The invisible work of religious groups in providing coronavirus care

The pandemic has sent us inwards. Into communities, into households, and into ourselves. We are having to get comfortable with this new exposure to the inner realm, and to so much of our formerly outermost selves taking place within it.

The inner realm, across all these spheres, is also the dwelling-place of so much at the core of religion. And as a wave of illness, loss, and grief rolls over us, religious groups have stepped up, long beforehand prepared and positioned to care.

In Gravesend, Kent, the Sikh community-based at the Guru Nanak Darbar gurdwara have been preparing sometimes over a thousand meals per day for local NHS workers, getting up at 4 am to see the work through.

At the Shree Jalaram Mandir Hindu temple in Ealing, the number of meals delivered to NHS staff, care homes and hostels for homeless people each day is nearer 3,000.

Inter-faith care initiatives and organisations such as the Felix Project in London and the Myriad Foundation in Manchester help co-ordinate these efforts, as well as those from countless synagogues, mosques, and churches.

Yet so much of the work that people do for religious motivations does not even make it into the spotlight. This is because it takes place in the household and over Zoom – namely, the strengthening of social and emotional bonds through listening, mutual support, and care, freely given.

With reduced access to workplaces and the transactional spaces of the market, we have almost all become more reliant on, and spend more of our time in, the spheres of household and community than ever.

We are more reliant on the support and goodwill of family members to keep us motivated and buoyant, and more dependent on the network of unseen labour provided by communities for religious motivations.

And, although the pandemic is quite seriously preventing faith communities from proper access to worship spaces, festivals, and funerals, through this enforced turn inwards, the bonds that hold those communities together are brought tighter still.

As we face up to a massive tally of loss and reflect on all the care that faith communities give so freely and generously to our NHS workers, families, the elderly, and the homeless, we might consider what society at large can learn from these values and how we could perhaps embed them a little more deliberately into the construction of our post-Covid-19 world.

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