Last week my elder son Gethin fell ill with a dry cough and was duly banished to his room for a week. Tough gig. He celebrated his thirteenth birthday this way, poor lad. We weren’t just being mean. My 89 year old dad also lives with us and is vulnerable to COVID 19. He’s banished to his room too. The rest of us have settled into a 14 day lockdown, as per Public Health England guidelines. A family home is challenging enough at the best of times. But somehow it works, even in these times. Gethin has recovered. I caught his cough. It has settled in as a new member of the family.
Church has completely changed. Barred from the church building, unable to leave home, ministering to a dispersed church community brings challenges and opportunities. I’ve been doing what most of my colleagues seem to be doing. Building a more connecting church community. Garnering missing phone numbers and email addresses. Creating a better network of pastoral care. Finding who needs help: phoning, video-messaging, listening. Setting a church WhatsApp group so we can share with each other (that’s been a revelation). Zoom meetings with colleagues, sharing. In so many ways we are addressing our isolation and separateness, as best we can. And then there is prayer. Especially there is prayer.
I am reimagining ministry, learning new things. I now live-stream church services. Wouldn’t have believed this just two weeks ago. So much has changed. Mind you, it wouldn’t have been possible without hours of help and technical support. (Thanks Brian!) Nor without Rosemary (another member of the congregation) saying why a streamed service was helpful to her. To be able to shape the week with a familiar pattern of worship, when so many of the usual boundary markers have been removed. We are now working towards making our Way of the Cross service on Good Friday to be streamed through YouTube. Another new challenge,
I haven’t live-streamed the Eucharist. I’m not convinced I can. My understanding is we become the body of Christ when the bread and wine is blessed and shared. This is not possible across the internet. It feels faintly mediaeval to me to see a priest celebrating these holy mysteries and being unable to participate beyond watching. But others have a different theological understanding of this. And for this and for them I thank God. We each do what we do.
There are other opportunities to make connections, different kinds of connecting. I love being able to video-call with Messenger. Didn’t Blake’s 7 (BBC low-budget 1970s Sci-Fi series, just fabulous!) come up with this, all those years ago? Even memes open up connections and possibilities. After I shared one with several people – I had simply laughed out loud when it popped up on my phone – the messages that followed opened up questions of grief, loss and a postponed marriage. A wedding blessing may result from that shared meme.
Life continues within its new parameters. To be human is to communicate, after all. How and what we communicate shapes our world and our imagination of what is possible. Lots of other people realised this years ago, of course. I am only just waking up to something of that this means in my life and ministry.
This story of COVID 19 connects us on so many different levels. It’s personal. What’s happening in my own body, my personal space, my head? It’s communal, social, political. The sacrifice and ministry of the NHS. Boris Johnson in intensive care. The Queen addressing her people. its about the world we share – one huge web of interconnectedness – with the many, many other people of our planet.
And shot through it all for me, is an ongoing story of faith. What it means to be human. So I place our new unfolding story alongside that older story of what happens to Jesus. (It is Holy Week.) I look at these two stories – the story of our world responding to the Crisis of COVID 19, and the story of the krisis of Jesus last days. There are new connections to be made. But they need to be made slowly, with a great deal of patient and attentive listening, I think. For the kind of wisdom that will emerge will not be rushed. First of all, it must be lived. And that is always a challenge, even at the best of times.