MORE than 40 Christian denominations have launched a project, the Give Hope Campaign, to raise awareness of churches’ service to their communities during the pandemic and to boost their efforts.
The campaign is run by YourNeighbour, an alliance that includes the Church of England, Evangelical Alliance, Salvation Army, Baptists Together, Assemblies of God, Vineyard, and the Methodist Church. Supported by the Good Faith Foundation and the Stewardship fund-raising group, it seeks to create a rapid-response fund, develop and expand already successful church-based programmes, and gain recognition for Church’s contribution.
Many cathedrals and churches have offered their buildings as vaccination centres (News, 22 January). The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, Nadhim Zahawi, has praised this contribution and urged church leaders to continue their campaign to educate their congregations on the safety of the vaccine and encourage uptake (News, 12 February).
Speaking at an online Give Hope campaign event on Thursday, he said: “We want every eligible person to benefit from a free vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Effective vaccines are the best way to protect people from coronavirus and will save thousands of lives.
“Church is a place of trust and church leaders have been doing incredible work – thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have been doing. If you, as church leaders, feel yourself you have asked the questions and have received the answers, you can share that with your congregation. It’s a more powerful message if they hear it from you.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who chairs YourNeighbour’s advisory board, said: “The development of a number of Covid vaccines is miraculous, an answer to our prayers. Local communities encouraging one another are key in helping everyone understand why being vaccinated is important for everyone when their opportunity comes. Faith communities and faith leaders have a specific role to play in this.”
A new UK survey suggests that non-Christians’ view of churches has improved over the past three years, especially in their response to the pandemic. The study, by Savanta ComRes, found that the respondents were more likely to agree that the UK Church was making a positive difference in the world: 25 per cent today, compared with 19 per cent three years ago. More than one in three (36 per cent) agreed that Christian churches were making a positive difference in the world.
The online poll of 2170 adults carried out from 12 to 14 February for YourNeighbour, and the charity World Vision UK, found that 42 per cent agreed that churches were making a positive difference in their communities, and 24 per cent disagreed.
When asked which community needs the churches could provide, 24 per cent said events for the elderly, and homeless services, followed by shelter for the homeless (22 per cent), and the collection and distribution of food, clothes, and toys (20 per cent).
Agu Irukwu, Senior Pastor of Jesus House for all the Nations, London, which supports the initiative, said: “Tens of thousands of local churches across the UK have been at the front line of the community response to the Covid pandemic, and it is encouraging to see that the impact of that work is improving public perceptions of the Church. But there is still a lot of work to be done to fully reveal the pivotal role the Church continues to play in modern society.”
The chief executive of Stewardship, Stewart McCulloch, said: “We hope to encourage, equip, and enable the growth of the response of local churches to the continuing practical and spiritual needs of their communities, as hope dawns for the end of this crisis and a period of healing and recovery ahead.”
The chief executive of World Vision UK, Mark Sheard, said that often much of churches’ work went unseen, and those who served rarely looked for plaudits. “We want to participate in ‘Give Hope’ to thank those who have given so sacrificially — particularly over the past 12 months — and to use our global experience to encourage and enable more churches to respond to the practical needs of their communities.”
Bishop Butler said: “It is encouraging to see that the work undertaken by local churches of every style during the pandemic has been recognised by many in their local communities and that this leads to a more positive view of the church. We continue together to be committed to #GiveHope to all people by serving all in need. We aim to do so with compassion for all.”