Listen: Hope Afternoon's Ben McEachen chats with Uniting Church in Australia's Simon Hansford about how they are serving local communities during lockdown
How have our churches been helping local communities during lockdown and what lessons have they been learning? Hope Afternoons has interviewed church leaders across Greater Sydney to find out how God’s people are loving their neighbours, and each Sunday and Wednesday throughout October we are sharing what they had to say.
Simon Hansford is Moderator of Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW and ACT.
Simon, what have your churches learned during lockdown?
“One of the big jokes in the Uniting Church has been that if I had said them two years ago, ‘We need to move to online services and that sort of thing,’ they would have said, ‘Oh, I don’t think we can change it all, mate.’ But when COVID happened, they were jumping in. I think there was a 10 day turn-around from offline to online, and people in their 80s and 90s were learning to run Bible studies on Zoom.”
“So I think that’s been technological change and people have adapted, not just fast but creatively. Congregations who would not normally have shifted have done so very well.
“I think that’s been technological change and people have adapted, not just fast but creatively. Congregations who would not normally have shifted have done so very well,” – Simon Hansford
“Some have found it quite difficult, of course, but a number of congregations are sharing their online resources more widely than just themselves. We have churches across our Synod who are recording high-quality kids talks, Bible studies or sermons and sharing them.
“One of the big challenges of this has been the open-endedness of this… That’s been exhausting. Added to that, the fact every congregation is made up of members of the wider community, who can’t see family or friends, or what they normally do. And those things are wearing them down as well.
“There’s also concern and lack of sureness about what will church worship community look like whenever this thing draws to a close, whatever that means.”
“I want to say that at the same time, which I find really exciting, the questions being asked about how will we be church – how will we disciple, how we lead people to faith, how we pray, create, care and serve – are questions we should be asking every day of our lives as disciples of Christ.
“As challenging as they are to ask and answer, it’s exciting to hear them being asked.”
How have Uniting churches been helping their local communities during the pandemic?
“We are quite a diverse and broad church and, for example, we have parish missions working in our churches such as Wesley Mission, Uniting, Exodus Foundation (in Ashfield) or Wayside Chapel (in King’s Cross). They are doing a whole range of thing, whether it is high-quality aged care in people’s homes through to Exodus Foundation providing vaccinations. Where people are living on the street or are in uncertain lifestyles, are finding themselves safe to get vaccinated there. People who wouldn’t have been vaccinated now are, which is really exciting. They are also being cared for there as well.
“They are doing a whole range of thing, whether it is high-quality aged care in people’s homes through to Exodus Foundation providing vaccinations,” – Simon Hansford
“Exodus Foundation has had to get more resources in to cope, as have all our parish missions are. They are all doing important, basic things like feeding and caring for people but also providing contact and community care, which are getting more and more stretched in these times. But such services are, especially during this crisis time, particularly critical.”
Simon, can you offer us a word of encouragement?
“We co-ordinate disaster chaplaincy so whenever a fire, flood, drought or crisis happens, we co-ordinate across inter-faith channels some chaplains to go into disaster areas. Our chaplain co-ordinator Stephen Robinson and I were talking about this pandemic and saying how this is just like a disaster, and how we actually have to be caring for people. But the sense of hope we have is that the gospel tells us really clearly that at the worst of our lives, in the darkest times – in grief, struggle, illness, injustice or pandemic – Christ is never more present.”
“…the gospel tells us really clearly that at the worst of our lives, in the darkest times – in grief, struggle, illness, injustice or pandemic – Christ is never more present,” – Simon Hansford
“He is with us in every step and every breath. I think we’ve crafted this false theology that says the measure of Christ’s presence is in how we are succeeding and dong things really well… But The Cross is most true when things are at their hardest, and God is with us in Jesus Christ.
“That’s what we are trying to communicate with our congregations that are providing food hampers to people as far as Goodooga in north-west New South Wales or in the middle of Bankstown. We aren’t just handing out food, we are handing out service, care, blessing, prayer and witness – and all those things wrap up together.
“So it’s not just nourishing the body, although that’s important. We’re also seeking to nourish their full lives and offer them hope.”
Please, pray with Simon.
God of all the universe who knows each of us by name and holds each of our hands,
We give you thanks for your presence among us.
We pray especially for those who serve – for teachers, doctors, nurses, ‘ambos’, paramedics and ward staff in hospitals.
We pray for people in aged-care support across our community, and for carers at home whose names are not known who care for their loved ones.
For all these gifts of care, we give you thanks.
We also ask for your blessing upon them.
Thank you for the way they care and offer your gospel through their lives.
In Christ our Lord we pray,
Feature image: Uniting Facebook
Also in the ‘Greater Sydney Church Leaders Series’
- How the Coptic Orthodox Church is Helping Their Community
- How the Salvation Army Church is Helping Their Community
- How C3 Sydney is Helping Their Community
- How the Baptist Church is Helping Their Community
- How Australian Christian Churches is Helping Their Community
- How the Anglican Church is Helping Their Community
- How Greater West for Christ is Helping Their Community