Roo Stewart of the United Reformed Church, one of Greenbelt’s partners, encourages us to keep looking beyond ourselves during lockdown and beyond.
‘Stay Alert’, the slogan began. Observers were confused. Commentators were derisory. It wasn’t as straightforward a message as ‘Stay at Home’ had been. It was vague. It required a constant, vigilant, examining response. Time will tell if the phrase ‘Stay Alert’ was a help or a hinderance in the fight against Covid-19.
Together as a nation, we have witnessed or shared fear, distrust and grief. It was often said that we have all been ‘in it together’, but there are groups in our wider society who have been affected more than most, by the virus itself and the policies created in response.
This disparity is what led us to invite you to ‘Stay Alert to Justice’. As followers of Jesus’ teaching and example, or even simply as compassionate human beings, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring injustice (see Matthew 25:31-46). Throughout history and today, organisations, including many partners of Greenbelt, have been speaking out and taking action to offer support to those who need it, but also to change the system.
Staying alert to justice means that we make a constant, vigilant, examining response to the systems in our world which work for some but not all. The Public Health England report released on 2 June, ‘Disparities in the Risk and Outcomes of COVID-19’, highlights that living in an area of deprivation or being Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) leaves a person more likely to die as a result of the pandemic. Living in an area of deprivation has long been recognised as an inequality in mortality (yet the issue still persists); the worrying trend identified for those who are BAME is a new development. Public Health Scotland didn’t find this trend in its recent research: a possible reason given was an insufficient sample size. There are major gaps here which demand further investigation and our vigilance.
If we’re being really honest, for many of us who face injustice every day, it can seem quite redundant to be asked to ‘Stay Alert’. It is draining. But staying alert means sharing in others’ joy too, and there is good news to share. In May, migrants were reunited with their families in the UK by special flights organised by the Home Office, after various agencies including Safe Passage drew attention to their plight.
Not every campaign attracts results so quickly. In the last few months, we have signed petitions for an end to warfare during the pandemic, called for a debt jubilee for poorer countries and many have realised that ‘home’ is not a safe haven for those affected by domestic violence. Yet we persist to keep pushing and trying to point the way to a more just society.
Ongoing research conducted by the Joint Public Issues Team (of which the United Reformed Church is part) and Church Action on Poverty has brought into focus how more people within the UK are facing hardship because of current movement restrictions.
Huge income shocks are appearing for middle income families, some of whom are struggling to cope. There are reports of people needing assistance who would not ever have viewed themselves as benefit claimants or foodbank guests.
Gleanings Report, JPIT and Church Action on Poverty
Staying alert to justice means that we are mindful that there are people within our communities who are struggling because our systems are not working for them and need to be adjusted. Loving kindness and walking humbly means that we don’t shirk our responsibilities towards others. Instead, it means each of us must take action by continuing to push for positive systemic change. We would love you to join us.
You can find resources and regular updates to help you ‘Stay Alert to Justice’ on the JPIT website, including how to get involved, campaigning ideas and ways to develop an effective relationship with your MP.
Roo Stewart is the URC’s Programme Support Officer for Church and Society and works as part of the Joint Public Issues Team. 2019 was his first Greenbelt: his favourite things about the festival are the plentiful supply of vegan food and the cheery team of volunteers who go out of their way to help everyone feel welcome, safe and loved.
In other news…
The URC has published a resource booklet called New reality, same mission: A stimulus to renewed community engagement as we emerge from the pandemic. It was put together by a small team from the URC along with Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty.
It offers a process for exploring questions of community presence and engagement and social justice in the “new normal” and developing new priorities for mission and ministry. Reflection is also invited about the kind of society and economy that we want to rebuild after the pandemic. It features examples of how churches around the UK are already an active presence in their communities in many different ways, and points to resources and organisations that can provide advice and support.
The resource will be accompanied by some conversation-starter videos and, in a few weeks, a webinar to enable to discussion to continue. Further details will be available at https://urc.org.uk/same-mission