When the government of the United Kingdom issued stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, students at Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in Didsbury, Manchester, suddenly found themselves confined to campus residences and practicing social distancing. While following the government’s orders, they wondered if there was something more they could do to serve their neighbors.
“This is quite an affluent neighborhood where there are many detached houses, but that usually means there is a large number of elderly people,” said Michael Kane, Nazarene Theological College’s chaplain. “Many of the conversations the students have had are with elderly people in their 70s and 80s. They are the most vulnerable to the pandemic, and many are scared to leave the house.”
Debbie Kane, the campus warden, and a Hurlet Hall student started the discussion of what they could do for the neighbors.
“We started talking about being like Jesus: What does it mean to us during this time?” said student Finlay Mackinnon.
There are 24 students who remain on the NTC campus, with 12 of those in Hurlet Hall. The students were inspired by a flyer a church had created to advertise its help to neighbors. The students created their own version of the flyer, which said, “Hello. Are you self-isolating? We can help.” It included a number where people could send text messages to request assistance. They posted about 200 flyers throughout the neighborhood.
“I was in Scotland when the students gave out the flyers and we started receiving messages right away,” Debbie said. “Most of the messages were asking us to help get prescriptions or groceries. We also received many from people that can leave the house but are simply thanking us for what we are doing.”
“Although some of the neighbors have family members they can call for help, they have also reached out to the college. One neighbor’s family lives abroad, so the students have become her main supports during this time,” Michael explained.
As messages kept arriving, the students living in Hurlet Hall created a group chat to organize their response. When Debbie receives a text from a neighbor, she forwards the message to the group and whoever is available will make the run. Sometimes it’s to help with groceries; other times it’s to pick up prescriptions, walk the dogs, or mow a lawn.
“When a request comes in, we have two students make the run. On one hand this is for safety purposes, because we are going to the houses of people we are still getting to know,” Debbie said. “But on the other, we are handling other people’s money, and this way there is some kind of accountability. We are taking all the necessary precautions. When we go to a person’s house to leave what we’ve bought, we usually knock on the door, leave everything in front of the door and then we go away. Before getting to the house, we also text them to let them know we are arriving so they are expecting us.”
Joe Boston is a student who lives at Hurlet Hall. Running these errands has enabled him to get acquainted with those who live close to campus.
“There is a lady that lives around the corner from the college and she recently hurt her leg, so she needed someone to go pick up her prescriptions,” Boston said. “Another student and I walked about 45 minutes to get to the place we needed to pick up the prescriptions. In the end, she was very grateful that we had done this for her, and she has now kept more contact with the college. She knows that she can call us, and we can simply talk or go get anything she needs.”
For these NTC students, doing this for their community during this critical and uncertain time was the logical way to go.
“It feels natural. This is the time where we are in quarantine and we feel like this is what we should naturally do to respond to the pandemic, as we ask ourselves, ‘What would Jesus have said?’” Boston said.
The rhythm of campus life has changed. All courses are now online, and the daily coffee break is observed individually rather than together in the college’s café. The students know they need to follow precautions about distancing and regular hand washing, especially when leaving the campus to help their neighbors. But they feel blessed that they don’t have to go through this on their own.
“We are privileged to be staying on campus,” said Mackinnon. “Some have one or two people in the house or live by themselves. Here we are 12 people and, in a way, it doesn’t feel that different from before, except that I can’t go to class or leave campus.”
“We also have a great closed campus that we can take advantage of,” said Boston. “There is a great back lawn that we can use and, because we are a closed community, we can still use those spaces. We are in lockdown, but we are in a great place to be in lockdown.”
This article is written by Nicole Almeida and previously published in the May 2020 edition of Where Worlds Meet.