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Church Reopening for Public Worship

The Government has announced that public worship can recommence in churches from 4th July and details of SWITM position may be found at the link below:

Thought for the week by Rev Rob

At the end of March, just as the effects of the national lockdown were starting to take effect the Church of England commemorated the life of the celebrated poet John Donne (1571 – 1631).  One of his most famous poems was ‘No Man is an Island’. 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Over the last 4 months I have been reflecting on what this poem means. It has become a stark reminder of how all our lives are interconnected, and how what happens to one can impact each other.  During a national pandemic it may seem to be self-evident to say this, but as we slowly emerge from lockdown it is helpful to be reminded of this.  Over the last few months, we have been acutely aware of the need to care for one another, and especially for the most marginalised and vulnerable in society.  It is, I believe, to our lasting shame that it has taken a pandemic in the year 2000 for the 7th most wealthy nation in the world to realise that it is possible to cater for some of their most basic needs.  Of course, whether this continues into the future is the million-pound question, but my hope is that one of the lessons we have collectively learnt is the need to care for, and support one another.  Both at a national level by Government as well as by individuals caring for their neighbours.

As we emerge from lockdown into what will be the new ‘normal’ we are seeing a national conversation about individual responsibility, in particular how those who may have the virus act responsibly, those returning from abroad abiding by any restrictions, and whether or not face coverings should be worn.

Going back to the poem it seems Donne is clearly reminding us that we need to act sensibly, not because we are afraid of what will happen to us (although we should be cautious) but because of our concern about what will happen to those we encounter if we may have the virus or fail to wear a face covering.  If we are all interconnected, then what one person does and will have an impact on others.  For example, someone with a pre-existing medical condition that make them vulnerable to the effects of the virus depends on those around them taking care and doing whatever they can to minimise the risk they may pose to others. If we fail to undertake to this collective agreement we say that those who have been shielding are of little value and society will be inadvertently enforcing prolonged isolation.

Seeing the response on social media of some has been a saddening experience as we realise that not everyone cares about their neighbour.  It has been said before that there is in society the cult of ‘self’ where ‘I’ am more important than anyone or anything else, to use a phrase from my parents when I was growing up, ‘I’m all right Jack’.  This is of course profoundly contrary to the Christian Gospel, where Jesus words and actions are all to clear.  Love your neighbour as yourself means that we should put others in the same category of worth and value as we put ourselves.  What happens to those around us in society should be as much a concern as to what happens to us. 

If we fail to live by this simple command, then we diminish the God given value and dignity that we all have.  If we go back to the beginning of the book of Genesis, (chapter 1 v 27) we read how God gives inherent dignity and worth to humanity by creating us, all of us, in his image.  In the second creation story (chapter 2 v7) we are told that he literally breathes the breath of life into us.

Then in the New Testament God physically enters into the world in the person of Jesus who we affirm in the creeds as being fully human and fully divine, who physical takes the human form to heaven with his Ascension.

There has been much talk about lessons that can be learnt from the devastation of the COVID-19 virus.  Perhaps here is one that we can all commit to?  That we rediscover as the body of Christ our commitment to one another in society, that we really do act as though we are all interconnected with each other.  What happens to one happens to us all and that we have a renewed commitment to dealing with poverty and homelessness as well as its causes.  As we move through the next few months with the economic impact of COVID being felt the most by the poorest in society it is all to easy to buy into the narrative that it is all their fault.  We have seen it with some of the stories around free school meals and the conversations around meals and obesity.  We need to ask the question why.

Dom Helder Camara was the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil from 1964 – 1985 and a strong advocate for Liberation Theology. One of his most famous quotes was. ‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.’  There is a danger that we can all to easily fall into the trap of trying to stop people being hungry and homeless, without also stopping people getting to that point in the first place.  Both are valid and important, but without doing the second at the same time as we do the first we will simply allow people to be perpetually caught up in poverty.  We view their condition as a necessary part of society, the cost of the wealth of others.  Our interconnectedness means our response to this and other injustices should be righteous anger, we should be jumping up and down to say ‘not in my name’.

Smuppets Bread and Fishes