As the shadow of Coronavirus falls over the world, could this be an opportunity for the Church to be the light it was always meant to be?
The UK has been placed on lockdown, and much of the world with it. Churches are having to close their doors. Worship-as-usual is over, for now.
Does this mean that church itself has been put on pause?
Well, no. Because church was never meant to be just bricks-and-mortar. This crisis could actually be a chance for the Church to be at its most Christ-centred. It’s a chance for church to be church – to fulfil its mission to serve the most vulnerable and be a source of hope at a time when hope seems hard to come by.
We’re built for relationship. We’re made for community. We need each other. What that looks like in a world of self-isolation is something that we’re going to have to figure out. We’ve already seen examples of it happening – people reaching out to neighbours who previously they’d never interacted with. Postcards popped through letterboxes offering help to people who are unable to go out.
The UK has been placed on lockdown, and much of the world with it.
The Church was made for times like these. If the Church isn’t relevant to a world in the grip of Coronavirus, it isn’t relevant.
Worshipping together on a Sunday is an important part of church, but it’s not the most important part. Praying together, singing together, breaking bread together – these are vital components of what it means to be a Christian community. But they are not the most vital components. So what are?
What was it that Jesus said should be the defining characteristic of his followers? Love. (John 13:35)
How does scripture say that we can know God? Love. (1 John 4:7)
What was it that Jesus said when he was asked what the greatest commandments were? Love God. Love your neighbour. (Matthew 22:37-39)
Love is the nature of God himself. Love is the first and last line of the Christian manifesto. It is our mandate and our mission.
The essence of church is love. Where there are people committing acts of selfless love and kindness, there is church. Tearfund itself grew out of the generosity and compassion of the Church in the UK. Millions of lives have been changed as a result.
So how does the Church love the world in the grip of the Coronavirus?
For more than 50 years, Tearfund has helped churches respond to emergencies. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Famines. Conflict. We work with the Church because it works. Churches know the needs of their communities and how best to respond with the resources available to them. They often hold positions of influence. Churches also come with a ready-made crowd of eager volunteers. In times of crisis, the Church is always the first to arrive and the last to leave.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, many people lost their homes and were
given temporary accommodation in camps. The Pentecostal Mission in Port Blair,
the Andaman Islands, listened to, prayed for and cared for people living in a camp,
and also served food to more than 500 people a day.
Tearfund itself grew out of the generosity and compassion of the Church in the UK.
When Ebola ravaged West Africa in 2014, it was local churches that helped lead the fightback.
In Sierra Leone, Christians used video and radio broadcasts to spread vital health messages. Tearfund trained pastors and gave them phones so they could call people with Ebola. The pastors spoke to them and prayed with them over the phone. In this way they could offer support without risking infection.
Churches gave practical help to people in quarantine (that is, kept in isolation for a period to ensure they would not infect others). Church members provided food, water and toiletries.
Church leaders spoke in their services about not stigmatising people with Ebola. In some communities, people who recovered from Ebola were rejected when they came back from the treatment centres. The Church held community meetings to help the local people to accept them again.
And the Church played as important a role in tackling the more recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which appears to be coming to an end after 19 months.
Tearfund and our local church partner reached more than 350,000 people with important messages about how to prevent, identify and respond to Ebola.
There are five key principles we’ll be sharing with our network of local church partners around the world in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
These include promoting the right messages to prevent its spread, correcting any lies and misinformation about the disease, caring for and looking out for congregations, having an answer for tough theological questions about why the Coronavirus has happened, and praying for an end to the outbreak.
The Church – in all its various guises and denominations – is the largest civil organisation on the planet. In every community affected by Coronavirus in the UK there will be a Christian presence – whether they’re meeting together on a Sunday or not. Who better to make a difference in this time of need?
‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:13-16)
Perhaps this crisis is a once-in-a-generation chance for the Church to show the world its saltiness. A chance to shine brightly so that all may see.
- Pray for comfort for people around the world who have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus, and healing for those who are sick.
- Ask God to give strength to those who are caring for people who are ill, and that they will be protected from becoming infected themselves.
- Lift up your own church congregation in prayer and ask God how he’s calling you to respond.
In response to Coronavirus, Archbishop Justin Welby, Gavin Calver and others are calling Christians to come together in prayer and action this Sunday (22 March). Please join by praying, lighting a candle in your window and reaching out to someone who is vulnerable.