October
27
Author
Alastair McIver
Preparing for life in a post-COVID world

I recall a brilliant sermon a decade or so ago in which the preacher lauded the Church as the front line of defence against the enemy’s attacks, in all of his guises.

It was a bold claim, but an accurate one.

Depression, loneliness, isolation, drug and sexual abuse and domestic violence are rife in our communities - and our churches are far from immune. But sadly, it has often been the case that the Church has left it entirely up to social services to address these issues instead of seeking to play its part. 

In recent years, church leaders, often from the United States, have urged the UK Church to wake up and start being the ‘good news’ that God has called it to be. Their call is being heeded.

Even before the pandemic struck, there was evidence that the Church was changing its focus. Indeed, the fastest growing churches in the UK in the past decade have been those which were happy to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty to address the social issues in their midst.

Yes, it’s taken a pandemic to help raise awareness of, for example, the nearly 2.5 million adults experiencing domestic abuse (in the year leading to March 2019) but the spotlight on this - and society’s wider ills in general - is surely one of the more positive things to come out of what has become a global tragedy, and the Church is taking note.

In my Zoom travels around the country in recent months, I have seen churches which always wanted to get involved but didn’t quite know how to, pressing their starting guns to tackle some of the challenges local to them. And churches that were already engaged have been stepping up their games, becoming more active in their constituencies.

Previously unspoken issues are penetrating ancient church walls like never before, and passionate people from within are gathering to respond to the challenges around them.

But is the Church equipped to embrace such anger, pain and trauma? Can we bring the love of Jesus into what seems likely to become an increase in cases of homelessness, as redundancies take their toll; loneliness, as lockdown isolates people from each other; or domestic abuse, as stresses within relationships lead to breakdowns…violence even? Can we really be the hands and feet of Jesus in such circumstances? The answer is moving from ‘Maybe’ to a resounding ‘Yes.’

So how might it happen?

Well, firstly, awareness of the social challenges within our vicinities is a good start. Knowing what the problems are, and then acknowledging them, offers a giant stride forward in starting to resolve them. Keeping tabs on local media outlets is always helpful.

An acceptance by the Church, probably from the pulpit, that it is not someone else’s problem would be an additional, positive step forward. And keeping an eye out for those new to the church, who seek solace and comfort from within it, is key.

Preparing itself in all areas of service is another practical way that the Church can be ahead of the game, ready for a post-COVID world. That might mean inviting folk from their congregations who are interested in the issues of the day to sign up for programmes of engagement. It could be that the Church invites speakers in who are experts in their field. What better way of raising awareness – and people – than hearing the facts first hand?

And fourthly, equipping congregations with some tools to support the abused in their communities is another positive action that churches can take in taking on the challenges in their areas.

The small charity I work for, Talitha Arts, whose therapeutically trained arts practitioners have been visiting safe houses and refuges, serving women in recovery for nearly a decade, is, in 2021, looking to equip the church by running workshops aimed at drawing people closer to God (personally and as a church community) through the creative arts. The charity seeks to further the wellbeing and potential recovery journey for those who have suffered trauma in their lives, be it through domestic violence, trafficking, or homelessness, or be they ex-offenders, refugees or those who suffer with dementia.

Our person-centred approach has become a central part of our programme in recent years, both here and abroad. Our therapeutic arts programmes have seen women face their situations head on, using painting, drawing, writing, movement, dance and drama – to help them express that which they cannot easily articulate with words alone.

Many national agencies are outstanding in their first responses – but longer-term compassionate, empathetic, individual, restorative healing is needed for when survivors are released back into the community.

That is where the Church can come in, I believe. An ongoing, artistic response is within the grasp of many churchgoers. All they need is a steer and some guidance. Talitha Arts, and charities like us, are looking to offer it. To learn more about what we are offering to churches and how you can get involved, contact us via our website.

The traumatised in our midst need the Church. And the Church needs to be ready.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by guest contributors are those of the author. Although broadly in keeping with the objectives of Jubilee+, the views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Jubilee+ team and directors and/or other contributors to this site.

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