If your Church closed tomorrow, would anyone notice?

I remember being challenged by a friend who asked me this question: “If your church closed tomorrow would anyone notice?” While it annoyed me greatly at the time, it is a powerful question that we would do well to ask ourselves in times like these. Exploring answers to this question is not as much about justifying the existence of a local church as it is about reflecting on who we are and who we can be to our neighbours.

These are unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal much about who we are as humans and who and what we value. In many spaces, the local church has offered hope: from acting as spaces for food preparation and serving, to becoming microsites providing shelter to our unhoused brothers and sisters, run in conjunction with recognised service providers. We have included some information and good news stories about these in today’s newsletter and will continue to share them.

We must, however, continuously go deeper: asking more reflective questions of ourselves as those that follow the risen Christ. Theologically we must constantly call ourselves to reflect on who we are as neighbours in times like this.

We were told a story recently of some people who were serving food to a group of people living in a nearby park. They spoke of having to hide from the prying eyes of neighbours and neighbourhood watches while they undertook this work. That is, until they approached a local church who agreed to open their buildings and facilitate the provision of food for their friends in the park. Suddenly their actions were no longer scrutinised suspiciously and judged harshly. This story carries with it a not so gentle message that what some feel is an offence for an individual to do, seems to be acceptable when in the hands of the local Church. It also carries an opportunity – an invitation. COVID-19 is with us for the foreseeable future. This means that the Church has an opportunity to be the neighbour that our City wants and desperately needs, rather than a passive participant or a Sunday service provider.

In this newsletter, you will find many ways for your Church to become more involved. You can also find other resources to help your Church discern and prepare and act on our website. We would also love you to think and discern more deeply around what God’s invitation to you may be with regard to our neighbours who live outside.

Without a doubt, we are headed for one of the toughest winters we will ever have known.  Many questions remain unanswered about the health, safety, dignity and human rights of the thousands of people who currently live on the streets in South Africa. 

– How will they gain access to increased services and safety as this winter progresses and we reach the peak time of virus transmission?

– Where will they live during an extended time of strict physical distancing?

– How will safe and constant access to meals be ensured?

The great news is that we’ve never been better prepared for doing this under the health and safety precautions we need to adhere to. Two months ago we had no idea how our cities’ governments were going to respond, what would be possible with our collective capabilities. 

In Cape Town, the response to increased vulnerability in the street homeless community during COVID-19 has been fraught with challenges and injustices but also with emerging stories of hope, amazing growth in collaboration and the surfacing of local communities of care who have come to the fore in the past few weeks. 

The NGO’s in the street homelessness sector have been working tirelessly these past few weeks to coordinate efforts, increase service delivery, liaise with all stakeholders and service providers and work out long term plans for what is facing their clients. 

Through our networks, we have experienced how NGO’s, people living outside, active citizens in Community Action Networks and Churches can put their hearts, minds and resources together to explore loving and effective solutions.

But what could be next?

  • What do the next six months hold?
  • Are there ways your church could be responding even more intentionally?
  • Who should we be working together with on this?
  • How would you like to use your church spaces that are standing empty and cannot be used for the many things they are usually used for during this time?
  • Or are there spaces that have been fairly underutilized for some time that you’ve been wondering how to use, before COVID-19?

We are looking for churches who would be willing to work with NGO’s and Community Action Network groups to open up their spaces to be used as sites to host street-based people.

There are several really well-established connections between street-based and housed neighbours in various parts of Cape Town. 

In some cases, there are established partnerships who have undergone excellent collaboration and consultation with street-based communities who are ready to run with all necessary volunteers, connection with resources, NGO partners, etc.

Full guidelines and standard operating procedures have been developed and we will be able to put you in consultation with others who are currently doing this from church spaces for advice and networking.

We would love to be in touch with church leaders and decision-makers in churches that may not yet know of this opportunity to have their spaces used in this way.  If your church has been considering this and does not fall within these areas, or if you would like to have more information on offering your buildings as Care Centres in general, please visit this page and let us know you are interested in exploring more.

We are not trying to make these endeavours sound easy: they are not. A lot of hard work needs to go into making these spaces successful, safe and dignifying … but the situation as we are experiencing it currently is that there are groups of people ready to make this happen who are just lacking the appropriate venues. 

If your Church has been asking some of these questions or feeling that they need to be asked, please contact us! We love to walk with Churches as they discern what God is calling them to.

May we be known by our love,

Caroline & Wayne

on behalf of The Warehouse Team

This post was the editorial piece for this newsletter. Enjoy your read 🙂