As this edition of New Directions goes to press the nation is marking the one year anniversary of the first national lockdown, and event which changed the face of our country, and which left no part of society unaffected. The church has been particularly deeply affected as it has sought to serve our communities. The Bishops of The Society, in their recent statement, summed up how we, as Christians, might respond as we look back over the last year:
We as Christians will pray for the repose of the souls of over 125,000 people who have died in the UK alone after testing positive for Covid-19, and so many more world-wide, each one a beloved and precious child of God, mourned by family and friends.
We will also pray for those who have fallen ill to this disease, especially those with the chronic symptoms of long Covid. We will pray for those who face financial ruin or debt because of the loss of jobs or businesses.
We will pray for deprived urban communities, many served by Society parishes, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and those families who are coping with hunger and destitution. We will pray for the professionals in health, education, social care, local government and other walks of life who have endured such a stressful and challenging year. And we will pray for our churches and for Christians who have felt again and again the desolate pain of being denied access to the sacraments of life.
Christians are often tempted to reach too soon for easy answers to complex problems or contrive shallow ‘good news stories’ out of the gloom. But like Our Lady who simply stayed with her Son on the hill of Calvary, 23 March will be for us a time to stand by the cross and unite ourselves in prayer with all whose lives have been damaged by the pandemic.
There are many who will ask, ‘Where is God in all this?’ But as we live through Passiontide and mark the rites of Holy Week, it is in worship that we find the answers to that question, for we have a God who in Christ unites himself with human suffering and death in order to transform them in the light of His Cross and Resurrection.
The Christ who washed feet is present alongside those medical professionals who tend to the needs of the sick and dying. The Christ who feeds us under the signs of bread and wine locates himself with the hungry and the destitute. The Christ who lays down his life on the cross assumes to himself death in order to destroy it. The Christ who rises gloriously on the third day shows that those who are baptised into him are a new creation, set free from sin and death and all that is at enmity with human flourishing.
Very often we are asked in diocesan surveys what we want from the Church of England in the 21st Century? A quick reply is of course obvious, we desire the church to remain the Bride of Christ and the Ark of Salvation. But looking more deeply we desire a Church that serves the people of this land and seeks to bring them to Christ. Fundamental to this is the parochial system, which seeks to have a worshipping community at the heart of every city, town and village across our nation. Throughout the last year we have seen how parishes have reached out to serve and engage with their communities, often in spite of guidance handed down by the national church. There have been acts of service and sacrifice, many of which have simply grown out of local need. The key thing being that the parish system allows priests and people to engage with their community and to understand mor fully what is needed. In the coming years, it is clear, there will be attempts to undermine the parochial system. These attempts must be examined with critical eye and, where necessary, resisted.
In considering the future of the Church of England we must begin to take time to understand the needs of the clergy. We might very ask who cares for the needs of the pastors. The reports of the treatment of the Dean of Christ Church (Oxford) under the Clergy Discipline Measure have highlighted for many that the system does not work. Very often clergy are left in a state of limbo, not knowing what will happen next. It is clear that where wrongdoing has occurred then action must be taken. The system does however seem to be flawed and leave many clergy vulnerable and isolated. It also at times can seem to leave no room for hope or reconciliation. Those who administer the CDM process would do well to remember the adage ‘slow justice is no justice’. The time for reform is now, the clergy and laity of the Church of England deserve a better system.