriate social distance!), provide for their needs, and bring hope? Will they remember that, having ensured safety in all the ways we could, we still gathered to worship and praise God together, week after week, celebrating the resurrection — that even as we ceased doing inessential things, we made clear that serving and worshipping God was the greatest and most essential task of our lives?
How will we move the horizons of possibility, not just for those we directly lead, but for our whole culture, in the time of coronavirus?
The second is an incredible community response initiative in the neighbourhood where I live. In a community of around 500 houses, over 60 people have volunteered time to be prepared to collect groceries, prescriptions and whatever else is needed for elderly people, for those who are vulnerable or are in isolation or quarantine. A local business donated 500 meals that were distributed. There are community exercise sessions, people pulling together – the best of humanity in evidence.
Eoghan, who was behind the initiative even produced a guide so other neighbourhoods could do it easily – you can check it out here.
It is an amazing place to live – I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of this community.
In the time of Coronavirus, in a time when people are vulnerable, fearful and in practical need there is an incredible opportunity for us as the church to step up, to serve, to be the hands and feet of the God of compassion. Within local and WHO guidelines there are so many opportunities for us to be creative in the ways that we serve.
What are the needs around you?
What can you offer?
What are the stories that are inspiring you of people and churches creatively serving and loving in this time?