FAULT-LINES evident before the pandemic have widened and grown more destructive, but it has also been “a story of seeing God at work,” the chief executive of the Church Army (CA), the Revd Dr Peter Rouch, says.
In a foreword to a new report, Mission in a Pandemic, he describes March 2020 to April 2021 as “a season of life unparalleled in living memory”. Almost all the CA’s 29 centres of mission (CoM) identified increasing numbers experiencing poverty and financial and food insecurity; 19 were providing food, and 23,800 food parcels were sent to 3100 households.
In Dundee, several people had had to choose between “heating or eating”; in Haverfordwest, the pandemic had a big impact on business and industry, which relies heavily on income from tourism. In Medway, the pandemic had “magnified existing inequalities and divisions”.
Emotional support for the greater number of adults and young people experiencing mental-health issues or distress was also in high demand. The report acknowledges that there are no easy or straightforward answers to questions about resourcing volunteers, future financial sustainability, and re-establishing or creating community or youth work.
Centres report greater isolation in the rural community: Llandaff refers to unreliable internet connection. Online provision has been a struggle in Greenwich (Eltham). In Scunthorpe, “it has been concerning that those who used to attend church regularly cannot access online services due to tech poverty and/or stage of life and technological confidence.”
In Newry, the Lead Evangelist, Scott McDonald, said that many people had felt “adrift and anxious”, especially those living alone. Bradford CoM reported “a massive increase in young people’s mental-health needs”; the centre has also been supporting young people through grief and tragedy as well as providing emotional and pastoral support.
Centres of mission have been creative and flexible in responding to changing rules on gathering, providing pastoral support, and working with local organisations, the report says. Some were helping people to learn to cook; cook-and-eat sessions were run for vulnerable families in Bradford, and recipe boxes were set up in Sheffield. Emotional support included doorstep conversations, pastoral walks, phoning or text-messaging, and welfare calls.
Eighteen centres reported fresh expressions of church or new worshipping communities. Centres worked with an estimated 463 volunteers, but social-distancing restrictions and lack of face-to-face activity had made engaging existing volunteers more difficult, the centres reported. One of the biggest challenges to come was finding more volunteers, as “many felt there was still lots of uncertainty about what will happen in the future.”
Amid the difficulties, the research uncovered “statistics and stories to celebrate and sources of joy to be found”, and provided “a snapshot into the continuing impact that Centres of Mission have in an ever-changing landscape”, the report concludes.