As a Church of England Vicar, like other professionals called to work in local community the idea of this lockdown has been a tremendous shock. I am learning to cope (but not very well!). Ministers of the Gospel are called to preach, teach and minister God’s love in community; isolation is a very painful and difficult antithesis to that.
The lockdown challenges the Church and all of us in a number of ways:
Firstly, the physical isolation from people whom we love in our wider family and friends including members of our flock. For someone like me – who has been suspicious of social media, fearing that people forget what real friendship is, a new movement has arisen to inform people of what we are offering using Facebook and Twitter, Zoom and other social media platforms on PCs, phones and tablets. I created my first ever video sermon last week. In common with all public speakers (including stand-up comedians!) we know that preaching is about reacting to the people who are ‘present’ as well as just sharing your pre-prepared thoughts. Reaction is stifled as I always look to discern the Holy Spirit at work within each individual.
Secondly, with strict rules in place, most people have cancelled their weddings due to numbers being limited to 5. Church funerals are no longer permitted; each ceremony in cemetery chapels and crematoria limit mourner numbers to around 10 with the option of live streaming services for family and friends who are blessed with access to IT. We have recently lost two members of our congregation; there will certainly need to be a number of memorial services after lockdown as people are feeling extremely cheated from expressing their grief. The pain of not being able to properly mourn or celebrate their contribution to the community is palpable.
As well as concern for relationships distanced, bereavement and sacramental isolation there are also severe financial implications for churches and Dioceses. As with other charities and businesses the Church is losing fees, charges and collections along with other forms of financial and volunteer support. For many organisations, large or small, this will be critical.
However, the major questions for us all are theological and social. I do want to ask what sort of society we want to be in the future, when we seek to bring justice for all which is at the heart of Christianity. Perhaps appreciating each other more, looking out for the poor, elderly and vulnerable, keeping fit, learning how to cook healthily, polluting the planet less and taking the NHS and other public and shared services much more seriously.
Whilst experiencing this lock down we can all reflect on the kind of society we want to build; perhaps now appreciating things we had forgotten. As a person of faith I want to challenge us all to look forward with hope to build a better, more inclusive and safer future for everyone in our world. Love, justice and peace must be paramount.
Rev John Davis of ‘Together Liverpool’ and the Church Urban Fund is an ISR Visiting Fellow.