By John Battle, chair of the Commission
The Easter Alleluia hymn for morning prayer could not be more prescient in these times:
“Then Life and Death together fought, alleluia, Each to a strange extreme were brought, alleluia”.
Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic is not allowing us to move too quickly through the Paschal Mysteries this year. Yet the Gospel message urges us to move forward. As scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us in his “A Gospel of Hope”:
“The Easter miracles happen here and there, and the people of God sign on for the mystery of God’s transformative work. We covet the moments when the power of death and injustice do not prevail in the world. We bear witness to God’s steadfast love”.
Well before the pandemic broke out there was practical evidence of that transformative work of Gospel action helping the homeless. assisting asylum seekers and refugees, and helping provide for and support food banks for those in need – not least in our own Diocese. Some of this work was through traditional institutional charities such as the local conferences of the St Vincent De Paul Society and the St Vincents Community Support centre in Leeds ( a national ‘beacon’ project) and the St George’s Crypt for the homeless. More often it was quiet personal and generous action that kept these needed supportive services going.
The necessary institutional support and funding in recent times of austerity has proved difficult to sustain as charities and voluntary organisations have suffered from lack of access to grants and core funding and institutional support. At times of increasing need and demands, keeping going has been proving harder and harder. The hollowing out of local institutional community support with the demise of community centres, tenants associations and local charitable and voluntary organisations has often led to schools
and churches as the only means of coming together, often leaving the Jo Cox Foundation to stress the need to “tackle isolation”.
Without doubt the personal response the coronavirus ” lock down crisis” has been one of generous individual commitment. Spontaneous food banks have sprung in place such as at St Vincent’s Centre, community centres and We Care Leeds – collecting and distributing food. Some local councils have reorganised quickly, setting up community ” hub” distribution and help points in conjunction with local charities. But as, We Care Leeds stress, they are a temporary quick response “stop gap” which does not means test or assess need. This is not sustainable or funded for the long term.
In other words, the generous individual response to calls for help are not a substitute for the necessary longer term “transformational” action which requires the rebuilding of institutional frameworks of support in local communities. In doing this there is a role for parishes. Things will not be the same as the pandemic subsides, but nor should they be. We need to move from individual generosity to sustained structural supportive work.
In the encouraging words of Pope Francis this Easter:
” Let us not lose our memory once all this is past. Let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is a time to take the decisive step”
Pope Francis Easter 2020