We’re having a bit of a baby boom at church at the moment. The ‘under threes’ demographic has mushroomed from 2 to 32 in a matter of months, and there are more on the way.
A month or so before each new little one is due, an e-mail goes to certain of the parents’ closest friends asking if anyone would be willing to prepare and deliver a meal to them in the days following the birth. The timing varies according to how much support they’ve had from the new grandmothers, but generally, members of the church provide two weeks’ worth of meals within the first month of the baby’s life.
To me this seems perfectly normal. It’s a simple thing to do, costs very little in time or money, but is a disproportionately huge blessing to people struggling with those early, sleepless, life-changing days.
I provided a meal for a friend the other day, and also sat in her flat keeping an ear out for the children (who were in bed) for half an hour while she went out for a jog. I took the study materials I would have been reading anyway, and the food was just an extra portion of that which I had cooked for myself. It was a minimal inconvenience for me, but she told me her non-church-going friends were amazed when she told them such things happened. They couldn’t understand why someone to whom you were not related would do such a thing.
It had never occurred to me before that such a simple act of generosity might be so alien to the rest of society, and it got me thinking.
Atheists and Humanists often get very annoyed when it is suggested to them that ‘religious people’ have cornered the market on morality. ‘You don’t have to be religious to be good’, they protest. ‘Neither is knowing right from wrong the preserve of people of faith.’
They may be right. The trouble is, they’re not doing a lot to demonstrate their generous, loving, moral credentials. Yes, I’m sure there are individuals who don’t subscribe to any particular faith who are very nice, kind, loving, moral people, they just don’t go out of their way to organise themselves together and look out for each other.
They will try to explain this lack with reference to the nature of groups: Christians and members of other faiths already gather themselves together regularly for worship, they point out. Non-believers don’t tend to gather on a Sunday to not sing hymns, not pray and not listen to sermons together.
This is true, but people generally do like to gather into groups for different things, regardless of their religious affiliations: the last few years have seen a notable increase in book clubs and knitting circles. People join Weight Watchers together, or form darts teams. Mums meet each other at antenatal classes, at the Doctor’s and at the library. There are plenty of opportunities for non-Christians to strike up friendships, love one another and meet one another’s needs.
No-one is preventing them. It contravenes no laws nor codes of practice. It requires no training nor special licence. There’s only one thing they’re missing: the desire to ‘love one another’ as commanded and facilitated by Christ.
If we model simple generosity to our neighbours – both inside and outside the church – it will hopefully have two significant outcomes:
1) Our neighbours will catch on and start to do the same, and
2) They’ll start to ask ‘What else do the Christians have that I don’t have?’