Kindness culture eases the pain of the world's most locked-down city
Instead of turning inwards, churchgoers have been looking outward
In Melbourne – the world’s most locked-down city – a love movement has been growing.
Unlike the anti-lockdown protests that gained so much media attention, this movement is quiet and has been mostly unseen. It centres around simple acts of love for neighbours and local businesses.
But despite its silence and simplicity, this movement is powerful. It has changed the experience of lockdown for many and it has the potential to continue to transform the city, according to Hillsong’s state leader for Victoria and Tasmania, Kent Medwin.
“Living in isolation tends to draw you towards being focused on yourself. But we know from Scripture that’s not the way God designed us. When we refresh others, he refreshes us. We were made to lay our lives down for other people.
“So we encouraged people from Philippians 2 to ‘forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand’,” says Medwin, who oversees four Hillsong campuses in Melbourne, as well as the Geelong campus.
“The testimonies have been just amazing … a lot of pay-it-forward ripples of really simple ways of loving your neighbour.” – Kent Medwin, Hillsong
This outward-focused teaching came to full fruition during the latest lockdown – Melbourne’s sixth – which began on 5 August.
“It’s just been an organic effort on behalf of the church here in Victoria to, as we’ve coined it, ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ in this latest lockdown,” says Medwin.
“The testimonies have been just amazing about what God’s done with it – a lot of pay-it-forward ripples of really simple ways of loving your neighbour, from dropping off a chocolate and a note of care into someone’s letterbox to mowing someone’s nature strip outside the front of their house (because you can’t go into their property).”
Other examples of Hillsong’s Love Thy Neighbour campaign include church members dropping off food to neighbours in need; young people sending flowers to the elderly, reminding them that they are not forgotten; and drawing hopscotch games in chalk on the footpath for kids to play on. One youth group, made up of kids aged 13-16, raised $400 to give to a family in need.
Many Hillsong Church members have also made a point of supporting local businesses, by, for example, giving generous tips when buying takeaway.
Medwin gives a taste of the outcomes of this initiative being shared by Hillsongers on Facebook: “It’s just grown legs of its own and momentum has grown, with people [serving those] well outside the church as well. People have started with a chocolate in a letterbox, which has turned into a conversation, which has turned into a salvation conversation. It’s turned into invitations to church online and to church when we’re back [in person],” he enthuses.
“People [on the receiving end] have been saying, ‘I just met someone today. I don’t know why they’re doing this, but I’m going to pay it forward.’ So it’s been a ripple effect of people’s kindness and it’s been beautiful.”
The surprising welcome given to church members was shared by one Hillsong member on Instagram after she dropped chocolates off around her neighbourhood.
“The reaction from all the neighbours was not what [I] expected,” she said. “I mentally pictured people telling me to leave them alone — but everyone I gave the chocolates to were so grateful.”
She described one encounter: “As I walked up the driveway to the next house I saw a middle-aged man tinkering in his garage. Once again I explained I was a neighbour checking in on everyone. ‘This is so timely,’ he said, shaking his head as though he couldn’t believe my visit. ‘Just today I found out my dad has Covid and because he lives overseas, I can’t get to him.’ Then he told me it wasn’t about the chocolates; it was about me asking after him. In a few short moments with my neighbour who was clearly in pain after receiving bad news, I was able to apply some of my counselling skills. God sent me at the right time. ‘You are going to get through this,’ I assured him …
“It made me think about our world and how most people are not expecting kindness — but that’s exactly what’s needed right now. All my neighbours told me how perfect the timing was.”
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Notably, the areas most severely affected by the pandemic restrictions have been the most enthusiastic in embracing this kindness culture.
“The [Hillsong] campuses that have really taken this to heart are our Melbourne West and Greater West locations, which have had the most exposure sites and the most restrictions placed upon them. They’re the ones that have actually got the most traction out of this [movement]. It’s crazy – the more pressure you’re under, the greater kindness resonates,” says Medwin.
He gives an example and a family with young kids who had never connected well with their neighbours over five years other than to wave a greeting until an act of kindness created an amazing street community.
“And so their young boy, who really wasn’t making that many friends at school, ended up making such great mates in his street over this lockdown. And out of that developed invitations to church and support for one another, caring for each other’s kids and just genuine, safe camaraderie.”
“People who have been following Christ for many, many years have really been encouraged by how God used their simple act of kindness to open relationships with people.” – Kent Medwin
Medwin’s family have had a similar experience. Since he relocated from Tasmania to Melbourne in February, he has endured three lockdowns. His family – including his wife and co-leader Rose and their three teenage children – joined him in July, and have spent most of that five months confined to the house.
“We have been working through our local street here as well to connect with families – sidewalk meetings behind face masks,” says Medwin.
“… It’s actually been a great way to connect with people in your street that you’ve just moved into. So we’ve had some great connections and we’ve got some Christmas gatherings planned with neighbours in the street. Honestly, I don’t know if that would have happened had we not been anchored here for as long as we have been.”
With Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions being lifted from this Thursday, 21 October, Medwin says there is an understandable eagerness for the church to “get back in the room and back together. We can’t wait!”
Those who attend Melbourne City Campus are also looking forward to moving into their new venue at Festival Hall, which is likely to happen in 2022.
“There’s a genuine growing sense of excitement among the whole church, and particularly for our city campus, about what God has in store for us there in that landmark move,” says Medwin.
However, he’s hoping that the ‘lockdown love” habit will survive the excitement of gathering face to face again.
“We’re called to be kind in every season, aren’t we? To love our neighbour in every season. But in the business of life sometimes this gets lost,” Medwin reflects.
“We’re certainly hoping that our people remain focused and vigilant in this, and that it becomes a development of their personal character, of their spiritual maturity, that they will keep leaning into it.
“I think they will because God is using it. And some people who have been following Christ for many, many years have really been encouraged by how God used their simple act of kindness to open relationships with people.”