Times might be difficult, but isn't that when we see the very best of the Church?

Times might be difficult, but isn't that when we see the very best of the Church?
Dec 2022

Times might be difficult, but isn't that when we see the very best of the Church?


(Photo: Getty/iStock)

In the last few weeks, we've had a lot of news headlines shaking our traditional image of Britain. Harry and Meghan's documentary aired on Netflix casting even more shadows over our established monarchy, various of our established national services are striking across Christmas to have their voices heard, and the recent census highlighted the percentage of people identifying as Christian in Britain has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time.
The subsequent rush of negative headlines was entirely predictable - "the Church is over", screamed the various columnists and writers, and social media was full of pessimism as the grave of British Christianity was dug even deeper.
They say statistics don't lie, and I'm not suggesting we should ignore the census results, but there is another angle to this story. So, seeing as it's Christmas, let's unwrap the headlines and see the gift inside.
Instead of focusing on the number of people who have ticked a box on a piece of paper, we can look at the amount of impact that the Church has contributed and continues to contribute. There are always difficult seasons, but it seems that with Covid, the war in Ukraine and now the cost-of-living crisis, this is the most challenging time we've had in a generation. I certainly can't remember so many significant challenges across the world at one time in history.
It's often said that tough situations don't last but tough people do and, once again, those on the frontline making sure Britain survives its latest pressure are the faith and community groups, spearheaded by church leaders from all denominations and streams across the UK.
They did it in the pandemic and they're here again in the cost-of-living crisis. When push comes to shove, churches up and down the country are putting theological and cultural differences aside and making a united front determined to make a social impact whatever is thrown our way.
As the campaign manager for Warm Welcome Campaign, the community response to the cost of living crisis, I have been amazed how churches and community groups have stepped up to respond to the pressures of rising energy bills so many families across our nation are facing.
At the latest count, 5,448 churches, community groups, libraries, local authorities and businesses have registered with Warm Welcome and have agreed to open their doors and provide a safe and welcoming environment for people struggling to heat their homes. At the start of the campaign in October, we had just over 300 registered places, so to now be knocking on 5,500 is just fantastic.
It's unacceptable that people are facing the decision to heat their home or eat, but the response from the Church gives me great hope. We are not quitting anytime soon and, in fact, we seem to be ramping up our response, recruiting more volunteers and working harder than ever to offer a lifeline to our communities - even when many locations are struggling with bills themselves.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has backed our campaign, saying: "Eighty per cent of families are already saying they are slashing their Christmas spending, and more than 40 per cent expecting their home to be cold through the festive season.
"What does it say when we see innovation today is not to be found in the City or on the management floor, but within our charities as they desperately struggle to keep pace with demand which is going through the roof? But we cannot despair."
Times might be difficult, but isn't that when we see the very best of the Church? When the early Christians experienced persecution as documented in the book of Acts, they became even more determined to advance. A social response and being the hands and feet of Jesus to our nation during challenging times seems to be what we do best.
So is the number of Brits who tick the Christian box decreasing? Probably. But is the Church's impact over? Not from what I can see.
David Barclay is Campaign Manager for the Warm Welcome Campaign. He is Partner at the Good Faith Partnership, a consultancy specialising in helping leaders across the worlds of business, politics, charity and faith work better together on common goals - one of their leading projects is setting up the the ChurchWorks Commission in October 2021 to explore the Church's role in national Covid recovery. The Warm Welcome Campaign is coordinated by the ChurchWorks Commission. He is a former President of the Oxford University Student Union, with particular experience working on issues around social and financial inclusion.