True salvation, or just a shot in the arm?
Andy Bryant is looking forward to an easing of Covid restrictions, but believes that the Church will face many more challenges in the coming months and years.
When the first lockdown began there was much talk about how this could be an important moment of change. Many talked about a determination that when lockdown was lifted, we should not go back to our old ways. We could seize this moment and build back different and build back better.
Twelve months later as we are still enduring our third lockdown and wondering when, and how, it will end, we just want our old lives back. We want to be able to do all the things we used to do. We fear too much has changed and not for the better. Businesses, shops, cafés pubs, arts venues, charities all teetering on the brink. Will anything of our old familiar lives remain? The will to build back better is lost in the desire to just get back to something, anything, that resembles what we once thought of as normal.
We are told that the vaccines will be our salvation. The development of the vaccines has been a great triumph in these challenging times and truly something to give thanks for. The roll out of the vaccines across the country has also been one of the true good news stories of this new year. It is already making a difference.
But vaccines are not our salvation. They may help end a global pandemic, but they will not stop Covid-19 in its tracks. At best they will help us live with this virus and they will help to reduce but not eliminate Covid deaths. Covid is going to be part of our thinking and planning for many years to come. Short local lockdowns may remain an on-going feature of our lives.
When lockdown is eased then the real work of salvation will be only just beginning. However hard lockdown has been, the challenges that will face us post lockdown may be even harder. Lockdown has only served to highlight, and make worse, the socio-economic inequalities that beset our society.
We face a nation deep in debt, rising unemployment, disrupted education, a massive backlog of medical treatments with an exhausted NHS staff, a growth in poor mental health, a planet in climate crisis and a need to ensure that all countries have full and proper access to vaccines.
At a more individual level many families have unresolved grief having not been able to visit loved ones in hospital nor arrange the funerals that they would have wanted. Others have endured increase domestic violence and abuse. Addiction too has increased, whilst others have experienced prolonged loneliness.
As this lockdown eases and, hopefully, the pandemic lessens its grip, the Church’s real task will be just beginning. As never before our church communities will need to engage with growing God’s kingdom – bringing good news, proclaiming release and recovery, and revealing the Lord’s favour.
Churches too have suffered through the lockdown and face the future with worries about finances, buildings and membership. But it is vital that the Church is not so focused on its own needs and concerns that it misses the opportunity to be there for people.
The Church has to place itself at the centre of the communities it serves so it can be an essential part of the recovery, active in helping people rebuild their lives and determinedly standing up for the marginalised, forgotten or overlooked. As people struggle to move on from the pandemic, we need to demonstrate that the Church is their friend, that we will be there for them, stand beside them, and be the ones that help make a difference.
Salvation does not come at the end of a needle, as vital as vaccination is. Salvation is God’s gift to the world. It is about building the new Jerusalem here on earth. It is about affirming the value and equality of all people under God and is a response to their the physical, mental and spiritual needs. It is about living the values of the Kingdom now, daring to dream of the Kingdom of Heaven made real on earth, seeking the changing and transforming of people’s lives.
Get vaccinated yes, but keep your sleeves rolled up - there is still much work to be done.
Image by Katja Fuhlert from Pixabay.com
The Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users.