It has been a distressing start to the year. We are facing a pandemic and what does that even mean? What impact is it going to have on our lives? Is one of our loved ones going to die? Are we going to die? What do we do? Do we cancel things? Do we stay at home? Will we get cabin fever? How do we keep each other safe?
It is interesting how each of us thinks differently about this pandemic. Some people have looked to the past – we didn’t hoard for SARS or Bird Flu, why do we need to do so now? Some people have looked at the present – it is only 5000 people in the UK who have this out of a population of nearly 70million, what is the problem? Some have looked to the future – if the number of cases are doubling every two days, then in a month everyone in the UK will have it.
Our personalities are different, and how we evaluate truth and who we look to as authorities also differ. Some of us we grew up in households where we were the ones who had the role of keeping a level head and not panicking – we tend to downplay everything. Some of us grew up in houses where we didn’t feel safe and this threat keys into that, we might be worriers. Some of us look to older, wiser people as authorities, others look to scientists, others to our friends or family.
Over the weeks, some things have become clearer. We can’t contain this virus – we are just trying to delay it so that the hospitals are not overloaded. A lot of us will therefore get sick – probably 60-70% of the population. This might be so slight that we don’t notice or we might be very sick indeed. If we are older or have a chronic condition then we are more likely to die – very sobering if you find yourself in that category, as I do. We also know this virus is going to be part of our lives for months – probably a year.
It has made me wonder how do we do church in these times. Already we are changing things. We are no longer sharing the peace, and yet we need peace and unity as Christians. Jesus was a healer – he touched people, even the untouchable, even those with the feared and highly contagious disease of leprosy. For some, the act of hugging each other on a Sunday is a form of healing, compassion and love. We are no longer sharing the common cup – the greatest symbol of unity that we have, we are no longer passing round the common collection plate, the symbol of us holding our money and resources in common. We are offering less hospitality in the form of coffee and tea – our symbols of God’s grace that he pours out on us and we in turn pour out to the world. Also, if there are only 50% of us there on a Sunday then how do we do Communion?
The answer is we will find a way. We will find safe ways of being hospitable, we will find ways of showing love and compassion and unity. Some ideas so far are that we will ask people to tell us if they are self-isolating and we can then ring them up and chat. We can get a buddy system going. Some of us can use technology to continue to grow in our faith and link up with others to discuss books that we are reading, or we can use prayer sites such as these:
Alan and I have lots of good books on faith that can be borrowed and we will put more articles in the magazine and more items on the blog – https://badshotleaandhale.org/blog/
Of course, we will be following government advice about delaying the spread of the virus and ensure our services and events are compliant with this.
A more difficult thing to think and talk about is the chilling message Boris Johnson gave us; “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” If 60% of us get this illness and the death rate comes down to 1% then that is about 40,000 people will be killed by the virus over the next year in the UK. Of course, no one at this point knows the fatality rate or the percentage of the population who will be affected, these are just best guesses. To put the numbers in context, about 500,000 people die each year in the UK and so if the numbers are correct, it is an 8% increase. We are very poor about talking about death – it is the ultimate taboo, but perhaps we need to get better about thinking and talking about it, after all it will happen to all of us eventually – with or without the pandemic – and cancer and heart disease are much more of a threat than the coronavirus for most of us.
Finally, there is the old question “Why would a God of love allow something horrible like this to happen?” The reality is that life is not easy for anyone: relationships break down, people get sick, people lose their jobs, loved ones die, not one of us gets through life unscathed. For us to be resilient, we must accept this reality. We might not like it or understand it, but we must accept it, as it is certainly true. I believe it is part of creation; the chaos and uncertainty allow the evolution of life and gives us freewill. If volcanoes had never erupted then beautiful landmasses like Hawaii would not have been created. Changes in cells may cause bad things like cancer, but they also created us in all our uniqueness. As humans have the capacity to be loving but also not loving, hurting others, and without that we would be robots.
Jesus never promised us an easy life – and it is writ large with him dying on the cross. Instead, we are promised life in all its fullness – a rich life where we have meaning and purpose, where we achieve good things as we seek the Kingdom of God, where we form loving relationships with others. In these uncertain times let us hold onto this calling and allow love and compassion to guide us.