Thursday, 14 May 2020

Fifty Eight Days of Being Closed - Uncertainties Abound

At the start it was easy. We knew that there was a terrible foe to fight and we all needed to play our part. Coming back from those deepest days of lockdown is not going to be easy. The close down was clear. How to reopen again will be less straightforward. There is the desire to get back to a more normal way of life. But it's so hard to see the best way to get there.

The government has been massively criticised for not providing enough detail or time to make changes and plans before the changes its proposed are made. They had clearly been talking about what they were going to tell us for days and days. Explaining those ideas to the rest of us proved more difficult than expected.

The lockdown has been eased a little bit. Odd things like selling houses and going fishing can start again. Yet for most of us little has changed and we're being told to use our common sense.

Those with a business were expected to welcome staff back to work on a Monday morning after the Sunday evening announcement. The paperwork for what they had to do when the workers turned up at work was only published two days later. Time to use your common sense it seems.

At our primary school today there was a very different mood amongst the staff. The task of getting things ready for six classes of fifteen children in three different year groups is huge. With a full school office of people working flat out together it might be possible. How to do it when people are separated and tired is an incredibly tricky conundrum.

The underlying issue is that there are more uncertainties than you can shake a stick at. We just don't know what to do next. It's becoming obvious that the government itself is making it all up as it goes along, just like the rest of us. In the end we all do our best. It is very hard to make any plans.

We are learning afresh to live each day as it comes. Jesus said some wise words about each day having enough trouble of its own so we shouldn't worry about what tomorrow might bring. Now is a time in which these words have never felt so real. We must trust in God and leave the future in His hands. He will hold us all as we pass through these days. We get through this with some prayer, using the common sense and patience that He gave us to triumph over uncertainty in all of its forms.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Fifty Three Days of Being Closed - Let's Pray

Well yesterday was a real mixture of celebration and trepidation. As our nation sought to remember the 75th anniversary of VE Day there was the chance to appreciate the wonderful benefits of the peace that was brought to us by the sacrifices of the Second World War.

The anglican clergy across the city created a zoom prayer for the occasion that reminded us all of the part played by Portsmouth in this conflict. The terrible destruction of the bombing of our city and the number of people who played an active part in the conflict has shaped our identity. It took many years for the rebuilding to create any sense of normality in the post war years. The loss within the community stayed in the psyche of all those who had seen the suffering or had been part of the trauma.

So we are a city that should celebrate the part that we played. Just along from us one street had every single house draped in the Union jack and bunting. The beautiful weather encouraged people to go out. There was a very loud Karaoke machine playing well into the evening. It was hoped that everyone stayed far enough away to remain safe.

But just a couple of roads in the other direction from us there is a care home. Just the day before I had to contact the relative of one of the occupants of that home who had died of Covid 19 to arrange their funeral. This relative told me that he was the fourteenth of the thirty residents to die in the last two weeks. The virus has got its hold and is wreaking its own form of devastation. The lives are lost and the loved ones left with regrets and no opportunity for a last hug or hold of a hand. Now they have the prospect of just 10 people attending a pared down funeral at the crematorium. It is sadness beyond our normal comprehension that has been repeated so often all across our land.

We are in another battle and we cannot take for granted the outcome. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will make his announcement to the people about the future steps of our lockdown process. It looks to me as if we will be under restrictions for many more weeks to come.

The VE Day celebrations reminded us of our need to work together if we want to defeat a determined foe. It was also a feature of the war that the whole country was called to times of prayer. Just before Dunkirk the whole nation prayed and a window in the weather appeared to allow the troops to be brought safely home. We are now at a point in this crisis when prayer is looking like the crucial component. Our church, along with many others, is offering ample opportunities to connect in prayer. So let God's people turn to Him to seek his face and pray so that He might come and heal our land.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Forty Seven Days of Being Closed - 2020 Vision

At first there was the Response to the crisis. For us it was about how were we going to function as a church and look after people? This phase was all about adrenaline and decision making - though some of those decisions were changed almost as soon as they were made. Our team pulled together and we did a pretty good job.

At that point we thought we might be in lockdown for three weeks and then emerge blinking into the early summer sun with the worst behind us. But now we can see that this is not going to happen. It looks like we have another month of severe restrictions with then a gradual loosening of the valve so that we eventually find our way back to a life that is sustainable.

The first information we were given was flawed. It underestimated the danger that this virus posed. We looked at Italy and Spain and thought well that won't happen to us. Whilst we have avoided the meltdown of our intensive care capability the number of deaths in our nation now looks like being the worst in Europe. Our leaders made decisions based the best evidence at the time but no one could quite comprehend just how bad this situation was. This is natural. No one wants to believe the worst. We all hold tightly to our well formed framework of what the world looks like and we don't want a virus to mess with it.

It seems to me that we are now in a phase of Realisation. We can no longer pretend that we will all be alright. Even graphs on the daily press conferences will not protect us. We have to realise that the world has changed and we have to find a new way to do life.

This year has not turned out as we expected and we need a new vision for 2020 and beyond. There are so many lessons to be learned from what we have experienced in these last seven weeks. Lessons about who is important and how much we need each other.

To have 20/20 vision means to see with clarity what is in front of you. It looks certain that the world has changed. There will be surface changes like the wearing of face masks and the number of people allowed into a shop that will go on for some time. But there need also to be deeper changes of perspective; about valuing one another and caring for everyone. We need to build more resilient communities where people know each other and look out for one another.

Let's not rely on government to make this happen for this can be in our own hands to achieve. The church can be at the very centre of this. Our mission has always been to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. What if the new communities that we formed followed his example of compassion and love? How about putting him at the very centre of our 2020 vision?

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Forty Four Days of Being Closed - The Best and the Worst

It is a continuing source of wonder that the human race can respond in so many different ways to the same set of circumstances. If ever a situation has demonstrated that we are creatures with free will it is this crisis. Perhaps it's the fact that all the news in centred on just one topic that makes these distinctions so diverse.

So this morning there's a story that people were caught hiding in cupboards when police visited a pub in Sheffield where some serious drinking had been going on. Clearly the pub was meant to be closed. People had decided to go out and mix together despite the lockdown regulations. The fact that made it all the more disappointing was that this was the second time that the same pub had been raided. It's likely that the licence for the premises will be revoked. Let's hope that happens.

Then a little further afield the businessman Elon Musk has called for an end to lockdown in the US because it is harming the profits of his company. "Free America Now" he tweets from the safety of his mansion. In a country with the highest number of deaths on the planet, where there's a lack of health care for those who are poor, where the divides between the social strata have never been so great. Clearly some more electric cars are more important than people's lives.

BUT... Today is also the one hundredth birthday of Captain Tom Moore who will today be elevated to the honorary title of Colonel. He has received 140,000 cards to mark the day including obviously one from the Queen, has become the oldest person to have a number one record in the charts and raised the tidy sum of £30 million for the NHS. He has inspired art works and tributes from across the world. One man who decided to do what he could to stand against the virus and for the forces of good that are fighting against it.

It can seem that we are surrounded by doom and gloom, that the end of this in between existence will never come. Yet in the midst of this we all still have choices to make. Whose example will we follow? It's very easy to slide into a negative frame of mind that only sees the refuse floating in the gutter of life. In times of trouble we all need a hero to focus on. Who'd have thought that for our nation it would be a war veteran with a walking frame. But then who'd have thought that a carpenter from Nazareth would have made the impact that he did? Let's be sure to follow the right path as we make our way through these disorientating days.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Thirty Eight Days of Being Closed - God is so Good

Well we woke up this morning to find that President Trump had come up with the great idea that we could inject people with disinfectant to kill the coronavirus. The fact that it would also kill the people had not occurred to him. No one had thought that they needed to explain that. The South African President had a moment with his face mask that prompted widespread delight. He was able to laugh it off saying he was going to start a mask application TV programme and glad that he had brought a smile to so many. What a good thing that we have each other to help us get through this.

Each day we wait to hear what the 24 hour death toll has been; hoping that it will have really fallen and the end of this crisis is truly coming closer. That no more lives will be lost. It's so odd that by being separated we are achieving something together.

The sun keeps shining and this spring has been the best that I can remember clasped within the very worst of circumstances. There have been phenomenal amounts of blossom on the cherry trees - or have I just had time to notice that.

People are now actively asking what is God doing through all of this. For God is in it. He's there in the courage of those who take on exhausting shifts in the NHS on which they risk not only their own lives but also those of the people they might take the virus back to when they finish. God's in the care in the community which supply the goods at the food banks and the support systems which keep bubbling up. He's there in reminding us that a ninety-nine year old army captain can raise just as much money for charity as a night of TV personalities strutting their stuff with enormous creative resources behind them.

For the church, people are starting to see that this is as a chance to think really deeply about who we are and what we are trying to achieve. In just a month we have worked out how to do services in completely new ways that are connecting with a whole lot of people we've never encountered before. We've space to decide where we truly want to travel after this. There's a prayer that we will come out of this rested, refreshed and ready to rise again. Psalm 46 is written for a time like this. God is good. Be still and know that I am God. Find your identity in being my child. Let's hope we listen and hear this message amongst all the noise.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Thirty Four Days of Being Closed - All About Identity

Well it looks like we are over the hump but no one is taking it for granted. The news is giving everyday stories of death and despair which keep us safely ensconced in our isolated worlds. A new aspect of the crisis that has just started are protests against the social distancing restrictions in the US, Brazil and Russia. Apparently people don't think that the virus is dangerous enough to stay inside.

Tonight I was part of a prayer meeting organised by the Portsmouth Christian Supporters Club to pray for the football industry. We prayed that this time of great change will bring opportunities for the good news of the gospel.

In a small way I have experienced the stripping away of my identity that this lockdown has brought. No more services on Sundays or people to visit. I can only imagine how much worse it must be for professional footballers whose identity is bound so intently to what they do on a Saturday afternoon. Locked in the bubble of the football circus that creates obsessive level of interest amongst millions. No adulation from the crowds, loss of status and purpose all because of a tiny virus particle. There is the uncertainty of finances and security as all clubs involved struggle with the end of the season that may or may not happen.

In the end it's all about identity. Where do we find our true meaning? Does it depend on external appreciation or are we secure because we understand our relationship with our heavenly father. It is because we are loved that we can survive the storms that we face. Without that anchor, if there is hole where there should be a heart filled with love then there is ample space for all sorts of idols to claim their victim.

We all need a fixed point to see the world from. A place to stand that allows us to make sense of life. When everything changes because of a pandemic that need becomes even greater. Psalm 46 advises that we should be still and know God. Keeping safe by staying inside is a trial that forces us to face our own nature, our values and ideals. Perhaps at the end of all this we will have got to the end of our excuses and be able to accept that we need a bigger and better perspective with which to view the life that we lead.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Twenty Seven Days of Being Closed - Important or Essential?

So, it looks as though in this critical weekend we are reaching a peak and may soon see signs of things improving. This has inevitably turned thoughts to what life will look like after lockdown. It seems to me that there will be fundamental changes to the way we see the world. Our society has not experienced collective trauma like this since WW2. Our comfortable expectation of everything always being ok has been totally stripped away. If this had just been a pause for a couple of weeks perhaps we would have returned to the old ways unchanged. But with an experience that looks like lasting for months there is time for deep seated transformation to take hold.

What might happen:

We might give up on some the addictive behaviours that before this seemed so normal. You might have your own list but my hope is that there will be less gambling, less shopping, less obsession with sport and compulsion to spend so much on alcohol consumption. Now clearly I could be completely wrong and all that this time has done is convince people how important, perhaps essential, for them those elements of their life really are.

There will be less foreign travel. For some time at least different parts of the world will be experiencing  different rates of revival after the virus. So there are likely to be travel restrictions in place for many months to come. Each trip abroad will now be viewed as a chance of mixing with the wrong person in an overcrowded airport concourse and we will not want to risk travel as much as we used to. There will be fewer holidays abroad and less face to face meetings. It's time to look forward to exploring some more of the UK and our home tourist industry will need our support.

It will take years for our economy to recover. No one at this point knows the damage that has been done. There are very real fears that many small businesses, that are a huge part of our life, will have gone bust by the end of this. When will the pubs and restaurants that do survive be allowed to crowd people in again to have a bumper night's takings? How will all those forced out of work adjust to a new job market which might include doing tasks that foreign workers previously came here to take on? What taxes will the government seek to impose to draw at least some of the money they have promised in support back into the national bank account?

What's certain is that all this will actually remind us about what things really are important and essential. Part of Jesus' amazing teaching in the sermon on the mount was to advise us not to worry so much about the small stuff [see Matthew 6.25-34]. As well as never again taking for granted those small human interactions that we are all missing so much perhaps we will also have a much better understanding of what is actually important or essential.