My heart would have been full this week if my body weren’t so weary. My heart would be full because the outpouring of community spirit this past half-term week as businesses and local councils gave free meals to school children has been wonderful; but the response from the church has been woeful. I wrote earlier this year about the difference between the council/community/local political response to coronavirus and the response of the church. In fact I wrote three blogs in four days on the role of the church in coronavirus: Anything you can do, we don't need to?; Practicing what you preach; and Where is the church?.
And yet the churches still seem to be lagging. Ironically on All Saints' Day, the saints seem to be missing.
Churches should be at the forefront of community efforts. They should know their local community better than anyone else; be the most involved; be the first port of call for anyone in distress; and they should have known months in advance that if the central government did not step up this October half-term, than churches would need to fill the gap. Holiday hunger has been a problem for years, exacerbated this year by the failure of our government to get a grip on coronavirus, and it really didn’t take any particular intelligence or knowledge of local issues to see this problem coming.
And yet the churches still seem to be lagging.
God told his people to love one another, their neighbour, and their enemy. It is not unusual for the phrase ‘love one another’ to be interpreted to mean only ‘love fellow Christians’. But this is not acceptable: God commanded us to love our neighbours, and defined ‘neighbour’ as anyone in need near us; and he told us to love our enemies, which is anyone opposed to us and even all those who are opposed to God – which by Christian definition, assuming that our belief in God is true, is anyone who is not a Christian.
We can’t get out of loving non-Christians by claiming that God only told us to love our fellow Christians. He didn’t. He told us to love everyone.
And he told us that love is a practical action. It is not a warm feeling towards someone, or a feeling of concern, pity or compassion. It is not even prayer for someone: we are specifically told that if we merely say to a needy person, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed” – in essence, a prayer that God will meet someone’s needs other than through us – is not acceptable (James 2:16). Love is the practical action, and we are to love everyone.
Churches were well placed to meet the hunger of children this October half-term. There are apparently over 40,000 church buildings in the UK, more than the number of pubs (39,000), supermarkets (14,300) and electoral wards (9,456). Yet it is local councils and local businesses that have led the way in feeding children. Many churches have some sort of refreshment-making facilities, and at the very least therefore could have provided sandwiches if not cooked meals. Many churches are in large, high-roofed, well-ventilated (draughty…) buildings that are almost designed not to spread disease.
The time will come when Jesus will sort his people from those who reject him, and according to the synoptic gospels one of the prime tests of who does and does not belong to Jesus is who cared for the needy. Who obeyed the will of God, which is to care for, protect and defend the needy? Who stood up to government when it enacted and sustained cut after cut after cut to the welfare of the poor? Who championed the right of all people to food, education, healthcare, homes, and decent work? Who called for everyone to have opportunity to succeed? Who demanded justice for the poor and oppressed, whether they are white or black, male or female, disabled or non-disabled, Christian or non-Christian?
Where was the church this October half-term?