Religious groups’ outreach work during Covid-19 Lockdown

Tower Hamlets Community Church
Tower Hamlets Iftar Initiative

A church in Tower Hamlets has experienced higher attendance online compared to it’s physical attendance before the Covid-19 lockdown.

Tower Hamlets Community Church closed down all their activities in response to the government lockdown measures, however, with time in their hands, Bex White, associate Pastor, along with the church and their members are worshipping online.

White said: “We have seen higher ‘attendance’ online than we saw physically before. Some of this is people who struggle to get to services because of health or caring responsibilities, but we also know that there are a lot of people joining us who previously haven’t had a faith, but are interested in exploring more at this time”.  

Sunday Service on YouTube, where the church has been getting 300+ people watching, rather than a physical usual attendance of 120.
Pic: THCC on Youtube

“We have taken most of our activities online, be they worship services, prayer meetings, or community work. We haven’t set up any specific new projects, as we felt that there was a lot of external infrastructure that we could plug into instead, so we’ve directed our members to https://yourneighbour.org which is a project being run by a collection of over 1,000 churches” she added. 

“Many of our members are also helping out with locally run mutual-aid groups etc. The most challenging group to continue to support has been those who are elderly and digitally excluded”.

Before the lockdown, the community church always had their doors open on Sundays for people to go in and worship at the centre.

Now they have been using YouTube Premiere to stream a praying service every Sunday morning, as well as Zoom, in order to have coffee tables (as they would at church) virtually for people to have a talk.

Screenshot of YouTube Sunday Streaming service. Pic: THCC on YouTube

Some of the zoom meetings are informal, and one is dedicated to collective prayer.

White added: “We’ve also been doing our home groups (we call them Life Groups) on Zoom each week, where smaller groups gather to pray and study the Bible together. One of the challenges has been including members who aren’t online.

Thankfully a couple of volunteers have been burning the services onto DVDs and dropping them through people’s letterboxes so they are still connected. We use the phone to keep in touch with people who are not online”.

White said the response has been positive: “In general we have been really encouraged. When everything is shaken up, you have an opportunity to see what is secure. In the midst of a time real grief and loss, we have seen lots to be encouraged by”.

“It’s hard not being together each week, but in some ways this is just an extension of how it has always been – the church is a global family, and even in normal times when we are gathered in our local setting we are aware of brothers and sisters across the world, and we’ve had to take that sense of connectedness and apply it more locally”.

“Speaking personally, there is a sense of not knowing what things will be like as the world opens up – there will be new opportunities and also new challenges, so we need to be using lockdown as a time of being prepared by God for whatever is next”.

Written by: Valentina Romagnoli

An initiative led by councillors in Tower Hamlets is providing hot meals during the month of Ramadan to the most vulnerable who cannot leave their homes due to COVID-19.

Councillor Ehtasham Haque says that some 2500 hot meals will be handed out between 5pm and 7pm, at seven different venues on certain days in May.

He told Eastlondonlines: “This was an initiative by some of us councillors who thought we should go the extra mile and fill any gap still left after the council’s provision to support vulnerable people during COVID-19 crisis”.  

“We assumed beyond the shielded groups being supported by the council there will be a number of residents and families who would require assistance to get through this crisis. Especially people in self-isolation and with medical conditions may not be able to join the long queue at superstores to buy food provisions”.

The next dates and venues are:

16 May – Christ Church, Isle of Dogs

18 May – Stifford Community Centre, Stepney Green and St. Dunstan

Those who are vulnerable or are self-isolating can contact the ward’s co-ordinator to request a delivery.

The initiative has already distributed food in Whitechapel, Bethnal Green and St. Peters, Spitalfields and Banglatown, Mile End and Shadwell and Wapping.

With the support from 30 sponsors, the initiative can collectively provide a total of 2500 hot meals, dry foods and soft drinks.

Local food banks and COVID-19 mutual aid groups have helped with the delivery service.

Keen to keep the community spirit during a time of crisis, Haque said: “Every Ramadan a number of local businesses, regional and faith organisations from Bangladeshi background organise Iftar gatherings in Tower Hamlets and this year they were not able to do this due to COVID-19″.

“Our aim was to encourage small businesses and organisations and local community hubs to come together at a time of crisis to make hot food available to complement existing local and national efforts to help vulnerable people, self-isolating residents and those who may be suffering from food poverty”.

Tower Hamlets already struggles with poverty and inequality. According to the latest statistics gathered by Trust for London, Tower Hamlet’s unemployment rate is the highest in London at rate of 7.7%, followed by the highest child poverty rate (57%) in London.

“At this time of unprecedented crisis, we thought with the spirit of Ramadan we could still utilise the goodwill by diverting their generosity to provide food for residents of all faith and none” said Haque.

Written by: Fiyon Gibson

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