One of my kids remarked recently that, with the Government telling us all to stay inside and find things to do, in 9 months’ time there’ll be a baby boom, a COVID-19 generation! And that’s just the start of a world that may look very different.
The sheer speed with which this pandemic is transforming our nation and most others is shocking. Things which were inconceivable only weeks ago are now routine. Most of us are not going out to work, in fact we’re not going out. Shops, restaurants and churches are closed, baptisms and weddings banned, and it seems the whole country is being nationalised overnight. We’re finding it hard to grasp what is happening. Someone said to me: “we’re in a parallel universe”, another commented “it’s like being on a weird silent retreat”. We are all reeling, and, one way or the other, history is in the making.
Given all that, and given that we are yet to feel the full force of this thing, why start a conversation on the way things will look afterwards? Isn’t it all bad news? Certainly we must prepare for difficult times ahead. Right now the adrenaline of “something is happening” is shielding us, but we all need to expect a period afterwards when we will have to re-adjust, and deal with ongoing anxiety, mental health issues for some, loss, or financial uncertainty for others. But I believe there are also positives to our new future – and we could do with some positive news!
Positive changes to our world
The way we do church
Suddenly we have all burst into a world of complete online interaction – whether we wanted to be here or not! Everyone who possibly can, is being evangelized into a new hyper connected world.
I continue to be astonished when I hear of folks in their 80s in my church who “just attended the Zoom Bible Study”! Not quite everyone, but this way of meeting is rapidly being normalised even among die-hard luddites. And medium sized churches like mine, which before barely had a website and a Facebook page, have found ways to stream services, sermons, bedtimes stories, you name it we stream it. Meanwhile, the language of “livestream” and “video call” has become everyday speak. And churches are reaching new audiences in these extraordinary times. As one of our members commented: “the building might be empty but so was the tomb on Easter morning!” .… why look for the living among the dead!
Hooray for all those IT amateurs in our churches who have been beavering away for years, pretty much ignored by the rest of us. You have enabled us to do church; you have enabled us to be church! This is your finest hour!
For sure, these fresh expressions of church in a wholly digital world are really what we should have been doing before – we just never had the time. But, moving forward, as Pete Phipps commented recently, it’s now “bricks and mortar alongside clicks and coding”. And we won’t reverse all of this change. Of course we want to return to face to face conversations, but we’re not “going back”.
A friend jokingly asked me if I thought that Greta might be behind all this?
But, joking aside, with near complete downing of planes, empty roads, and people being sent home from plants and factories deemed “non-essential”, there has already been some positive impact on our climate. As for how great the effect of this impact will be, it depends how long this change goes on for and, perhaps more importantly, it depends on countries not over-polluting in the months and years to come based on the idea that somehow the climate has been “re-set”.
I hope, if nothing else, once this virus has passed, we all get a sense of the fragility of our world and our species. These are not bullet proof, they are precious and easily damaged.
Positive changes to our attitudes
Sitting alone in our empty church foyer a few days ago, I felt a kind of homesickness. Just reflecting: “wasn’t it great when this place was buzzing — when PEOPLE were here”. Or to say it better than me:
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God, under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise, among the festive throng” Psalm 42
Perhaps this enforced isolation will give us all a genuine appreciation of the blessing of being able to meet freely as church in a country where this is permissible. Perhaps we will value afresh coffee morning chats and Sunday gatherings, and even those people who talk far too much (… you never know 😊)
I for one hope that these testing times will create a positive legacy as we appreciate and value our health workers, our care workers, and all our critical workers still out there fighting for us. We will surely demand a better resourced NHS. Let’s try not to forget how we feel once things return to normal.
And maybe, just maybe, we will have some kind of minimal understanding of what it is like to live with uncertainty, day-in day-out. 400,000 people, many of them children, die of malaria every year. Many more live with everyday uncertainties over their basic needs. For us, this pandemic is the stone hitting the glassy surface of a still pool — our lives are so calm and safe. But for others this virus is just another uncertainty amidst constant uncertainty, another threat in a world of threats.
But perhaps the biggest positive from all of this is a new idea of community. Many people, Christians and non-Christians are re-evaluating what really matters, and one of the answers is community. Like many other streets, ours now has a WhatsApp group because people want to look after one another. People in churches are calling one another regularly and volunteering to chat and do shopping for one another. It should always have been like this, but somehow we were too busy. It seems that it takes a near existential threat to urge us into complete “one another-ing”.
We are in worrying times and I don’t want to under-state the extent to which we will all be affected. But remember, whilst God doesn’t make awful things happen, he can bring good from them. The challenge for now is how to stay positive while passing through the storm?
Staying positive is not easy – but not impossible. I don’t have any new tips, but I do want to repeat the excellent advice of others:
Firstly, don’t track the news all day everyday – it’s an injection of stress. We were never designed to handle overwhelming waves of worrying numbers hour after hour. Get the news once a day and get out (And watch some TV that makes you smile!).
Try to help others – and accept help from others because helping stimulates the best in us and produces that feel good factor.
Finally look out for those small miracles of nature that we were always too busy to see: the colour of the sky, the warmth of the sunshine on your face, the evening bird song through the window. (Have you noticed that the birds are singing louder these days? Well, OK, it’s more to do with fewer cars and no people on the streets, but the effect is the same!) Find these small doses of joy — just for you.
“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” Psalm 94
And last of all, when you are tempted to anxiety, pause, take a deep breath and remember who is ultimately in control. It isn’t you; it isn’t me; it isn’t Boris and it isn’t Donald … and that’s a good thing!