While new lockdown rules have been put in place, there are still many people anxious and concerned about leaving their homes. Father Angus Richie, the Director of the Centre of Theology and TELCO Citizens leader, writes a step-by-step guide on how churches can keep the spirit of community organising alive during lockdown by practising attentive listening and action in their communities.
Community organising has had to adapt very quickly to the lockdown, and conversations in our churches indicate its continuing importance – particularly in:
- Rooting action in attentive listening to the different situations people are in
- Ensuring the inclusion of people who are not online – or who have less access too, and confidence with, the internet
- Reaching beyond the confines of those already in our congregations to engage with their practical, social and spiritual needs and gifts
- Rooting everything churches do in prayer and in their wider mission
The foundation for all organising is listening, and in this blog I want to explore how this can happen during lockdown - in churches and in other local institutions.
TWO KINDS OF LISTENING
Institutions have safeguarding policies to ensure the representative has been through appropriate checks. When institutions set up phone trees, it is important that this safeguarding is in place to protect the most vulnerable.
A possible framework for an internal telephone tree for a church is below (based on one developed by Caitlin Harland at St George-in-the-East, to cover all households in the congregation).
Introduce yourself and explain why you are calling, on behalf of which church/organisation, how frequently you aim to call, explaining that the conversations are not entirely confidential. (Any relevant information may, where deemed appropriate, be shared with the clergy and those coordinating the organisation’s Covid-19 response.)
- Pastoral - How are you and your loved ones doing?
- Practical support - Do you need any practical support? Do you know other people who need support?
- Listening to wider problems - Have your circumstances been affected? What are you worried about?
- Volunteering - In the first conversation, do ask if there is anything that they would like to do to offer to help others. While people may be vulnerable in some respects, they may have gifts which are much needed by the wider community.
Outlining the church’s ‘offer’, which may include:
- Agreeing a frequency of check-in (are people happy to be called each week?)
- Talking them through how they can connect with the church (i.e. online services or resources which can be accessed through a phone call)
- Indicating that they are on a regular rota of prayer in church and if there is anything specific for which they would like pray for
- A practical offer of help with supplies and deliveries (again this guidance is helpful)
Alongside these formal phone trees, good neighbourliness is needed more than ever. When someone drops a note through a neighbour’s letterbox or calls them, they are not doing this on behalf of their institution – but they can appoint people to help when needs are identified. This is the approach being taken by Shadwell Responds.
It’s suggested that people do four things while checking in informally as good neighbours:
- Connect - Listen to how the person is doing.
- Discover - Ask if they need help with anything.
- Encourage - Offer some simple words of encouragement or comfort.
- Invite - Discuss with the person about whether they can also be calling people.
FROM LISTENING TO ACTION
Through these listening processes, gifts, needs and challenges are being identified. When these are beyond the capacity of the listener to respond, our institutions and the wider alliance community organising alliance can help.
This might include:
- Addressing practical and spiritual needs – where the individual listener is unable to help, someone else in the institution may be able. The listening process will help churches develop their activities – offering of worship, teaching and pastoral care during lockdown, as well as the way they offer support to those in need. The listening process will also identify leaders for this.
- Signposting – i.e. helping people raise concerns with the right person if social care packages are not being delivered adequately, pointing people to food banks and other emergency provision, to pastoral and spiritual resources
- Supporting people in raising concerns – encouraging individuals and institutions, (when appropriate) to raise concerns with local councillors and MPs
- Collective action in the wider alliance –using the collective power and relationships of the Citizens alliance to co-ordinate new practical responses - the Shadwell Responds video letter to the Education Secretary is a great example.
The Centre of Theology have launched a new podcast, Just Church, to share learnings from Citizens UK on how to help churches harness the potential of organising for their ministry and mission.
Episode 1: The Revd Vanessa Conant and the Revd Graham Hunter reflect on the challenges of reaching out and journeying in during a pandemic.
Episode 2: Citizens UK organisers Paul Amuzie and Froilan Legaspi talk about the importance of acting for justice as well as mercy.
Read more like this:
- I'm a care worker - and this is why we need to end No Recourse to Public Funds
- A mum from Parents and Communities Together (PACT) blogs about life in lockdown and reasons why Covid-19 has made her worry
- Find out more about how we’re responding to the Covid-19 crisis
Originally published on The Centre of Theology. This is an edited version.