A new deal for faith communities post-Covid-19

By Russell Rook 01 Jan 2021

This article was written following our November 2020 conference, 'Seeds of Change: Institutional reform and human flourishing post Covid-19'.

The Church has a long history of caring for communities in crisis, and the Covid-19 pandemic has been no different. At the Prime Minister’s request, Danny Kruger MP has published ‘Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant’, setting out innovative ways to sustain the community spirit we saw over lockdown. The report also sets some ambitious goals for communities of faith, and the Christian Church in particular.

The Church in Lockdown

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the UK Church response has been immense. In a time of isolation and fear, Christians have been demonstrating God’s love through practical and spiritual support. Launched on Easter Sunday, YourNeighbour.org is one example of how quickly and effectively the Church can mobilise, with a network of over 1,100 churches across the UK gathered in just six weeks. The impact of Church-based social action has been astounding, to name a few just from YourNeighbour.org’s data:

  • UK Churches have provided more than 5 million meals per month to those in need.
  • Projects like the ‘Lockdown Hunger’ project delivered over 2.8 million meals to vulnerable families nationwide.
  • A new toolkit to equip churches to work more effectively with Local Authorities was viewed over 1,500 times.
  • 1,300 calls were received to the YourNeighbour.org national helpline, connecting individuals in need to local churches who could help them.
  • Churches played a vital role in meeting emotional and spiritual needs through pastoral and bereavement support, domestic violence interventions and mentoring, among others.

In the ‘Levelling up our communities’ report, Kruger recognises that faith communities are deeply rooted in the heart of local communities as well as at the national level, and that faith networks and relationships provide resilience and practical opportunities for those in need. We have seen how church-based programmes are well-positioned to help communities during both the immediate crisis, and long-term recovery from Covid-19. The report’s recommendations for a new deal for faith and a £500 million fundraising target for 5 years are ambitious and inspiring goals. Now is the time to think strategically about how we, as the Church, show God’s love to the world in the months and years ahead.

Five ways to frame our thinking as we move forward

A recent evaluation by the team at YourNeighbour.org recommended the following:

  • Covenant over contract

One of the challenges we’ve had is that dealings between the Church and state are usually very transactional, whereas covenant language is relational; it implies agreement between two entities in relationship. This is the stage we should be moving towards with the government, whereby we partner together to realise certain common goods.

  • Remember our Mission

The Church should have confidence in its own mission. We do what we do to make Jesus Christ present in the world, not to win a government grant. It is an outworking of the radical transformation brought about by the power of God in our own lives that compels and enables us to serve those around us. Put bluntly, this is what we do and we must do it till Kingdom comes!

  • Be Confident Strategic Partners

We should be seeking to build a relationship with the government, in which the unique value of the Church is recognised. The Church is the biggest part of civil society, and has the most effective organisational structure to manage volunteers and deliver services on the ground. These are assets that can and should enrich government programmes.

  • Beware the Dangers of Commissioning First

The Government shouldn’t view its engagement with the Church as commissioning first, relationship second. This doesn’t build trust between churches and the state but rather often leaves both sides feeling disappointed and can create unnecessary competition and friction between churches, faith groups and other providers. We need to create a system where groups are encouraged and incentivised to work together rather than compete for funding.

  • Collaborators for the common good

Churches exist to offer hospitality to the whole community, welcoming and helping people of all faiths and none to work towards the common good. We are conveners and collaborators, building relationships with a diverse array of actors, government included, to co-create and deliver activities that aid and accelerate the recovery of our communities so that they thrive in the future.

The task ahead of us is huge, but so is the opportunity for the Church to re-establish itself in new ways, to reach new people with the love of Christ, and support the vulnerable and those in need. In a time where the world faces an historic set of challenges, and with Kruger’s report setting out a manifesto of sorts for community led recovery, the Church must step-up and take her place, seemingly now more than ever.

 This article is by guest author Russell Rook, who is a Partner at the Good Faith Partnership. Their YourNeighbour.org project convened the cross-section of church leaders who consulted on the ‘Levelling up our communities report’ and released the ‘Church in Lockdown’ report in October 2020.

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