During these past few months, my emotions have been pulled in all directions. At the beginning of lockdown, I was glad of being compelled to stay indoors. Rather than going out each evening to a variety of parish activities, it was good to be able to stay in at night, to have time to cook a la Nigella or Jamie and regroup. It was a time to sort out the bookshelves, give my filing cabinet it’s annual dunging out, tidy up the garage, steam clean the windows. I like to have a place for everything and to have everything in its place. My mind works better that way and in the initial stages of lockdown, it was a time for me to declutter.
For a week or two I slept better, felt refreshed, had time to think, had time to catch up and do all those fiddly jobs that had been building up in my inboxes and on the side of my desk. I wasn’t alone in taking this time out to get rid of a lot of the items that were causing me stuffication – too much stuff – the amenity sites had to close down because everyone had the same idea.
In all of this lock down time, parish work hasn’t stopped. Clergy have tried to be creative in how we stay in contact with parishioners. In All Saints’, Antrim our streamed daily services of Morning Prayer have been very popular. Phone calls, texts and humorous WhatsApp messages have provided many smiles in what have been dark days.
For me the biggest down side has been trying to remotely be with parishioners who were plunged into situations of illness and grief. You cannot adequately minister to a family over the phone, even with Zoom and Facetime, it just isn’t the same. We are comforted by physical contact, a hug, a handshake, a cup of tea with some happy reminiscences of our loved one and a few shared tears. Socially distanced pastoral care is so frustrating for us as clergy and for you as parishioners. We have had several funerals in the parish and with no church service and no tea and refreshments afterwards. We have not been able to grieve as we would want to. This has been a time of wrestling for so many people. The tens of thousands who have died and families bereaved since the beginning of the year has created a mountain of unresolved grief.
Where is God in all of this? That is the big question for the church. Many prayers have been offered asking God to intervene and take away the pandemic. For me, these prayers, so kindly meant and well intended can portray a God who is working away on some other project, a God who has taken his eye off the ball and we are nudging him gently to get a move on. Is that how God works? Surely the incarnation, God taking on human flesh in the powerless infant baby born in a stable in Bethlehem shows us how God intervenes. He comes among us and is dependent on us to help him out as the infant baby Jesus was dependent on Mary and Joseph. God intervening is about getting among us and suffering with us and helping us care for one another.
In the middle of the storm created by this pandemic it is only natural that we cry to God in the words of the psalmist, ‘How long will you forget me?’ Did God create this pandemic? I don’t think so. What kind of God would he be if he inflicted this upon his children? In the middle of whatever storm we may be in, may we like the disciples who were in the boat tossed about by the storm on the Sea of Galilee find Jesus right by our side to give us calm in the middle of our storm. We are beginning to see some chinks of light as some restrictions are being gradually lifted, but there is still a sense of caution. Some buildings are open for in-Church worship and some of you may wish to stay at home for a while yet to keep safe. Wherever you are, may you continue to know God’s love and may you keep in touch with each other whether it be through prayer, through phone calls or meeting up for coffee and a chat. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before we all see one another face to face without any restrictions.