By the Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton OBE
These last weeks have seen contrasting trends as we battle with coronavirus.
On the one hand we have come together in our community (as elsewhere) to clap for carers on a Thursday evening, and to make ‘scrubs’ for those in the front line of care in the NHS and in care homes.
But with most of our local shops, family businesses and services closed, we have also looked to multinational companies and the big supermarket chains to provide us with what we need (and want).
They have done much for which we must be genuinely grateful – perhaps best shown in the huge effort to deliver groceries to homes where people are vulnerable.
And many companies have prospered. For example in mid April, Jeff Bezos who is the founder and boss of Amazon, saw his personal wealth swell by £19 billion (!!) after soaring demand for online shopping sent the firm's share price to a new high.
This cemented his position as the world's richest man with a fortune of well over £100 billion.
As they say – it is an ill wind that blows no one any good.
These changed patterns of life – evident community spirit and massively increased internet shopping – will bring big moral dilemmas when the pandemic is under control and some degree of normality returns.
Will community spirit be relegated to the back benches by the need for so many of us to rebuild the patterns of our own everyday lives?
And crucially, will we have become so content with buying on-line and having the parcel delivered to our front door, that we will be less committed to buying locally, and supporting local business? I must confess to having real fears on both questions.
When the focus moves away from carers and the NHS, what community need will fill the gap?
It is very difficult to think of an example which affects every one of us, and to which we can bring such loyalty.
And will the obvious convenience of having that parcel delivered to our front door be set aside to go shopping locally on a cold November morning or a wet February afternoon?
Personally I feel that it is a moral necessity to support our local businesses and shops as best we can – even if it costs a little more to do so.
They of course will be well aware of the threat from the big international companies, and must play their part in quality of service and show the ‘personal touch’ that will make it attractive to do business with them in its own right.
And there would be a great added bonus that such support on an ongoing basis would be a quite new and important expression of community spirit.
I have absolutely no difficulty with the owner of Amazon seeing new opportunities to expand his business.
But I have real difficulty if ordinary citizens like myself in our local area see it as acceptable to give his company so much of our limited income that many of the businesses in our neighbourhood go into serious decline.
The Biblical command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ has a new and crucially important relevance.