Marion Shoard | Writer : Broadcaster : Speaker

Thought for the Day

Return to main comment page

Thought for the Day offered by Marion Shoard on BBC Radio Kent's Breakfast Programme on Sunday, 26th July 2020

One of Jesus’s key messages to his followers was to be with and help people where they actually are. Leaf through the pages of the New Testament and you’ll find that some of the most significant encounters of Jesus’ life took place out on the streets – healing the sick, weeping with those who’d been bereaved, talking to those considered the lowest of the low like a prostitute, a tax collector and a convicted criminal. In the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, a traveller on a lonely road encounters a man who’s been beaten up and robbed. Rather than rush past, minding his own business, the man stops and does all he can to respond there and then to the needs of this perfect stranger.

During this pandemic, close-up engagement with strangers hasn’t been easy. And yet if anything the need for support felt by many has never been higher. Countless people are grieving or fear losing their jobs; many have to cope with serious illness; many are holed up on their own, or with people they don’t like and who might abuse them. These challenges either continue now or will return in the event of future spikes and lockdowns.

So how should we all respond to this situation? Out of many ways, I want to highlight two. Helen McCormack has been appointed by churches in the countryside of north Yorkshire to offer special engagement with older people. She told me that lockdown had shown her that telephone ministry, often in the past thought of as an optional extra, is invaluable. She’s started phoning the people whom previously she’d have chatted to at coffee mornings and found they engage in far more in-depth, meaningful conversations over the phone than they ever would have had at a coffee morning. Sometimes the call is an opportunity to help them resolve problems from the past which haunt them in the present. But people just calling – the sound of the phone ringing and hearing a human voice on the end of the phone – can make a huge difference.

There’s surely huge scope for more phone ministry, especially in situations where previous opportunities for support have been reduced. For example, church ministers have been keen to ensure the rules on funerals have been strictly observed. But have they at the same time ensured they give grieving families all the emotional and spiritual help the church would previously have offered face-to-face by counselling them over the phone instead?

Homeless people have also faced new challenges during lockdown. The government has ensured councils can offer them overnight accommodation in local hotels, but during the day how are they supposed to prepare food and cope with the issues which may have led to their sleeping rough, like people trafficking, sex trafficking, abuse in childhood or mental ill-health, compounded by addiction to drugs or alcohol? A small band of committed volunteers and their manager at Gravesend Methodist Church were determined to continue their ministry with rough sleepers from day one of lockdown. They secured the agreement of the police, the council and the government’s rough sleeping advisor to continue to welcome rough sleepers into their three day a week dropin, taking necessary precautions against Covid including everyone wearing masks at all times and having their temperature taken before entry. They’ve been welcoming and continue to welcome more than 30 people every day, serving full cooked breakfasts, turning around guests’ laundry, offering shoes and clothes, providing many other kinds of practical help and, very importantly, a listening ear. The Daytime Hub at Gravesend Methodist receives some money from the council, but relies heavily on donations and is desperate to be able to continue and indeed extend its hours of opening. It has seen no cases of Covid-19.

I wonder whether the messages of lockdown – cut yourself off from your fellow men and women for your own protection, remain on your own patch, exercise your body for your own physical health – have insidiously led us all to turn inwards a little bit too much? They were all promulgated for sound reasons and it’s important we continue to try to contain and if possible wipe out this horrible disease. But shouldn’t all of us, whether people of faith or of none, make sure we don’t inadvertently sever ourselves from the needs for help and above all for love of the strangers in our midst?