The Relay of Life

Over the past few months, in my work, personal life and in the media, I have been noticing occasions that remind me of a relay race. Circumstance has forced some people to pass the relay baton on to others and others to take up the baton. For me this is exciting, it encourages us to relinquish control, to trust others more deeply, to communicate more intentionally and creates space for new ideas to flourish.

Here at Viva, as with many charities with offices in the UK, we have had to take advantage of the furlough scheme offered by the British government to make sure that we are able to cope with the financial pressure brought on by Covid-19. The furlough scheme was perhaps the first example that brought my attention to the image of passing the relay baton. Three quarters of our team, were passing the baton on to the remaining team who would take our work forward for the next couple of months. This required a huge amount of trust from those having to relinquish responsibility from tasks, to-do lists and roles that have come to make up part of our identity. It also required great determination and courage for those taking up the baton, tasked with keeping Viva’s work going, and supporting our partner networks, children and families who are struggling greatly with lockdown. Throughout the lockdown, team members at Viva have swapped in and out passing the baton as we’ve gone.

In British politics, we saw our Prime Minister taken out of work for a few weeks after falling ill with Covid-19, giving greater responsibility to his cabinet ministers to lead press briefings and be the face for the government at an immensely challenging time.

And across the country, we saw people being asked to stay at home, whilst essential key workers – including healthcare workers, shop keepers, delivery drivers and others, were entrusted to keep essential systems running, putting themselves at risk by taking up the baton to save lives.

More recently, following the murder of George Floyd, we have seen across social media and on the streets in the US, UK and beyond, people taking up the baton to stand up to racism and inequality in our societies. Police use of batons to bring down protesters continues to cause fear – so the irony of me using the image of a ‘baton’ in such a positive way at this time is not lost on me. But even in this context, I have reflected on the beauty of the relay baton (I did do a Google search – there really was no other word), which means something so opposite. On #BlackOutTuesday, there was a call for white people to be silent to give space for more black voices to be heard, raising the profile for the messages that all of us need to learn about, listen to and act upon.

Yesterday, I attended a demonstration in Oxford in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we were arriving, later than we’d hoped, we could see people leaving and were worried we’d missed the main event. But no, there was a huge turnout (for Oxford) and amazing speakers, cheers, singing, chants and a brilliant display of socially distanced people and placards. When we had to leave, walking down the hill, we could see the next set of people going up to take our place at the demonstration. Again, I was filled with hope and comfort that as we left, more would arrive – I felt that at that moment, for this particular demonstration, we literally were passing on the relay baton.

Reflecting on what it means to pass on the relay baton, it requires a huge amount of grace and trust. There is great beauty in knowing that when our time comes, or when were are forced to (in the case of Covid-19), there are others ready to take up the baton.

As a Christian, I believe this is how God has called us to live. He has placed us in community, and we are called to trust one another and to be trustworthy. This is one of the essential ingredients of Viva’s partner networks. It is the nature of networks to connect with and build trust with others, that is what makes these networks so powerful. And when crisis comes, it is that foundation of trust that can lead to positive action.

We at Viva have been so inspired by the way our partner networks have taken up the baton to provide for children and families in the time of covid-19 crisis. Many have got government passes to allow network members to distribute food in times of intense lockdown. They have raised resources from others in their communities and are responding to the needs of others. At the same time, as many cannot physically work together, a new phone mentoring programme has been developed so that volunteers can mentor families over the phone to help them deal with the challenges they are facing, and to come out of lockdown stronger and more resilient. Where schools are closed, the mentoring will help parents to take on the baton of teaching their children at home. Leaders who would normally bring children and families together in groups, are trusting their local volunteers, passing the baton to them (safely and with training) to support families who need it most.

How wonderful to be part of this creative, and trusting family of organisations. As we look ahead to a ‘new normal’ I’d encourage all of us to think about how we can build on what we’ve learnt and to be more ready and willing to take up and pass on the relay baton at different times. To do this, we must trust God with all areas of our lives, and continually look for the opportunities to know when to put our trust in others, to know when to pass on the baton and to have courage to take up the baton. How exhilarating!