No article can do justice to what has happened to our world in 2020, nor to the myriad experiences of each and every individual, who has been affected by coronavirus in different ways, both subtle and dramatic. But in all this, we have known God With Us, and we we wanted to celebrate that faithfulness as we look back on 2020.
On 29 January, we launched our Lament for Lent campaign “to help the church to lament in the face of increasing unrest and uncertainty as persecution against Christians, war, racism, are on the rise together with the climate crisis and other threats to the wellbeing of the world.”
Our words made only the vaguest reference to the virus and the first handful of cases outside China.
We could not have imagined how timely and appropriate this theme would be, as Covid-19 brought home to us all some lessons that the majority of the world’s population know only too well. Life is fragile. But also, in the words of the Song of Songs – “love is as fierce as death” as our communities came together to support each other through the pandemic.
The Archbishop of South Sudan had started 2020 by calling for a year to throw away hate: “To request for God’s kingdom to come means to request for God’s rule to be practical in the lives and hearts of his children….”
These words still seemed urgent as we saw the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent surge of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. At Church Mission Society, we recognise we have a history that is intertwined with colonialism, so we invited guest editors to curate a special issue of Anvil, our journal of theology and mission, to examine the “faultlines of mission” that run along racial and colonial divides.
The situation in South Sudan meanwhile continued to be marked by sporadic violence, serious food shortages, flooding and disease, even as a government of national unity was formed to try and take the peace process forward.
By February, we were getting reports of how our mission partners in Asia were responding to the coronavirus. Catherine Lee in Taiwan is in one of the countries widely felt to have dealt best with the threat, and her ministry with the church there has continued with significant normality, along with universal face-mask wearing and regular temperature checks.
In the UK in February, with lockdown restrictions still seemingly half a world away, CMS pioneer graduate David Harrigan was celebrating the baptism of five members of the Good Shepherd Boxing Community in Romford.
Within a couple of days of Boris Johnson ordering everyone to stay at home, CMS had taken Lament for Lent online with Lamentspace – offering people an online space to share their laments and griefs. We were surprised by the take-up and the laments were featured in a nationwide Easter vigil service.
Perhaps though we shouldn’t have been surprised, as more than 1,000 people had already ordered the Lament for Lent booklet.
Also probably unsurprising was the way in which the CMS community in the UK and worldwide responded to the virus and the lockdowns that came with it.
The stories came from near and far and were collected on our Mission Unscripted page along with images that summed up the time.
When coronavirus arrived in Lebanon, people were already used to facemasks because of the protestors burning tyres in the streets – an outbreak of frustration at the political and economic situation. Later in the year our partners would be on the ground in Beirut’s streets picking up the pieces of the shocking explosion that rocked the city in August. We would end the year profiling a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, set up by local partners Emil and Reem, moving into new premises, marking hope and new opportunities for so many children who have had the worst start in life.
We were also taken aback by the generosity of our supporters who responded astoundingly to our coronavirus emergency appeal, ensuring mission could continue throughout the crisis. Your faithfulness in praying and giving never ceases to amaze us.
Inspired by Captain (now Sir) Tom Moore, our fundraisers took to the streets, the hills, and the staircases, led by 94-year-old Canon John Harwood, whose “94 walks for 94 years” raised a truly astonishing £15,000.
And of course, mission continued in the UK as well as around the world.
Among the CMS pioneer students and graduates responding to lockdown were Adam Gompertz with his REVS Limiter Facebook events and Rachel Summers chalking captions onto the pavements of Walthamstow about the trees – helping people to enjoy their limited daily exercise.
Both Adam and Rachel won awards for their initiatives later in the year.
In other countries, CMS people in mission were throwing their all into food banks, repurposing to make PPE or perhaps shifting to take their teaching and training work online.
We heard too from people who had taken part in the Partnership for Missional Church process. They were unfazed by lockdown because they had already been building great relationships in their communities through knowing how to listen and connect with people of peace around them. This made their coronavirus responses more effective and more appropriate to the community’s needs.
Aside from coronavirus responses, there were some major landmarks that point to the fruit of the long haul in mission. We’ll examine those in part two of our review of the year next week.