Coronavirus is threatening the lives and livelihoods of families, neighbourhoods and the world.

After just a few weeks there are already more than 11,000 coronavirus deaths worldwide. The UK Government government have stated they are doing everything possible to keep deaths across the UK under 20,000 but its hard to predict at such a fast-moving situation.

The economic impact of the coronavirus however is effecting the wellbeing of every person. More value has been lost from global stock markets than during the 2008 global financial crisis. Millions of jobs and livelihoods are at risk particularly in the travel, hospitality and leisure sectors.

These realities are creating fear and panic however there are also some wonderful expressions of faith and #coronakindness happening in grassroots communities. Around the world Jesus followers and other people of good will are starting support groups in their streets and neighbourhoods to love and care for people experiencing vulnerability.

In our Wimbledon street we leaflet dropped the 66 households inviting people to be part of a community support group to love your neighbour. So far 45 people have responded with a willingness to provide practical help to others. We have now dropped another leaflet headlined ‘You are not alone!’ with the invitation to telephone one of our volunteer community liaisons if help is needed. People who have heard  our  story are  doing similarly in their communities including Mildred Talabi from Kent.

Neighbours who have seen each other from a distance for years or who are rarely seen are now talking with one another and a greater sense of community is growing. We are living Jesus ancient invitation, ‘Love your neighbour’ (Matthew 22:38). Could this be the beginning of a greater sense of community rather than the individualism and isolation that has been growing.

This reminds me of The Times newspaper headline reporting the UK Cinnamon Faith Action Audit, ‘Loving thy neighbour is priceless – but it’s also worth £3bn’. Cinnamon Networked provided evidence that the value of the time given by churches to their communities each year is worth more than £3billion. This is just the value of time given, not ‘gifts in kind’ or money saved because of the help. There is a moment for local churches to become even more present to love their neighbours.

Governments around the world are advising against or banning events and gatherings. This means that this Sunday millions of local churches will not be meeting as they have historically – some will simply not meet and others will switch to an online meetings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the global Anglican Church has suspended Sunday meetings of the Church of England until further notice. He added, “Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day”.

So local churches unable to meet are rightly refocusing their work and resources on two things. Firstly, creating an online discipleship content and community and secondly, creating love your neighbour type initiatives to look after people in the community negatively impacted by the coronavirus.

Cinnamon Network International – the non-profit that I founded and lead – helps churches transform communities by loving your neighbour. We specialise in finding brilliant local church community projects and supporting them to replicate through other local churches to save them reinventing the wheel. So right now we are especially focused on telling stories of local churches loving your neighbour in the midst of the coronavirus to inspire other local churches to do the same.

Following Jesus invitation to love your neighbour is resulting in people doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, being a friendly voice on the phone and helping in many other practical ways. Loving and caring for one another is critical to strengthening the resilience of our communities to coronavirus and as we rebuild on the other side of this pandemic.

By Matt Bird

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