With fury and frustration fuelling protests and riots across the US this week, the utter inappropriateness of Donald Trump standing in front of the boarded-up St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, holding high a Bible for a publicity shot, is indisputable. The extreme methods used by the police to clear the way for the President have enraged many and further alienated those in the US and around the world who know the message of peace, love and reconciliation contained within the book that remained closed in his hands.

Anxiety, pain and anger are all heightened emotions for us in this time of crisis. Daily death tolls relentlessly remind us of our own mortality and fragility. Our freedoms have been curtailed, our relationships cut off, our future is uncertain. Lockdown has robbed us of any pretence that we are in control of our lives. The tinderbox of frustration quickly ignites into rage when we see authority misused and injustice enacted. The raw pain of watching a man’s murder played through our phones sparked visceral reactions across the world as we collectively struggle to work out who is to blame for all of this and how we make it stop.

But in the midst of all this, there have been wide-spread reports of many people turning to the church to seek help to address questions of life, death, suffering and pain. We Christians carry a message of hope, desperately needed in times of trial. I am praying as churches are reporting increased interest in those seeking prayer, that they will come to know Jesus, especially as courses about the Christian faith, such as Alpha, have seen unprecedented growth as these resources move online. We simply have to open our eyes to see that the worn-out narrative that the church is of a by-gone era, irrelevant for modern life, doesn’t wash in these times of crisis and pain.

I personally found it deeply disturbing to see the President of the US standing in front of a closed church building, holding a closed Bible, when all around me I see the church is definitively open and active. During lockdown we at the Evangelical Alliance have been in touch with thousands of church leaders from right across the UK. In my role as CEO, I have been amazed and encouraged to hear account after account of how the church is stepping up, speaking out and standing with others throughout this crisis. 

Where people are at risk from hunger, the church has increased its foodbank provision. When people are forced to isolate and shield themselves from loved ones and the rest of society, the church has come alongside to befriend and keep those people connected. Youth workers are tirelessly working with young people struggling with immense mental health challenges. In every town and city, churches and charities are providing legal support, financial assistance and practical help to anyone in need. 

More than any other time in living memory, the church in the UK has been scattered and unleashed. No longer can you reduce the church to the simple notion of a building or an hour on a Sunday. In the midst of the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic, the church in this country and around the globe has been the light of the world, offering hope, serving the vulnerable and caring for the hurting.

Evangelicals have a long history of helping society through challenging times. Evangelicals were at the heart of education reform, the creation of our judicial system and the abolition of slavery. Through dark times, the church knows how to weep with those who mourn, offer comfort to those who are fearful and bring hope to those who are struggling. The world has tough days ahead. We may not know when or how we will overcome the pandemic, but we do know that the road ahead will be marked with difficulty. The economic, social and physical fallout will, most likely, be the worst seen for generations. Some may rail and rage, others may despair and grow despondent, but I know the church will be steadfast in its commitment to help communities rebuild. 

As the UK looks ahead to the future post-lockdown and into re-emergence, I am confident the church will be at the heart of our recovery, resilient and dedicated to working together and working with others to offer help, support and hope to our communities. Donald Trump may choose to use a shuttered church as the backdrop for his photo op, but the image stands in contrast to what I, and the millions of evangelicals in the UK, are witnessing. We see the church is open and here to serve.

I know the church will be steadfast in its commitment to help communities rebuild.