As I write, on Ash Wednesday 2022, the first day of Lent, I am reflecting on what we might have learned through the pandemic. This is the and on the eve of the second anniversary of the global pandemic being declared and nearly two years on from that new experience for us all: lockdown. Some of us have weathered the storm better than others, but it has been hard, if not brutal, on us all.
It was at about this time two years ago that we saw the first rush on toilet rolls, pasta and flour. I seem to remember we were around a year and half in before our supermarket actually had yeast on the shelves when we were there! One thing that I hope we learned was that greed profits nobody. There were those awful scenes of physical fights over the last packet of toilet rolls. On the other hand, we have seen some of the best of humanity amongst those who shared what they had, whether that was with the local foodbank, shopping for elderly or vulnerable neighbours, or in taking the time to pick up the phone to a friend who might be lonely. Time is a precious gift on its own: we need to spend it well.
I have observed how freedom from many meetings allowed concentrated effort in providing pastoral care. Ministers and Elders have naturally led the way, but there has been a renewed sense of mutual care, one person caring for another, which is what should always be the case in the Body of Christ. To all who have gone the extra mile to look out for and support others, THANK YOU. God has seen your efforts. We simply must not expect a visit from the Minister (or Pastoral Elder) to be the only form of care and contact from our churches: we are jointly responsible for this. Let us not lose the pastoral care now that we are all far too busy again.
We have learned, I hope, that many of the people doing the “least” jobs have been valued. Personally, I wasn’t a supporter of the “clap for carers” – that didn’t put any more money in their pocket at the end of the month, or change their draining experience of long shifts in full PPE. Our key workers have been rightly valued in so many ways – the personal thanks meant more, but rainbows in the window, banners by the roadside, and yes, wooden spoons banging saucepans, all helped us to realise how much we depend on some of the less-well paid jobs: nurses, home care workers, those who collect our rubbish, delivery drivers and many more. We mustn’t lose sight that in God’s economy, the last shall be first and that we can learn to be grateful to those often invisible to us.
Then finally, for now, we have learned a lot about resilience. Some have really struggled through the anxiety and isolation, and through losing loved ones and not being able to mourn their death as they would have wanted. Many others have found that they have been able to adapt, and survive and overcome many of the challenges of the last two years. Remember when Zoom was an ice lolly or the sound of a fast car? Remember when “streaming” was used to describe a heavy cold? Remember when Sunday worship was the central (and sometimes only!) point of contact for our churches? Now don’t misunderstand me: our corporate life together is essential and must not be neglected: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)
Clearly, numbers at Sunday worship have not recovered – we have lost some dear friends in the pandemic, but many others have simply lost the habit of worshipping with others. Let us encourage them to come back into the Fold, to re-join their spiritual family. Still others are still nervous of mixing in crowds because of vulnerability through medical conditions, and we must continue to support them. But we have also learned how vital it is to be Church seven days a week. It is only in this way, through supporting one another, encouraging one another, loving one another, helping one another to grow in Christ, that we have come thus far.
The pandemic is not yet over, and we must still take personal and corporate responsibility to look out for one another. God has not finished with us yet, either. In this, our Jubilee Year, let us learn again how to live as God’s beloved children, as those not bound by fear but those living life expansively, abundantly and faithfully.
What else have you learned? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Steve Faber, March 2nd, 2022