by Ray Leonard
These are difficult and dynamic times, as the pandemic sweeps through communities across the globe, killing hundreds of thousands and making millions ill. Domestically, we might feel we’re entering a new phase, but, globally, health systems are still being overwhelmed, state and charitable responses stretched to the limit in a very dynamic and ever changing situation. And yet we observe amazing levels of volunteering, and high levels of community self-organising. Encouraging signs of love and compassion in the face of extreme adversity.
Writing an article that, however cautiously, might begin to examine responses and tensions within the UK context might seem foolish, or even offensive. However, I have spent four years working in faith-based community development, both from a theological and practical perspective, and can’t help observing both traditional patterns of responses and newer expressions from within communities.
The public and charitable/voluntary sector, including faith groups, are adjusting their normal service provision as best they are able within social distancing and public health guidelines. They’ve experienced a huge rise of demand in their services, in particular, the provision of food and meals, and also in the field of social contact. Faith groups are also concerned about the impacts upon our spiritual life after such a long period of church closure. At the same time, they have seen a drop in the number of their existing volunteers who can make themselves available through self-isolation and illness. Classic economics – rise in demand and a fall in supply.
So what will fill the gap? How will the ‘market’ correct itself?
There are interventions. Central government, in partnership with the voluntary sector, launched a huge drive to recruit volunteers, with a massive response from the public, with over 750,000 people signing up. Emergency funding has been made available, albeit a slow start and not without its frustrations and gaps. Some supermarkets have and continue to bolster dwindling foodbank donations as the nation seems to be slowly moving towards a new normal, and yet many face food, energy, and debt poverty that they haven’t had to face before. The ending of the furlough scheme will be a worry to many.
But is it enough? Even by the time this blog is published it will be out of date, but we can already foresee charities in collapse, and many may not survive at all. Income streams are drying up, emergency aid will not be sufficient to prop up the whole sector, and calls on support grow exponentially as the employed and self-employed hit hardships that have been the normal for the unemployed, marginalised, and oppressed. Many businesses may not survive this crisis either. The self-employed are struggling, and we can be forgiven for slipping into a sense of being overwhelmed. And yet there are signs of alternative thinking and action becoming visible.
Signs of God on the move in the midst of our suffering? Where have you seen God moving? How have you responded?
Ray Leonard is North East based Christian. Part 2 will be in our next issue.