Humans are fundamentally relational beings, dependent and incomplete by design; no one can be who they truly are in isolation. But Australia is a socially fragmented society. The average Aussie moves every six years, 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce and busyness is a virtue. As the pandemic forces everything to a halt and contains us to our geographic locations, the church is faced with an opportunity to help change the fabric of our society.

But for the first time in living memory, churches are being forced to close their doors. It’s a challenge that many pastors likely didn’t think their congregations would have to face, but for the foreseeable future, all regular gathering has come to a halt. The church is also called to serve the poor and protect the vulnerable, to etch out a place for them. 

Using a phone to stay in touch

Keeping in touch with isolated people over the phone is one way people can helps others in this time of crisis. PICTURE: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

 

"But for the first time in living memory, churches are being forced to close their doors. It’s a challenge that many pastors likely didn’t think their congregations would have to face, but for the foreseeable future, all regular gathering has come to a halt. The church is also called to serve the poor and protect the vulnerable, to etch out a place for them."

Psalm 82:3-4 says
“Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
while Isaiah 54:2 says: "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes."

So how does the church help restore community and provide for the vulnerable without a physical place to do so? Some of Christians Against Poverty’s partner churches are already providing stunning examples of what this could look like.

The Grainery in the NSW Hunter Region is one such church. Calling their community to step up and be the church, the young adults pastor wrote to the church’s young adults recently saying: "As young adults, most of us are the healthiest, more able and mobile in our community at this time. In contrast we have many people in our church who are vulnerable, isolated and need extra support over the coming weeks. With many ministries and events altered or postponed, many of us who normally serve at church, are now available to help in other ways."

The church is encouraging healthy members to get creative in how they reach out an help their community with things such as; creating care packages and kids craft packs and delivering them, cooking meals for the regular attendees of Grainery Care (community outreach program), making check-in phone calls, taking time to visit, play games or lead a fun activity for isolated families and children, setting up technology for older people so they don’t miss out on church over live-stream.

Of course, all these activities will have to consider healthy and safe precautions. But these are merely logistics to be overcome, the church is pulling out all stops to ensure no one is left isolated!

Already, stories are emerging of CAP clients struggling through the crisis. It’s heartbreaking. However equally, there are stories of how churches are continuing to support them through the CAP Debt Centres and CAP Money courses.

One family, a mum, dad and four kids aged one through to nine have lost their income due to the crisis. They reached out to their case worker who was able to but their debt repayments on a hold. The client was full of relief and reflected: “It is such a blessing that we did reach out when we did. If we didn’t have you now, it would be devastating”.

What a gift it is to be able to provide for people in their season of need. Even as advice and measures keep changing, there are ways you as a church can help people practically. As individuals scattered around towns and cities, together you can reach many people by encouraging and arranging for members to:
• Go the local shops for those who can’t or are scared to;
• Pray for neighbours (leave a note in their letterbox telling them you are a Christian and offer to pray);
• Donate money and items to foodbanks and charities caring for the vulnerable. By giving instead of hoarding, we demonstrate that it is God who we trust;
• Regularly check-in with isolated people over the phone;
• Keep giving blood, as the need will increase and potential donors decrease;
• Display gratitude to service workers (mail carrier, supermarket assistant) they are likely feeling overrun and encounter a lot of stressed out people;
• Offer to help single parents with childcare needs; drop off a meal, a box of diapers or puzzles for the kids;
• Buy a gift card from a local small business to redeem at a later date (stock up some for Christmas presents);
• Send an encouraging text message to any of your friends who are medical professionals, and offer to help their partner or family; and,
• Pray.

These are some practical ways as Christians to show love to our communities. But the reality is many Australians are going to face economic crisis. CAP is here to equip the local church with practical tools for helping people through financial crisis and give them the tools to achieve financial wellbeing. Our communities need the hope of Jesus more than ever and now is a time for the church to step out to reach people that are feeling hopeless

As AW Tozer put it, “A frightened world needs a fearless church.”  And as Jesus said "the world would know his disciples by their love"As a church, how will you respond to COVID-19 for your community? Join CAP in giving that life-changing hope Jesus’ light abundantly brings.

Rosie Kendall is the CEO of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Australia.