The following article was written for the Threemilestone Contact Magazine.
One thing is for sure we won’t soon forget these last few weeks, and we won’t soon forget the next few weeks. Schools and colleges have closed and moved to online classes, the country faces the economic pressure of everyone having to stay at home, entire nations are entering into quarantine, the NHS is under severe and life threatening pressure, and the care sector is seriously struggling. Tragically, people are dying. We haven’t faced such a crisis since the second world war.
I find myself wondering “What next?”
One possible answer to this question would be to follow the trajectory of shock and sorrow to its appropriate conclusion, in other words to expect the worst and to prepare ourselves for the worst. And some might say this is a fitting response, since it will lead to acts of self-preservation and the protection of what we care for most and who we love most dearly. Obedience to the government guidance on staying at home, self-isolating and social distancing are expressions of this, and are absolutely the right course of action.
Another possible answer is to imagine an alternative trajectory that is not shaped by shock and sorrow, but by compassion and grace. This kind of answer takes seriously how the current experience shapes culture, community, and individual character. It looks for ways to flip the horror of a given situation into an opportunity to build something new. I’m talking here about growth, potential and progress. Consider the acorn for instance. The acorn is potentially an oak tree. It yearns to become what it is not yet but ought to be. We are no different. Out of the Winter comes the Spring. What will the Spring look like for Threemilestone when all this is over?
Both answers are correct. But for me the overriding narrative in Threemilestone and the surrounding area is one shaped by grace, compassion and good will. It is a narrative that imagines what we might become when we all get through this. It is a narrative that tells the story of a community that cares for the whole, lives for the whole and defends the whole. Just take a look at what is being achieved through the local volunteer initiatives coordinated by Russell Keeble at Threemilestone Methodist Church and Cllr Tudor. And take a look at the small acts of kindness being offered between neighbours. It is evident that social distancing was never going to mean social indifference, and self-isolation was never going to mean self-interest. These kind of things are proof that good work for the sake of the whole does far more than it initially intends – picking up a prescription for someone when you do your essential trip to the supermarket helps one person, but it also shapes the whole community. It gives more water to the acorn!
Further down the road in Highertown, Malabar and Penn an Dre things are the same. Malabar Residence Association are coordinating volunteers with a system to stay in touch with the most vulnerable, and here at All Saints Highertown we’re running a Community Comforter scheme to do the same. More water for the acorn!
I call to mind the words of St Paul who reminded the early persecuted church that nothing can separate us from the love of God. He says, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If St Paul were writing today, he may well have even included Covid19 in his list. The point is this, the reality of our situation is horrendous and understandably frightening for many. But my prayer, my faith, my hope is that the narrative of love and compassion will suppress the fear we all feel, and comfort the mourning to such an extent that we see the oak fully grown, and our community life profoundly changed for the better.
The work of the Church is more important than ever, to be Christ to others, to heal the sick, mend the shattered, befriend the lonely, lift up the poor, and liberate the captive. God’s love for us draws us into participating in that divine work with our own hands and feet. God’s love for us—and our love for God—expresses itself in love of neighbour. May we all give ourselves to this service.
Yours in Jesus
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Priest in Charge at All Saints Highertown
Over the coming weeks All Saints will be doing its best to support other community initiatives, as well as its own to help the most isolated and vulnerable in our neighbourhoods.
All Saints Church is committed to living out the gospel in word and deed. Whether we are in church, in our homes, in our work places we will be praying. Whether we are in church, in our homes, in our work places we will want to help, and we are ready to receive help too.
We are all in this together, for sure. Christians are driven to action by the love of Jesus Christ, that every person has received by grace, and so whilst it is important to keep safe and virus free at all times (and follow the clear guidance of Public Health England), the church community is looking for ways to put our faith to action in new and creative ways.
On our website there is a new page dedicated to identifying need locally and coordinating support locally. We are not seeking to duplicate what is happening elsewhere unnecessarily, but we aren't wanting to stand still either, so this web page is our effort to get stuck in. If you can help, or if you know someone who needs help head to https://www.asht.org.uk/covid19.html
We look forward to hearing from you.
A pray - Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. May they know your peace, as they work together to care for others.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many, or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. In place of our fears give us hope.
Jesus Christ, healer and comforter, make us whole.
In your name we pray. Amen.
Right now, the anxiety so many people are feeling is palpable.
Anxiety and fear can seem like loaded terms among believers because the Bible tells us over and over: “Do not be afraid.” This could be taken as a command and we could use it as a way of rebuking ourselves for not trusting God enough.
However, this lack of grace for ourselves creates a vacuum which fear is always ready to fill. And it incorrectly tells us that we’re meant to drive out anxiety by sheer willpower as if we’re alone and meant to stay that way.
There is another way of taking the call not to be afraid - as a tender invitation to know God’s peace, even when we are worried.
The following are thoughts on what might help as all accept that invitation to draw near, to bury our face in God’s bosom and know more of the divine rest in an uncommonly overwhelming time.
We have an amazing gift in prayer and sometimes if we’re stressed enough we forget to use it. Right now, you can speak out all the things you’re thinking and feeling in one great, big mind-body-heart-spirit dump, without filter, without searching for the right words. You might as well tell God all of it without feeling you need to refine it or even clean it up. God knows. You could even write your prayer.
For some, it’s not so much that we forget to pray when we’re brought to our knees but that speaking this way actually adds to our anxiety. We may also wonder whether there’s any point to praying. Prayer grows distressing rather than remaining a channel for release.
If this is so, we may find it helps to quietly sit with God, to be still and know. Perhaps this is a time to explore contemplative prayer. There are many forms of contemplation with long histories in the Christian tradition Our family has been practising the examen for Lent and it might be a really accessible place to start. We use the “Examen for Children” in the prayer tools on Pray As You Go, which is free.
Media and Social Media
Many of us are already feeling utter fatigue while reading the news and scrolling through social media. At one point this week, I could almost hear the sound effects from every zombie film I’ve watched whenever new figures flashed up on a news report. I took that as a sign to stop checking the “Live” news, updated minute by minute.
There are months of this ahead. It’s too soon to grow weary. And it’s no surprise we are when everyone is shouting on Facebook with another meme or opinion piece or yet another news report that contains information beyond anything we can take practical action on.
What could protecting your mind look like in this space? This will mean different things to different people. It could mean choosing to not to check the news on your phone. Some may find that encountering it this way makes it more immersive and even more immediate. The news is designed to hook you in and personally engage you, to make you feel like you must stay in touch with every update - and it feeds your fear. Somehow holding it in the palm of your hand can make it harder to unplug from its sequence.
However you consume it, it may be helpful to consider limiting how often you check it so that you aren’t all-consumed and then too burnt out to turn to God (as mentioned above) or do anything else.
This might also be a time to curate your social media feeds. I’ve been hiding posts or selecting “Snooze for 30 days” on Facebook friends who are posting too much or too frantically on a single issue (click the three dots in line with someone’s name for this option). It’s about noticing how much of this thing I can cope with. Some people have chosen to avoid social media altogether or certain social channels.
Whatever we think about anything that’s happening, we could probably all agree that we’re collectively experiencing an information overload like no other. Regardless of the geographical location, occupation or interests of the people we’re connected to, at the moment there seems to be no relief.
It’s understandable that people are posting a lot. They may be processing their own worry. But we still need to choose how much of that we can take on and everyone’s different.
Perhaps it’s worth taking a moment now to think about what we’re all adding to the noise. We could consider what we can do to ensure we create enough mental breathing space for everyone. We can ask God to give us wisdom as we do this.
Focus on the present
When we are swept up in fear, we can psychologically disconnect from the day to day. This is where fear gives way to hopelessness and perhaps mistrust of others.
What could bring you home to the present moment? For me, spending time with my home educated children grounds me in daily life. Their needs are immediate and ongoing. Work is fairly grounding. My deadlines don’t seem to notice the minute by minute live news. In my volunteering, families continue to need breastfeeding support over the phone and online.
Focusing on the present could also mean exercise or cooking or decluttering. What needs to happen today? It might seem mundane and unimportant but they could help pull us out of the frenzy while also keeping us in motion.
These are acts of love when done in service of God, ourselves and each other. Perhaps we would value them more if we learned to reframe the work we do, however small or ordinary, as a spiritual practice in itself.
One of the most powerful things we can do in this uncertain time is to think about the ways we can help others.
I’ve seen friends reaching out to check in on other friends’ relatives whom they live closer to. People are offering to drop groceries or cooked meals on door steps should the self-isolating or less mobile need it. They’re making contact with charities to locate older or other vulnerable people who need help getting groceries. Even our toilet paper subscription company suggested we offer toilet paper to our neighbours, which I’ve done, along with asking them to text us if they need us to pick up or drop something.
Support groups are gearing up to offer more over the phone and online to meet expected gaps. People are slipping notes with their numbers through neighbours’ doors with suggestions for help they could offer - even saying that they’re up for a chat if someone who’s self-isolation wants a friendly phone call. I’ve even seen people gathering funds for folk in their community who may start to struggle financially.
It is much easier to offer help than it is to ask for it so please think about what you can do and who you can help - then make it that bit easier for them by saying something. That said, if you need help, please ask. We want to love you.
For more on the Christian precedent for offering radical hospitality in a crisis, listening to this conversation on The Hopeful Activists Podcast (it’s just 9 minutes).
To finish where we began, this is a time to pray together. Reaching out may mean offering to pray for someone if they’d like to, offering to do it then and there or later if they prefer - because it’s hard to ask for these things and it’s also hard to decline if you’re not comfortable with it. Reaching out may mean praying over the phone, especially with someone who finds themselves alone.
Fear won’t be driven out by willpower. We could hurt ourselves and each other trying. Fear is a normal response. But love is what keeps fear in its proper place so it doesn’t overrun our lives. This is a time to love each other and to lean on the God who loves us and is love.
Adele Jarrett-Kerr and her family attend All Saints. She is a mother, writer, home educator and breastfeeding counsellor. She blogs at adelejarrettkerr.com She also works with her family’s biointensive farm near Falmouth and hosts a podcast about human connection called Revillaging - you can listen through her website or wherever you find your podcasts.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.