In many churches that I visit there is a box next to a sign saying, ‘For the Food Bank – Thank You’. I hear about numerous lunch groups, ‘knit and natter’ sessions and after-school clubs, and once I saw a poster that read ‘Down in the mouth? Join our Loneliness Group for a faith lift’. I still wonder whether the group is thriving.
Across the Diocese of Worcester, social action and community outreach is flourishing. The results are just in from a survey conducted at the end of 2017 which asked about how our churches are involved with activities such as food banks, night shelters, community cafes, debt advice, breakfast clubs and youth groups. 220 of our churches responded and between us we are involved in approximately 500 projects that directly support other people.
These 220 churches ran 168 projects, hosted another 64 projects and 79 projects were carried out in partnership with other organisations. We supported, in other ways, a further 202 projects. That is an incredible amount of good will and lots of commitment to loving our neighbour.
The Halesowen Welcome Group, working with refugees and people seeking asylum, are so grateful for the support that they receive from our churches. In Worcester, the food bank believes that no one should have to face going hungry and has provided thousands of food packages over the last year. In Evesham, the street pastors are out, even in the early hours of a cold February night, supporting people who are upset or vulnerable. There are countless other projects and groups quietly going on that bring life in abundance to people.
Why do we do it? First, because there is great need. We see people in our communities who are need of support and want to respond with care and compassion. However much we would like it to, the state can’t afford to provide everything and, whilst we rightly challenge political decisions, we can respond as a community as well. We know that every act of kindness is a lived out way of taking seriously Jesus’ words to love God and our neighbour.
When we reach out to another, even by the act of leaving some tins for the food bank, we are seeing the face of Christ in the poor and seeking to be where he is to be found.
As a result, we can bring that all-important ingredient of ‘joy’ into peoples’ lives, helping them to connect with others, and be less lonely and isolated. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, this gift of ‘joy’ moves beyond welfare so as to help people fare well. In such a way, we witness something of the kingdom of God in our midst.
Thank you if you are part of the 86% of our churches already involved. You might want to consider how your commitment might deepen in understanding, prayer and action, and your worship and life as a community enhanced even more, as you make these connections with the incarnate Jesus.
Rt Revd Graham Usher
Bishop of Dudley