Loving our communities in a cost-of-living crisis

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It's disconcerting how international economic and health crises seem to have become the new normal. In 2022, the Collins Dictionary's word of the year was 'permacrisis', reflecting an extended period of instability and insecurity worldwide.

Every person in the UK has seen their daily costs go up, for everything from food to fuel, travel to entertainment. For those who were already close to the edge, the cost of living crisis has pitched them fully into the red.

Hundreds of thousands more people are now facing severe financial pressure – in every walk of life.

For Christians, this is the new context in which we are called to live out our faith.

Supporting social and material needs are as important as spiritual needs

The cost-of-living crisis has raised our collective consciousness about the needs of people in our communities. As Christians we can sometimes focus particularly on addressing spiritual needs, but to truly be of service to those around us we must consider how we can meet their social and material needs as well.

In his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, the late Eugene Peterson said, 'What we often consider to be the subjects of religion – ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs – are never permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons or places. Biblical religion has a low tolerance for "great ideas" or "sublime truths" or "inspirational thoughts" apart from the people or places in which they occur.'

In other words, meeting a person's spiritual needs is intrinsically linked to meeting their material needs. Being an ambassador for Jesus is not just about inviting our friends to an Alpha course; it's also dropping off a few home-cooked meals at a neighbour's house without being asked.

It's thinking about who could use a lift, so they don't have to pay for petrol. It's using the local WhatsApp group to grow a culture of mutual support in your street, coordinating shared warm spaces or joint childcare. It's helping that friend or family member with their gas and electricity renewal, navigating the labyrinth of customer service together.

It's being a listening ear and a non-judgmental presence for the person who's feeling afraid and ashamed because sometimes they can't put food on the table. And even if we're not personally feeling the pinch in the way some others might be, we can spend that bit more to buy an extra four pack of beans to leave in the donation basket after the checkout.

Put simply, the cost-of-living crisis is an urgent reminder that living as a disciple must include selflessly ministering grace and love in practical ways, modelling godly character by putting others first, and moulding the culture we're in to look and feel more like heaven.

All of which also open opportunities to be messengers of the gospel – not because that's the only reason to help others, but because our friends and neighbours are much more likely to perceive the truth of the good news if we live it as well as speak it.

Helping the people we're with doesn't always require financial riches

In a cost of living crisis, a natural instinct is often to recommend sacrificial giving – and rightly so. But for some of us, giving financially is simply not an option at present. Inflation is rampant, energy bills are still sky high and mortgage costs relative to income are the highest they've been for years.

Look closer, though, and there are many ways we can help meet the needs of the people God's put us alongside that aren't dependent on disposable income.

Loneliness, isolation, and poor mental health have had a particularly debilitating effect in the years since the pandemic began. Recent surveys have shown that one in three of us don't even know our neighbours' names. Inviting people over for a meal or a cup of tea can significantly strengthen social bonds and improve mental health. 

As Christians we can also advocate for justice. Our workplaces may not have provision for colleagues struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, but as employees we can push the organisations we work for to provide greater support for staff. Citizens UK is a fantastic example of communities doing this on a regional and national scale.

And whatever our level of influence, we can all make a difference in the places God's put us. I have a colleague who, after finding out that her friend's partner lost his job, began doing weekly food shops for them without being asked to. Other people at my colleague's church then started dropping envelopes with cash through their door.

Helping others isn't about expecting a return on investment, it's about ministering grace and love for its own sake. Do you know someone who might need a warm living room to work from? Is there someone on your road who is unable to do their weekly shopping due to a disability? Christ loved us sacrificially, and the cost-of-living crisis is a chance for us to think about how we can do the same for others.

Tim Yearsley is Head of Innovation at the LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity). To learn more about LICC, visit: https://licc.org.uk/