Assumptions, Lockdown and the urban church

A lot of the assumptions I hear made about Coronavirus, the lockdown and life ahead assume a middle-class, suburban perspective on things.  Those might sound like provocative words but let me explain why I am saying this.

First of all, there is a tendency to talk about the virus not discriminating. I understand the sentiments behind those words, they are meant to warn against complacency, no-one is immune. However, hear the claim from the perspective of someone living in an inner city context. Population density, multi-generational occupancy of housing etc mean that you are more likely to be at risk of catching the illness. Further, underlying health conditions linked to social deprivation may make you more vulnerable to experiencing much more serious symptoms and sadly dying from the disease.

Claiming that the virus does not discriminate is insensitive when those who have experienced discrimination the most, those from ethnic minority backgrounds seem to be more at risk of catching and experiencing serious consequences from COVID -19.

Moreover, hazard a guess at which communities are supplying the care workers to go into our residential care homes with minimal PPE?

Secondly, we see the world from a perspective of home working and home schooling. However, not everyone can work from home. So, if you tend to work in an office and sit behind a computer all day, with the aid of zoom and teams you can transfer your office to your spare room and stay connected. If you are a shop floor worker you cannot do that. And if you are a data processer, even if your office sets you up to key in the information remotely, chances are that you don’t have a spare room/study to retreat to as your whole family crowds into the living room.

Whilst some of us experience the frustration of new modes of working, many others are being furloughed with reduced income or even laid off.

Thirdly, we talk glibly about children not being given too much work and simply being allowed to enjoy the time, they will be enriched in other ways that will help their educational growth. However, this assumes a middle-class life style with all the supposed cultural knowledge that goes with it. 

Again, it is those who are already at risk of being left behind by the education system who will suffer most from not being in the class-room.

Then, I think that the way we respond as churches is a matter of concern too.  When I hear people glibly saying that the church is being disciplined because of consumer attitudes and for families thinking they could take a break from Sunday services whenever the feel like it I think it highlights the different cultural contexts in which we are operating. I rarely see people thinking that they can just opt in and out of gathering because they have other hobbies to pursue. The problem is not entirely absent but what I see is shift workers either being in work on Sunday or the whole night before, single parents, people having to care for elderly relatives and others struggling with ill-health and disabilities that create obstacles to gathering. Yet there is so often a hunger to meet.

Similarly, we have talked about the challenges of getting everybody linked up through zoom and Facebook. We have discovered that we can link older people in to zoom by dialling in. That’s all well and good but there is still a gap.  We have homeless people in our community, rough sleepers and hostel residents. Giving them a landline option for dialling in doesn’t solve their access problems.  Even if they do manage to zoom in, some of them will feel very exposed, on view, agitated by the nature of the medium, in some respects it is too personal, too full on an comes will a whole new set of social norms and rules to fit in with.

Further, I think we can forget how some of our language comes across when we talk about patience, respecting the experts and trusting.  Absolutely, we need to do those things.  I took part in a very helpful webinar the other day.  There was lots of brilliant advice including, the first point that one of our reactions can be resentment. It’s an absolutely brilliant point. We resent when we think others are being treated differently or our voice is not being heard.  There is  a good challenge. However, I also need to reflect as I talk to our church family and community the danger of saying this in a way that sounds like “Stay quiet” “leave it with me” “your emotions and how you express them are not welcome.” 

So, an appeal to church leaders, national, regional and local, institutions like the NHS, Civil service and government ministers. Let’s be alert (there’s that word again) to how the pandemic affects our urban inner cities and estates. 

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