22 January 2021

One arm at a time, together, we are offering hope which will change the world.

The Revd. Dr. Joanne Cox-Darling explains how Trinity Methodist Church in Codsall is offering faith, hope and love to its community as part of the national vaccination programme.

 

I walked into one of our church buildings on Friday afternoon, armed with chocolate brownies. Every room was filled with people. The atmosphere was fizzing – a heady mixture of hope and needles.

Since early December, we have partnered with Seisdon  Primary Care Network  and the local CCG to provide a Covid-19 vaccine centre for South Staffordshire. When we are up to full capacity, 1000 people will walk through the doors every day.

For us as church, the rationale was two-fold. Firstly, we have a longstanding healing ministry. Offering a space for the vaccine, therefore, gives us a chance to share hope, good news, clinical excellence, and support the restoration of society. Secondly, we have invested long and hard in both the refurbishment and relationships necessary to being a venue which is open and accessible for the community. As a church, we have been exploring what it means to live out our calling as a ‘space to play, pray and heal.’ No-one expected the pandemic to be our Spirit inspired, God-given training ground. Yet this is where we find ourselves – inhabiting a space offering faith, hope, and love, at the coalface of a global pandemic.

Relationships.

For us, relationships are at the heart of our activity as a church for the community. We have engaged in a range of ways and activities to build relationships within the community.

Since the first lockdown, we have sent a fortnightly delivery of chocolate brownies and doughnuts to medical practices (and local school staffrooms). This was intended as a classic piece of missional blessing – offering a gift into the community, without expectation of return.

The return initially came as one medical centre used our premises as a venue for flu clinics throughout the autumn and winter. The clinical staff got to know our building, and got to work out the processes and protocols required to get the maximum number of people through the building in a safe manner.

We have also been able to encourage our church members to get involved with part of our local community – including sitting on GP patient partnership committees, again a relationship which has secured our reputation as a place suitable for a vaccine centre.

In more recent weeks, we have built relationships with the wellbeing officers within the NHS, who have enabled us to be present for people who need a listening ear during their 15 minutes recovery. This has included chatting with carers and family members who are just relieved that there is hope for an end to separation; to providing links to the local foodbank for those who require a referral; to sitting with patients in tears as they describe this visit to a Methodist chapel as the first journey outside of their houses for nine months.

We see part of our job is also to make sure that we don’t read that last sentence too quickly.

Reputation.

As people take to social media to comment and complain about queues – and even phone the minister to request that we stop the snow (!) – there is the opportunity for the church building, and our volunteers, to make sure that the experience of patients and clinicians is one of welcome. We

have tried hard to think about how to make the experience as safe, and as non-clinical, as possible. We are not, after all, a clinical venue. We are a Church.

With the Covid-19 signs pinned to almost every door and wall, it can be hard not to look like every other community facility. We continue to try and adapt our displays, walls, and even our toilet doors – as other ways to bless our guests whilst they are with us.

Behind the scenes, we are able to listen to staff who are working in the Centre in addition to their normally contracted hours. We are supporting volunteers and patients through offering spiritual care in addition to the social prescribing on offer from the NHS. Little of this would be possible without our cleaner and caretaking volunteers, who continues to make sure that all of our users are safe and cared for.

Front of house, we have encouraged people to join the volunteer team. Some of the clinical staff are members in the wider circuit. We also try and carefully respond to the comment and criticisms, so that people are best prepared for the best possible experience. Whatever the weather. One favourite anecdote remains the Zoom Sunday worship which was interrupted by the delivery of 10000 syringes!

When many of us are still working out what church looks like when the building is closed – we are having to work our what church looks like when the congregation don’t meet, but the building is very much open and perhaps ‘on show’ more than it has ever been (we also have a nursery on site, which remains open to local preschoolers). This impacts our congregation differently, and occasionally more painfully, than to the wider community.

Restoration.

There is no doubt that with the advent of the regulated vaccines, comes hope that a new normal is within our grasp. Offering the space for a Vaccine Centre enables us as a church building and community of faith, to hold that hope and offer that place for restoration – of society, of creation, as well as for individuals.

We are finally able to use our building for the restoration and healing of the world – and it is not a privilege we hold lightly. This is the calling of the kingdom of God, for which we are happy to get involved with.

The real story-keepers and miracle workers throughout this are the hundreds of medics and volunteers who are at the start of this vaccine marathon. They deserve every chocolate brownie and prayer we are able to offer to them – and that is absolutely our privilege.

One arm at a time, together, we are offering hope which will change the world.

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