As we find ourselves at a point where life, for many if not all, is opening up, The Most Rev’d Jonathan Hughes, the Presiding Bishop of ULCCI considers where our pandemic experience my lead us next.
I have lost count of the conversations in recent months in which people have tried to think how we will be living in 6 months’ time, a year, five years.
Through these months, people have faced illness, death and grief; others have been living in isolation, and some have seen their livelihoods fall away. The issues around care homes are widely known as also around school exams.
At the same time, many communities have come together in new ways, neighbours have been cared for, new relationships established and new forms of communication discovered. Paradoxically, with this growth in community life, we have also seen growing polarisation of opinions and hardening of certain divisions.
So, how will we be living in 6 months’ time, a year, five years?
An honest answer is that we don’t know; but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can say. There are things from this time which we should seek to keep.
For some, new patterns of working have been positive and better balanced and there will be a desire to maintain some of that. More time spent with families and close neighbours may not always have been easy, but a greater focus on our close relationships is a good thing.
Initiatives for care and neighbourliness in communities will hopefully have a lasting effect. And even some of the more challenging aspects may come to have good effects in the longer term.
We have become more aware of those who are vulnerable, those who are left out; and of some of the serious divisions in society and wider world. Continuing to address those issues will be a positive thing.
Within the life of the church, we have had a new focus around chaplaincy with care homes and with people who live with dementia. We are also resolved to address with determination the issues of race and justice which have come to the fore.
We are more conscious of the need for sustainable ways of living within our world. And we have had to move rapidly into a world where worship and gathering have been online rather than in person.
Whatever we may wish for, it is clear that what we thought of as ‘normal’ will not return fully – certainly not yet. So how will we mark Remembrance Sunday if large numbers cannot gather in churches or at war memorials? How will we celebrate Christmas if corporate singing at carol services is still not possible, and if crowds of parents and grandparents cannot cram into the school hall to watch the nativity play or Christmas show?
What will working life look like if, for example, the 18.40 train from Victoria to Kent (usually packed out in the past) must still have restricted numbers?
My experience and my Christian faith tell me that, while things may be different, we will find ways forward for our personal and shared living. Our forebears in different settings have faced equivalent disruptions to established patterns and discovered that, whatever those disruptions, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13.8).
However great our uncertainty about how life will be, that is one thing of which we can be absolutely certain. And later in the chapter, the writer prays that God will make us complete in everything good so that we may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight.
And I say ‘Amen’ to that.