Being the hands and feet of Jesus
We lay out the tins, stopping to check the labels are all facing the same way, we turn the heating up, we place the biscuits in a bowl, it’s the chocolate one’s today, they’ll like them. We wait. And in that space a question fills the void, flickering just for a moment before being crowded out by the loud, performed welcomes, the logistics (and statistics), the heavy lifting, the rush (two hours later) back to my desk: how is this related to my faith?
Across the country this question lingers, not only in the foodbanks, so often staffed by church volunteers, but in the cooking clubs, the dementia cafes, the debt advice centres, the toddler mornings. It is more distant, perhaps, as we collect clothes for the incoming refugees, as we switch to a fairer and greener energy supplier, as we bring the shopping home for the old lady next door, but still it is there.
For some, serving others is more than doing 'good'– a bounded act, a ‘Good Christian’ tick box. As previous research indicates, for some, living and loving in our communities, seeking justice here on earth, is not just part of faith, but is a vital part to growing our faith. It is mutually transformative. As we encounter those different from us (in social status, in past experiences, in political outlook, in religion, tradition, denomination) we are refined. As we act more like Jesus, we are shaped to be more like Him. And this is contagious. Generosity is contagious, liberating, surprising, attractive. In blessing, we are blessed, and those blessed renewed (inspired, encouraged) to bless others. Together we experience and seek more of the diversity, the joy, the potential of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
In doing so we grow. But do we grow alone? Is this one more step towards the individualisation, called for from the towers of capitalism, of neoliberalism? Or is it a chance for something more? For us as individual disciples, but also for the church. Our actions expressing not just one but all five marks of mission: proclaiming
(campaigning) the Good News of a fairer society; nurturing
new believers drawn to us by our surprising, contagious actions of love; responding
to human need in all its cries; transforming
(at times slowly, at times forcefully) unjust structures of society; nurturing and renewing
the life of both people and creation on earth.
As we, the church, collectively engage in social action, in all its diverse, overt and subtle expressions, are we also revitalising our place in society? Distilling the toxicity of our brand. Not a ‘dying’ church but an active, relevant, essential part of local communities. A port in the storms of austerity, of universal credit, of Brexit. There may not be more of us in the pews, each year less of us may tick the Anglican box, but there is growth. The hands and feet of Jesus are walking to places they haven’t been before, holding those they had forgotten to comfort, embracing those from whom they had once turned away.
28 September 2018
Naomi joined Church Army as a Research Associate in April 2018. She is an independent research consultant specialising in questions of faith, social justice, poverty alleviation, communities and young people. She has recently finished her doctorate studying youth participation in the UK. Naomi lives in Liverpool with her husband and their son Harvey, where she can often be found on the netball court, or in the stands of Goodison Park.
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