Like every other organization and family, churches are trying to adapt to the new reality of social distancing. Many churches are figuring out how to gather remotely, and while this is important, maybe this is an opportunity to BE the church in a new way. We’ve been forced outside the church walls. How will we respond?
Coronavirus is an equal opportunity virus but the effects of this disease are not. I’m not talking about the physical effects of those who contract the virus. I’m talking about the people that are most vulnerable economically. Those that will be hit the hardest are the unemployed, people who work in the hospitality, factory, or service industries, child care workers, those who are paid hourly, school children, particularly those in under resourced areas, single parents, the elderly, and those who are incarcerated. The list goes on (see The Poor and Marginalized Will Be the Hardest Hit by Coronavirus).
What role does the church have in this crisis? While we plan to maintain a sense of community amongst our members, maybe we also need to plan how we bring shalom to our communities and neighborhoods. These principles, articulated by Cormac Russell of the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, are helpful in guiding us.
1. Citizen-led: We need to follow the guidelines of CDC and other health care providers, but we as citizens can lead the way. What are creative ways church members, neighbors and community members can speak into our plans to follow guidelines while building community and bringing hope? Is there an online way to provide suggestions for each other to bring normalcy to the days?
2.Relationship-oriented: While taking social distancing measures seriously, how do we seek out people in our community that need our support? Taking a walk in our community and in our churches community is a great opportunity to get outside while still remaining distant. Visiting each other through letters, emails, phone calls, online chatting. Figure out when others are outside, bringing out the garbage, etc. and be around. Say hello. Once the weather gets better, cook outside and share your meal.
3. Asset based: What strengths and gifts do you or your church have to bring to this situation and to your community? What strengths are right in your neighborhood?
- If you cook, who needs a meal?
- If you are an employer, consider how you will take care of your employees.
- If you have a car, how can you grocery shop for others or pick up medications?
- If you are physically healthy, can you organize walking/running clubs that are virtual to encourage one another to stay healthy?
- If you are a nurse, can your church provide a hotline to answer questions for neighbors?
4. Place-based: Churches are key places for community. We should look out for one another, but now is a prime opportunity to be with those in our local neighborhoods as well. What can you do alongside your neighbors? How can you be present in your church neighborhood? Don’t abandon it now! Walk it, serve coffee in the mornings, provide a take out meal, support a local restaurant, allow your open spaces to be used, turn youth programs into online tutoring, and more.
5. Inclusion-focused: Ask your community what is helpful. Ask community members what they can offer. Don’t assume you know what the most vulnerable need. Ask each other. Create an online support system for your church neighborhood to share strengths, gifts and needs. Listen particularly closely to the most vulnerable and advocate for them.
In a recent email exchange with members of the Holland Michigan community, Esther Fifelski, Human Relations Manager for the City of Holland, shared information and opportunities to help mobilize the Christian community to check-in with and support the most vulnerable members in our neighborhoods and the broader community.
Jack Kooyman, Executive Director of the Holland Deacons’ Conference, shared, “While Covid-19 and its impact on humans and the human community is not something many—hopefully most—of us would think of as a good thing, it is providing new opportunities and challenges for the local church to come together to be the Church in and with the community to which we have been called and placed.”
This is a great example of the church and community coming together. You all are super creative and are the experts in your community. I’d love to hear ways you are stepping outside your church in this unsettling time and engaging with your community.
Respond in the comments or contact me, Jodi Koeman, Church with Community Coordinator, directly at [email protected].
Praying for you and your communities!