The pandemic’s new beginnings
We must learn from the experiences of the past year for the good of all, says Philip Clarke
A letter was returned to me recently that my mother had sent in October 1944, detailing the emotions that she was fighting against –– grief, danger and fear. This was a reminder that our present privations are not unusual. Of course Covid has come to dominate our own lives in obvious religious terms in what has become both a universal and a monastic experience, plunging us out of safe undemanding orbits and forcing us to take stock of our lives. Individuals and institutions have all had to examine the world with new eyes showing that families have become more valued, and our sense of neighbourliness more encompassing. Our shared understanding of critical areas are now more acute, especially our unrestricted plunder of our planet.
For Christians, cataclysm does not define us as it can come as an opportunity. It is over thirty years since my faith was last so challenged and propelled outwards by external experience. Like the Samaritan responding to the suffering of others, we are brought alive.
Has this period of great emotional intensity spawned a new receptivity, and is our task, above all, to give a home, a language and a purpose to the changes that people have undergone? My mother’s generation carved out a new order whose rooted values still dominate our lives today – welfare systems, international security and duty to the global poor, as well as an Anglican church that was physically rebuilt and recast. The constant refrain now is that “Everything has changed.” All about us, institutions are forging new sets of adaptations, because old approaches are deemed insufficient. Do we have a new approach?
What has the pandemic taught us? The importance of being positioned within communities. We are going to be judged by our response to physical need, even if just a brokerage service between those in need and those that want to give. Anglicans gave birth to the Samaritans and the Hospice movement. Let us encourage systems of volunteers across parishes. Many Anglicans have developed their own individual care systems. That cannot go to waste. Seeing other people’s engaged faces rather than just their backs during services has been a revelation, but we should be prepared to offer Taizé services, even shared services of silent prayer. Language and ritual can be a poultice for pain, but we should offer new orbits to those who come searching.