Today, the UK government has indicated that they are planning to ask, at some point within the next few weeks, those over 70 to self-isolate, for perhaps up to twelve weeks. [Please don’t comment on government policy here, as I do not set it. Thank you.]
Of course, no-one will be holding the over 70s prisoner in their own homes. People will need to make decisions as to what counts as essential or non-essential trips out, taking into consideration both their own health and their responsibility towards their neighbours at a time of public health crisis.
Nonetheless, this will have a major, disruptive impact on our lives — negatively, clearly; but also, potentially, for the positive.
Advance notice allows time for plans to be put in place, and our churches have a key role to play in this. We need to find the right balance between necessary spatial distancing that in fact resists social distancing. Because at this time, we need — and have the opportunity — to be more closely socially connected than before.
So over the coming days, we’ll be making plans. Plans that will draw us closer as we identify one another’s needs — one size will not fit all; and, in any case, will likely change for any given person over a period of time — and how we will adapt our practices to meet these.
And, as our demographic is heavily-weighted towards septuagenarians and octogenarians (with one or two nonagenarians), our congregation will need to learn to embrace being on the receiving end of care. Letting go of being benefactors, and growing in the far more vulnerable interdependence which may well result in new relationships with neighbours we had no contact with before. What an opportunity!
It is unlikely that our congregation will be unable to meet; but it is likely that many will be unable to join us for at least some period [UPDATE: this has now changed, with the suspension of public worship announced by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on 17/03/2020. We shall not, in fact, be able to meet together in one place until further notice, but are encouraged to maintain a common worship at the same time, united in temporal proximity if not spatial proximity]. And this means that we get to learn the difference, almost lost, between death-dealing isolation and life-giving solitude. Ironically, to practice the season of Lent more fully than perhaps we have ever done before. For many of our parishioners, loneliness is all too familiar. Solitude comes with being on the periphery, for a short while, of a close-knit community. The present crisis contains within it, as gift, the possibility of a renewed neighbourhood that looks out for and in on one another, within which time alone is part of a healthy ebb and flow.
If you live in my neighbourhood and would like to be put in touch with your neighbours in practical cooperation, let me know.