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We hear a lot about the “new normal.”  It’s in the media.  The URC use it to help churches think about how they can be in the near future.  But somehow it doesn’t seem to be sinking in—life will be different.  

It’s not just wearing masks, sitting two metres apart in church, or queuing in shops.  Life is different.  What we saw as normal is gone.  What the future holds is different.  High Streets may be polluted by flats instead of shops.  Churches may further develop virtual technology to connect and include people.  Outdoor cafe culture may become the way of the future.  It seems, however, that cars are still popular!

How we long for the return to the mundane routines.  So today I am doing such an ordinary thing.  I am making a funeral visit.  Now, for the family this is not routine or mundane.  It is, sadly, very significant.  But for me it is the bread and butter of my work.  The visit isn’t virtual or over the phone.  It is in person.  How ordinary and normal—not ‘new normal”—this will be.  I look forward to that.    

It is nice to return to something “normal.”  It was nice to drive to the Brecon Beacons on Sunday.  It was normal.  But there is a large part of me that doesn’t want to live in the past. I want some aspects of life to be different— to care about how I use my spending power and my vehicle and my other resources. 

Maybe the new normal is not about how we spend—though the government in Westminster wants us to spend, spend, spend— but how we use the resources of our time to nurture relationships?  We may be missing church, but a great deal of what we are missing about church is the people—the people who nurture and encourage us.  So what do relationships look like in the new normal?  Which ones do we cherish?  Which ones do we decide we need to be let go?

The “norm” for me is listening to people, understanding what is important to them, reflecting that back in worship and other experiences.  That is why a funeral visit is so important and “normal” to me.  I am looking forward to that “norm.”

Update—well, nothing is indeed “normal.”  There are visits that feel just like “before”, and there are conversations that seem like we live in a new land.  I don’t need to say anything else.  Instead I guess I have to remember all this is new to all of us.  I have to face into the new in the mundane and familiar situations and allow life to unfold without judgement.  Life may feel familiar in some ways and life will be different in some ways.  I just have to allow life to unfold—normal and different—and hope somewhere in it is a spark of love.

No more emails

Today there will be no more emails.  I notice that most days I spend the day on my computer or phone, checking emails and responding.  My phone kindly tells me how much time I spend on it.  My average usage is up dramatically since before lockdown.  

At the beginning of this COVID-19 journey, lots of people were talking about having the time to learn a new skill.  While I think this is a statement of privilege, I felt like I should buy into it.  So I warped up my loom, which great difficulty, and began a project. That project now sits in the corner of the room, untouched for weeks.

I do not have the emotional energy after a day of computers and phones and zooming for something new.  Just keeping a house together, staying on top of work, and walking each day are more than enough for me.

But I know the toll working all the time takes on people so today there will be no more emails.  
It is so tempting, just to check one more time, but I will put the phone away, close the computer, move out of the office.  

Instead, I will drag out something that I know well, something which gave me joy in the past, something creative.  Today I will pick up a sewing project conceived a couple of years ago.  I will begin to put the pieces together.  I will focus in a direction completely away from technology.

At the moment it isn’t giving me joy, but it is keeping me occupied and away from work.  It is allowing me to listen.  It is taking my brain away from COVID 19 to straight seams and matching patterns.

Today I have closed my computer and taken up my sewing machine.  Covered in threads and fibres, surrounded by colour, I will piece together fabric, open to what is being created.  I am the creator.  I will trust the Creator to renew and birth something of value—in me and in fabric.  Today there will be no more emails.

Fear, Guilt, Relief and ?

I find myself alternating between relief, fear and guilt.  I am so glad that life is easing.  It is lovely to be able to plan for things, to go places, to see people.  But all of this also leads to fear.  

As I meet more people, I am afraid I may come in contact with the virus.  Just yesterday I spoke with my daughter about spending time together and realised that there is a risk because they live and London and are commuters.  Should we see them?  Am I doing the right thing?  Fear of the unknown, unseeable becomes a factor in my decisions in a new way.

 And then there is guilt.  For four months I have barely used my car, now I want to use it all the time to go everywhere.  I don’t want to be limited to 5 miles.  And every time I think about a journey, I feel guilty because I am again adding to pollution levels.  Relief, fear, and guilt.  

Guilt has long been a part of my life.  I know the “right” things to do environmentally and socially but I don’t always do the right thing.  The right things impact my personal economics in uncomfortable ways so I sometimes I make good choices and sometime I make bad choices.  When I make bad choices, I carry guilt. 

Fear is also a strong current in my life.  I have been told I appear fairly fearless.  I have indeed done some amazing things—like change cultures and move to new places.  However, I don’t think of myself as fearless,  I remember the times fear stopped me.   I carry that fear a bit like guilt, secretly and shamefully.  

Now, I am fairly fearless at home, but beyond that I am conscious of a current of fear that each interaction I make could change my life or the life of another.  The virus is invisible.  I can’t see it to confront it.  All I can do is keep distant, yet keeping distant hurts.  I am afraid of how normal interactions, sharing laughter and singing could enable transmission.  I am fearful.

Finally, there is relief.  I am excited to plan for the future, to look forward to events and gatherings and being with people.  My relief is coloured by fear and guilt.  Do I want to go back to everything being the same as before lockdown?  I sigh with relief because I can relax just a bit, think about the regular and routine—but then I remember I can’t really.  Guilt and fear remain my companions for now.  So somedays there is the relaxation that comes we relief, but then the vigilance of fear and guilt return.  

Life might be easier now, but the pandemic isn’t over. For now relief will remain coloured with guilt and fear.  Choices have to be made clearly weighing risk.   And it seems grace needs to undergird everything—for sometimes I will get it right and sometimes I will get it wrong.  That’s the way of life in pandemic.

Fear, guilt, relief, and grace—my companions for some time to come.

Slipping Past

The days are slipping past.  How can it be July?  There is no holiday on the horizon, booked at the end of last year, to be enticing me into August or September.  How can it be summer?

The long, golden days are no more.  There is still sun, but it is now mixed with showers, but where is the rainbow that offers hope to the weary world?  It is not in my sky at the moment.
How can so many days have passed since we last visited with our kids and listened to wedding plans?

The sun hasn’t slipped out of the sky, nor have the days markedly shortened.  I know it is still summer, but my usual markers are not in my life.  Now each day is marked by virtual meetings.  It is Tuesday, it must be Bible Study.  If it is Friday, it must be Coffee Morning.  It’s a bit like those European trips, if it’s Monday, it must be Paris.  The days slip past so quickly, yet they hold so little to set them apart, so few of the events that mark the life of a minister.  There are no weddings, a few funerals, but no endless line of regional meetings, no thinking about worship in the context of different churches, no visits to hospitals, no coffee mornings where I turn down cups of tea.

The days slip past—I know I will not come out of this with a new skill.  I wonder what I will say about this time in years to come?  There is beauty in the noticing of creation and the simpleness of life.  But there is sadness—in hearing people fight with each other, in people hoarding medicines, in our failing to see our neighbours as human, in the continued brokenness of God’s creation.  

As I watch the news, I do rejoice with those who have survived the virus.  I feel sad about those who haven’t.  But the days slip past and I am afraid.  I worry.  I don’t want to find myself infected with the virus.  I want to protect myself and my family.  I worry about the economy and the future job market for our children and grandchildren.  The pressing wait of climate change has not lessened, just slipped slightly out of view.  

I don’t know what lies ahead.  Of course, the reality is that we never do, but for most of my life, I have plotted and planned where to go and what to do.  And now I wait; I worry; I wonder; I work.  
And the days slip by, one very much like the other.  The highlight—a trip out in the car for an hour or so, within the radius allowed—until tomorrow, when the trips become longer but the risk becomes more.  The days slip past, and I wonder what tomorrow holds.

A Home

I have lived in many houses.  The one that shapes how I think about “home” is the little pink house, which Brits would call a bungalow.  Though a small house it had huge plate glass windows at the front.  Two of those windows looked across the street to a field where a few horses grazed, and a wood beyond.  There was another window, at a right angle to the living room window that looked down to the bay, a few miles away.  The windows were taller than my parents, and about the width of the front room.  It was a little house filled with light.  From that house my brother and I boarded the yellow bus to go to school or walked down the street to our second school.  We walked up the street to our friends’ house, and played in the woods behind their home.  We created a world in the empty lot just beyond our neighbour’s house.  In that house we learned about love and loss.  We left to move across the country but after a year we returned, to the same community and the same house. 

That little house and the community there have shaped my expectations of home.  Light, love, and loss.  Friends shared laughter and food.  Friends supported each other through pain and celebrated the joyful moments.  It was a home.

I have lived in lots of places sense then.  Most of the houses I have lived have not been my choice for, as a minister,  I have lived in houses provided by the church.   The last house I lived in, I hated.  It was dark.  The floors made noise.  When I was in the bedroom, I could hear the tv in the living room through the ceiling.  I could go on, but I won’t.  Despite the fact I hated the house, it became a home.  There I experienced love and loss.  From there my last child was launched into the world. There my oldest child brought her long-term partner to meet our family.  There we shared meals with new friends.  There we created community—people who accepted and loved us and who we accepted and loved in return.

It takes time to develop roots.  I love the house I live in now, but I don’t have roots yet.  Will this house become a home? We have had a few “home” moments—a Christmas together, a 25th  birthday party, a wedding dress buying trip, a welcome tea party.  But in the midst of a pandemic, it is hard to imagine inviting people here to share a meal and laughing around the table any time soon.  I can’t imagine friends coming to stay or friends filling the house in times of loss.    

What makes a house a home?  Love, loss, but most of all friends.  How do you build relationships in a pandemic?  If it’s online, perhaps it doesn’t matter where you live. Maybe the laughter that digitally fills the study is making my house a home?  Maybe the prayer that digitally happens in the dining room is creating a home.  Maybe the listening that happens digitally in the living room is filling the house with love?  There is definitely loss—we have all experienced losses in the last few months, but maybe through these digital connections, there is more laughter and love than I imagine.