Greater Manchester is an accepting place – regardless of race or religion, you’re welcome here.
Breaking it down, we find the most prominent faith in the city is Christianity, with around 60% of Mancunians following one of its branches.
Recently, however, given how tough the past few months have been for some and many of us have had our faith tested – whether that be in ourselves or in a higher power – you’d be excused for asking: “how can anybody trust in God at a time like this?”.
Well, Saint Phillips, a Church of England Chapel in Salford, has seen this pandemic as a strengthening experience for their faith.
Serving out of the Grade II listed chapel, built in 1824, Saint Phillips definitely has its roots firmly placed in Greater Manchester.
Led by married couple Gareth and Lizzy Robinson, an ordained minister and community development worker and charity founder respectively, the church as a community was established in 2016.
Their mission statement of “loving and serving Jesus, each other, Greater Manchester and beyond” goes to show that they put their community at the heart of all they do.
Sam Critchley, 21, who works with students and interns at the church, says that they are still maintaining interaction with the local community and congregation, despite a tier 3 lockdown on the horizon.
“Over the lockdown period, they set up a phone buddy system, so anyone could get in contact with the church and then the church would organise to call them. That would normally be once a week.”
Sam stressed the importance of keeping in contact with those who may be feeling lonely, especially with Greater Manchester moving into another set of tier three restrictions. As of right now, the church is open and combining both socially distant and online services, with Sam saying that the church has “really been pushing the idea of (fully) reopening as soon as” in order to, somewhat, restore a sense of normality.
Another approach the church has been using to support those in need, even before the Covid outbreak, is their Bags of Hope initiative. This involves asking local residents to pick up shopping bags and a list of essential items (tinned foods, toiletries etc) from the church and heading to the Co-Op over the road to buy them. These shopping bags will then be collected by the church and either distributed to their charity partners or given directly to those who need it the most.
“Recently we’ve really ramped up the bags of hope, it was a “please help if you can” kind of thing and we really advertised it as the forefront of what the church was doing practically.”
Sam went on to say that every Sunday, representatives from the church will head into Manchester city centre to hand out these bags to those in need, such as the homeless, sex workers and those in deprived communities. They have found that it has been local families who the church has helped the most over the past few months and that “they might be on the bottom of the pile of whos in Manchester anyway.” Sam says and that job losses have had a huge impact on almost everyone in the city, including himself.
Having lost his job in hospitality a couple months into the lockdown, Sam admits that he is fearful of the times ahead as everybody is “in the same boat now” in terms of looking for employment. However, despite losing his job, he tells he is not too worried because he isn’t in as much money trouble as he, potentially, could’ve been:
“Losing my job recently I’ve been in a lot less financial trouble than I should’ve been and I can only attribute that to God and the prayers I’ve put into that.”
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Sam went on to say that even before coronavirus, prayer has always been a divisive issue, especially when it seems that they go unanswered. But, he says, that having the mindset of knowing that God is there and looking out for you is the most important thing.
“I think it just comes down to just the faith thing – not that some people have more faith than others and that’s why prayers get answered – but just continuing to pray and hoping for the best.”
On their website, Saint Phillips provides users with being able to submit prayer requests and, in light of the lockdown, users can now submit prayer requests for the protection of themselves, the vulnerable and key workers – members of the church will then pray over these requests. They also give those who are struggling, the opportunity to join a prayer WhatsApp group in which all involved can pray for one another, talk about their problems and spread positivity.
Despite many people finding lockdown hard and potentially having their faith shaken, Sam has found it to be an incredibly strengthening experience for his congregation’s faith in God:
“There’s definite struggles throughout the week with jobs, money or family plans being cancelled and that, but I think overall people are really finding it a really strengthening experience for their faith.”
He went on to say having the patience to see your prayers come into fruition is very important as it’s not an instant turnaround, but when those prayers are answered and you see God working through people, it is definitely reassuring.
With lockdown having been the norm for a while now, Sam, like many of us, has had the opportunity to reevaluate what is most important in life, namely his faith and relationships – with both the wider community and with God. He sees the business coming together during the recent Free School Meals incident to provide meals to less fortunate children as a great example of God working within people and said that we need to be “ready to see what help people need and feeling like you might be the one to offer that help… I think this is a great chance for everyone to pile in together and help each other out.”
In times where there seems to be mountains of negativity in the news and all around us, it is important we see the equal amount of good that is also going on. People coming together to help those who are most in need in their community is a truly altruistic thing to do – regardless of whether or not it is God working through them. With Manchester again heading into lockdown, we are given the time and opportunity to reflect how faith is defined for us. Perhaps if we cannot find faith in God, then we can put that faith in our neighbours.