This post by Karla Winham is written in response to the article Top 10 Ways Deacons Can Help During COVID-19, posted April 20, 2020. The article includes a list of tangible ideas for sharing and showing God’s love.
From what I’ve heard, most CRC diaconates in Canada seem to have the sense that they are “ready” for an onslaught of calls for help related to COVID-19, but that the calls just aren’t coming yet. They have a healthy benevolence fund and have adjusted to new ways of receiving offerings. They have policies and processes in place for making decisions about who to help and how. And now, they’re just waiting…
It may be fine to wait for the people who are already connected to our congregations, but for our broader communities, I wonder if we are just waiting for people to get desperate enough to ask a local (and unfamiliar) church for help. Have we stopped to consider that these requests may never come? Or perhaps not in the numbers we think they will?
The fact is, the hurts from this pandemic are already out there. People have already lost their jobs, missed paying their rent, and if they’re eligible for government help, may be still waiting for it to arrive. If we’re not hearing these stories, perhaps we just aren’t in the right place to listen.
What’s more, there are people in my own community—people who do not profess any connection with a church that I’m aware of—who have been out there for weeks supporting the organizations that will in turn support people in need. They’ve created websites that connect helpers with people who need help. They've set-up Facebook pages that share important information about government assistance and how to manage social distancing. They’ve made masks and sold them for hundreds of dollars’ worth of donations to our homeless shelters, food banks, and mental health services.
It could be said that in many ways, these people are “out-Christianing” the Christians! There are folks out there building the relationships that we know are necessary in order to share Christ’s love. What can we learn from this?
To be completely honest, if I put myself in the shoes of someone needing assistance and didn’t already have connections to a local church, I wonder if I’d be asking these other folks first.
So what now?
“Let us take every chance we have to show those around us (in our communities), how much JESUS LOVES THEM.” Samantha Bondy (“Spread Love…Wherever and However You Can”).
Sitting back and waiting for people to come asking for help might just leave the church out of the loop entirely. Maybe our churches should join the people who have been actively loving our neighbours for weeks now.
So what does this look like?
Maybe we don’t need to invent a shiny new ‘church response’ to this crisis, aka another program. Let’s find out what’s already working in our communities and join in. Find a “caremongering” group in your area. Touch base with the local organizations your church supports and find out what they need. Then encourage and mobilize your congregation to give generously of their time and resources to those groups and organizations. It’s true that working through another organization might mean we don’t get to collect gratifying stories of the people we helped directly. That’s ok; God will bless our efforts anyway.
So, deacons: What are you “building” right now?
During this time of physical, emotional, and financial challenges, what if deacons stopped focusing on building/setting up programs and focused on building relationships and trust with other churches, community agencies, and groups trying to love and serve your community? What kind of fruit could this bear down the road? How could this not only honour their work and commitment to loving their community but also provide opportunities for gospel conversations? I’ve seen this firsthand with the people who are involved in our community garden—years after the fact. Our church is now more connected to other initiatives in our community through those folks.
If we are committed to building relationships and trust during these uncertain times, then perhaps "they" WILL come to us. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but in God’s good and perfect timing.
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16, the Message
As Randy Friesen puts it: “This current crisis is an opportunity to rediscover who we are as the people of God.” (Randy Friesen, President, Multiply)
So let’s get out there and start serving in Jesus’ name!
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Got a great idea but lack the resources?
World Renew Canada and Diaconal Ministries Canada has set up a COVID-19 Grant Fund to help churches love their communities! Find out more HERE.