As I write this piece for you, at the very end of May, life is still full of uncertainty, and I have no idea what the situation in our country, or in our churches, will be like by the time you read my words. The year to date has been one of unprecedented change – much that we now regard as ‘normal’ would have been unimaginable this time last year. We have adapted our lifestyles, followed the guidelines, practised social distancing, closed our church buildings and endeavoured to stay alert to slow the spread of a global pandemic and save lives.
I wonder what you have most missed during these months of lockdown. And I wonder how long we will consciously treasure those things when we eventually have them back in our lives. Because we take so much for granted, until it’s suddenly not there, or not allowed. For me, it’s been all about people – my family and friends. Throughout April and May, there were many things we could only do with ‘members of our own household’. I, along with over eight million other people in the UK, live alone, so until late May I couldn’t do anything with anyone! Apart from my virtual encounters (which fill most days – the wonders of technology have enabled meetings to go on, so the world hasn’t ground to a complete halt). How I have missed being with my Mum and Dad, my wider family, sharing a meal and a hug. How I have craved a face-to-face chat with a friend. How I have longed to mingle with others over a coffee at the end of a church service, after having sung our hearts out in praise and shared communion and a sign of peace together.
Some of those joys are gradually being restored now. I can see my mum in the garden, but not hug her. I can run with a friend and chat to my heart’s content, but running a marathon with thousands of others is off-limits. Church buildings are likely to be closed for gathered worship for some time yet. My spirits have been lifted wonderfully by these new freedoms, and I want to keep that sense of thankfulness and joy, never again taking such things for granted.
In his letter to a small church in Colosse, Saint Paul urges his readers to ‘be thankful’, to ‘sing with gratitude’. It’s easy to forget thankfulness when we take things for granted, the freedoms most of us have as able-bodied people in a relatively affluent part of the world. When the freedom to leave our homes, walk the hills, get a haircut, worship together, hug our family gets wrenched from us, we are perhaps prompted to realise how little we appreciated all that was good. I hope to have an attitude of gratitude long after this crisis is over. I want to be thankful for all the things I have missed, not just for the first few weeks I have them back, but forever.
As we venture into whatever the new normal looks like, let’s cultivate thankfulness and grateful hearts, and never take our blessings for granted.
The Venerable Nikki Groarke
Archdeacon of Dudley