Sunday, May 31, 2020



O happy Pentecost:
novel coronas of light,
spread from face to face, left
3,000 dead to self and rising
in Christ
in just one day;

down town ablaze
with flames consuming every
tribal division, and
drawing diverse shades
into one harmony:
may it be so in our day, too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reframing the narrative

This morning I read a long and detailed letter written by a Conservative MP exonerating Dominic Cummings.

The letter reframed the narrative, from a public health crisis to a personal story in which Mr Cummings is the victim of unfair attention; and, moreover, in which others coming to a different conclusion is merely a private matter.

Reframing the narrative is how it works.

Just as whenever a black man is killed by a white man in the US, people are quick to reframe the narrative away from injustice, and indeed endemic systemic racism: clearly there were justifiable reasons that have yet to come to light; the white man felt threatened, and is entitled to defend himself.

Always attend to who reframes the narrative, and to what end.

Stay alert. [Control the virus.] Save lives.

I can't breathe

[first posed yesterday on Facebook]

Yesterday, I went for a run. I pushed myself, hard. Knees pumping. And about 7km in, at the top of a long, steep bank, I had to stop. I needed to catch my breath...

Now imagine being a black man, unable to breathe, having your life crushed out of you by a white police officer with his knee on your neck. While his colleague stands by. While passers-by stop and tell him to remove his knee, and are ignored.

Imagine that this is not a shocking unprecedented event, but the latest in a long line for a community who collectively struggle to catch breath.

Imagine that, adding insult to injury, countless reasonable voices will offer justifications for why this happened, and insist that we remain silent until all the facts are established.

The facts were established long ago.

To my black friends, and the wider black community this night, this long night, I say, I see you. And I confess before you that I see you imperfectly, through clouded, milky-white eyes. But I want to see. And I believe that our heavenly Father sees you perfectly, even through his tears.

To those who act from systemic racist scripts, I see you, too. And, again, I see you imperfectly. But, again, I believe that God, our redeemer and judge, sees you perfectly. May he both judge and redeem us.

How long, O Lord?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

For the record

For the record, thoughts originally posted on Facebook over the past 24 hours:

Yesterday, the Prime Minister mistakenly identified the public mood as confused. Today, Dominic Cummings rightly named it as anger, and as justifiable anger, but claimed that it is misdirected anger: we are angry because we have listened to inaccurate reporting by the media, and so he would put the record straight.

I choose to take his statement concerning what he did and why he did it at face value. I have sympathy for him. And I remain dismayed that he is unrepentant.

At a time of national crisis, he, the architect of government policy, failed to do his civic duty at the first hurdle. He then used the hurdle to justify his failure; broke both the letter and the spirit of the law; and blamed the media for reporting a story in the public interest without full knowledge of the facts in the face of dissembling rather than transparency from 10 Downing Street.

What was asked of us is clear, regarding the self-isolation of those who have C-19 symptoms in their own home at which they were resident at the time, and the quarantining of all household members. Rightly, an exception was made for any parent who came down with such symptoms and was living with a violent partner, who feared for the welfare of their child not because of coronavirus (which appears to affect children differently) or hunger (thousands of people have signed up to deliver food to isolating households) but because of domestic violence. This provision meant that the police could not prevent anyone in such circumstances from leaving their home, nor could local councils or shelters turn them away on account of their condition. Sadly, circumstances across the nation have shown that this exception was and is needed. But Cummings has broken both the letter and the spirit of the matter.

There is no shame in not having the strength of character to deal with a national, indeed international, emergency. None at all. But to not see it is a tragedy. And a missed opportunity that stores up future tragedies. And to not have friends around you who can help you to see that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Today, several bishops of the Church of England have received threats, ranging from people threatening to leave the Church to death threats, for criticising the government. Including quite literally at least one member of the House of Lords being told to stay out of politics, or it will be the death of you.

If you feel so strongly that the Church should remain quiet, then please do go ahead and leave. It is a free world, and we are not a private members’ club.


We were explicitly told not to travel to quieter parts of the country to self-isolate, in case, should we become ill, we place an additional burden on local hospitals.

By his own account, Dominic Cummings’ London-based family had to draw upon the resources of a Durham hospital.

The government are mocking the people.

The Conservative Party has a very large majority in parliament. We need to see a very, very significant back bench rebellion. Public silence speaks to the character of every MP.

So far we have heard a few brave voices. This morning, a junior Minister has resigned his post in protest. May this be the beginning.

In the light of the Dominic Cummings affair, I want to reflect on Jesus’ instruction that whoever is without sin cast the first stone (John chapter 8).

The first thing that I note is that Jesus was responding to a group of powerful men who were calling for someone to be put to death. To my knowledge, no representative of the Church of England has suggested, on or off the record, that Dominic Cummings be killed for what he has done; but that he be removed from his post. I am, however, aware that several Church of England bishops have received death threats for speaking out against the government; which is a consequence of the populism Dominic Cummings has carefully cultivated.

The second thing I note is that Jesus fronts down a group of powerful men who have broken both the letter and the spirit of the law.

They claim that the Law of Moses demands that this woman, caught in the very act of adultery, be stoned to death. This is a subtle, or not-so-subtle, revision. The law was understood to instruct that, under certain circumstances, a couple found guilty of adultery be put to death; but they have not brought the man to justice. They have broken the letter of the law.

Moreover, they have broken the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is concerned with the need a society has for trustworthiness, truthfulness and integrity; and that, for the sake of the common good, those who believe that the law does not apply to them are not accommodated. As far as we can tell, in Jesus’ day, the spirit of the law was enforced far more than the letter. However, in bringing this woman before Jesus, these powerful men are abusing the spirit of the law in order to score points against him.

Of course, the woman has also broken the letter and the spirit of the law, another part of the law, the law prohibiting adultery; and, again, Jesus calls her to repentance.

The third thing I note is that Jesus begins to write, in the public space in which all this is unfolding. We don’t know what he writes, but we do know that he keeps writing until every last powerful man who thought that it was a good idea to associate themselves with this travesty have realised that their position is indefensible, and conceded as much in public. Only then does Jesus stop writing.

The fourth thing I note is that Jesus didn’t go looking for this confrontation, but neither did he ignore it. I have far better things to do with my time, caring for hurting people living in previously unimaginably hard circumstances, than use the written word to shame powerful men who show a disregard to the letter and spirit of the law at the cost of others. But, for the sake of those people I am called to serve, and following the example of Jesus, I can’t ignore this.

Were I to do so, I would in effect be adding my own metaphorical stone to the pelting of already hurting people.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 7

“...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22, 23

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. According to the Bible, showing kindness is evidence of living in harmony with God’s life-giving and -sustaining Spirit, in common with other related attributes.

But this is the same Spirit who inspired, who breathed life into, the passion of psalmists and prophets, and Mary’s song, in hopeful insistence that the mighty who are indifferent to the cry of the common people be brought low, and those who have been brought low be lifted up and honoured.

Sometimes the kindest thing you can do in relation to another human being is cry out for God to humble them, to long with all your being for their downfall. Not in order that they be destroyed, but because in being brought low we might actually come back to our senses, and as a pre-curser for being raised up again.

How do you know whether your motivation is the Spirit, or a self-promoting, self-glorifying envy of another? That is a matter of soul searching, of commitment to integrity, of dependence on the very Spirit of life. To commit to kindness is not to suppress anger or sadness at injustice. And our shared, distributed mental health is, at least in part, a barometer of justice/injustice.

Sometimes the kindest thing God can do for us is bring us down. And sometimes, the kindest thing God can do for us is lift us up. Kind, because, as the psalmist discovered (139) if I am brought down to the shadowy half-life existence of Sheol, even there I am held by God; and if I rise into the heavens, there, too, God holds me. In the ups, and the downs, and every point in between. God’s intention is not to bring us to a level place, so much as into harmony with rhythms ordained by and experienced with him.

There is grace in being brought low, and in being lifted up again.

Dominic Cummings Must Go

Over recent weeks, I have taken the funeral of a man whose wife of over sixty years was unable to see him for over two weeks leading up to his death. Of a woman whose husband of over fifty years had been unable to see her for the last six weeks of her life. Funerals for several families who had to decide which son would get to see and say goodbye to their father. And where families have had to decide, who gets to be present at the funeral, and who has to look on online?

Everything about human love wants to be together at times of vulnerability. Some of these families pleaded special case, to be the exception to the rules. All of them accepted that, hard though this is, this was what was required of us.

All of them have been told today that, throughout this period, it was really down to individual families to decide how best to interpret and apply the rules.

All of them will go through feeling that, in some way, they have failed their most loved ones. And this has been compounded today. From today, they will ask themselves, would it really have hurt to break the rules?

And the doctors and nurses and vicars who have held the line, and who will carry on being there as families work through a grief made even more painful. My heart goes out to you, too.

Originally posted on Facebook, yesterday.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 6

The wind is wild today, whistling tunelessly through the fixtures and fittings of the house. Part of me wants to hunker down until it blows itself out; part of me has already had enough of hunkering down.

The wind makes my wife feel anxious, she says; reminding her of all those camping holidays when we have wondered whether the tent would be torn away from us*. It makes me feel sad, though I cannot put my finger on why, and perhaps I am mistaking anxiety for sadness; but while clarity can be helpful, sometimes it is more helpful to resist the temptation to probe deeper.

Mental health includes the full range of (basic) emotions and (in response) feelings and thoughts, in the present moment and tapping into our shared histories, some fleeting and others more enduring. This is mystery, both universal and of great diversity, that draws us out from ourselves and closer together with our neighbour, and our Creator.

I cannot stop the wind from blowing. I cannot even, by direct effort, rewrite the script of how I respond. But I can choose to foster—by degrees, and as much as I am able—a reverent wonder for that response, and for that of others. You are a miracle, a holy mystery; and so am I. Wild; and, sometimes, tuneless.

*Including the time when she spent a sleepless night in Aviemore while I slept, having seen a vision of Jesus or an angel sitting in the tent, but failing to tell Jo ... the time at Clachtoll when the site manager came to ask if we would like to spend the night in an empty static caravan ... the time, taking down our trailer tent at Dunstanburgh when the wind filled the great sail of canvas and twisted and snapped the metal frame beyond repair ... and other times, none of which have prevented us from going camping again.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 5

The car hasn’t been out much since Jo started working from home, though, whenever it has been possible, she has ferried me to and from the crem. On one outing, to drop off donations at the food bank, on turning the ignition a warning came up on the dash display: the pressure in the front right-hand tyre was about half what it should be. We got a quick and dirty fix at a garage. It didn’t hold. More than once, Jo pumped the tyre with air: outside the crem, using the onboard pump, as we waited for the hearse; and at the machine at the petrol station. Each trip we made, the tyre pressure had dropped again. In the end, we had it and the valve replaced, by a different mechanic.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend. It went like this:

“I’m struggling with motivation to work ...”

“Hmm, motivation (or loss thereof) is hard, isn’t it? ... What would, ordinarily, motivate you?”

“That’s just it. I feel like a leaking tyre ... Not sure what would work.”

I was struck by his choice of words: like a leaking tyre. On reflection, that feeling seems to me to describe grief. And all the more-so because there is no ‘obvious’ bereavement.

On Monday, I wrote:

“Grief is an active process that involves engagement with the tasks of accepting the reality of our loss; processing the pain; adjusting to a world without what we have lost; and finding an enduring connection with what has been lost in the midst of embarking on a new life.”

These tasks aren’t strictly sequential, but, to be clear, none of us have really even begun to make a start on the fourth. It is too soon. But, we are all experiencing bereavement. The loss of physically present co-workers. The loss of personal space, if we are living 24/7 with children who are not going out to school (or even, outside the house). The loss of a host of conveniences we took for granted. The loss of assumed certainties. This, to name but a few.

And accepting, processing, and adjusting are exhausting. But, often, they exhale us like a slow leak. We aren’t conscious of the tiny cracks, but each time we go to set out on some activity or other, we find ourselves deflated.

People are not tyres; but, by way of the analogy, quick and dirty fixes won’t hold. Moreover, we can inject air—can receive support from others, and enjoy life-giving moments—but even that won’t be lasting. Eventually, we can expect to emerge from the process with a new tyre, an adjusted life. But it takes time.

In the meantime, we are where we are. And that will be lacking in motivation (as I have to keep reminding myself, as I watch my sons’ lack of motivation). Motivation is in part concerned with productivity, and you are not a machine: you were made to be fruitful, but only in time with the seasons of your life. It is also, in part, concerned with legacy, and you might need to find new bearings in a new world before you can offer that.

But, for now, lack of motivation might mean that at times we need to say, “Please forgive me, I have not been able to do what is expected of me.” And that at times we need to reply, “Of course we forgive you. Now, how might we bear this burden together?” In other words, as we collectively experience multiple bereavements, we need to be kind, to ourselves and to one another.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 4

The mask. I am taking another funeral today, and, while I won’t be wearing a mask while I do, I shall be wearing it while taking a taxi to the crematorium.

On my twelfth birthday, I had an encounter with a demonic presence, external to myself, that tried to control me to take my life with a jungle knife hanging on the wall of the room in which I found myself, alone. Clearly, it was a struggle I won. But the old adage ‘whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger’ is merely wishful thinking. The encounter broke me, and my mental health was not great throughout my teenage years. I suffered from a depression that was particularly bleak around the time of my birthday. Seasonal, cyclical.

When I was seventeen, in a hostel in the middle of a forest on a church youth fellowship weekend, I had a second breakdown experience. This one precipitated a two-year journey of recovery of mental health, a process that involved the support of some wonderful friends, a child psychologist, my GP and the medication she prescribed, and finally a vision of Jesus.

In the vision, I was curled in a tight ball on my knees, confined in a space only just big enough for me, in a darkness so black I could not see. After a while, I became aware of the presence of Jesus, sitting, cross-legged, beside me. Just sitting there. After a long time, he got up, reached out his hand, and said, “Come on, let's walk out of here.” And we did, together. As I got up, I discovered that the cage that had held me was not there. Whether it had only ever existed in my imagination, or whether it had fled in the presence of Jesus, I do not know.

I would not wish my experiences on anyone else, and yet, I would not trade them, because, as a result of what I have experienced, I have been able to be used by God to bring hope and healing to many others. And this is my testimony: that shit happens, but that God uses it as fertiliser to grow beautiful roses.

There have been other times in my life when I have experienced low mood. One such time was when I went through the discernment process for ordination. I was open about my history of teenage depression—why should I be ashamed?—and of the ways in which God had used that to help others—for, as I discovered, mental health issues are extremely common. For my pains, I was sent for assessment at The Priory, a private clinic in London and famous rehab centre for celebrities. They gave me a clean bill of health (indeed, they apologised that my time had been wasted in being sent to them).

I don’t need to talk about my history that much. It isn’t that I wear a mask to conceal it, but that, being well, I do not need to wear a mask. I am not going to infect you, nor am I fearful that your potential mental ill health will infect me. Mental health isn’t like the novel coronavirus. So, while I shall be wearing a cotton mask in the taxi today, I would simply say, it is so much easier to breathe without one.


I have been both honoured and humbled today (the two were always intended to go together, and in their true form, do) by the ways in which my story has given hope to others.

But I want to make a plea about the language we use: honesty, yes; integrity, amen; but, it is not brave to tell your story, just as it is not cowardice to not be ready to tell your story.

We all tell our story to the extent to which we have received a measure of healing and wholeness, and no further.

In the context of mental health, that might mean remission, or even cure; or, it might mean that you have found a level of genuine acceptance and been able to tell an integrated story of your identity.

I have not always been able to tell the story that I told today. And there are parts of my story that I am still not prepared to tell, because I am not prepared to deal with the consequences for myself or for others. This is not dishonesty, but, I trust, discernment. Perhaps one day I will be able to tell those stories. Perhaps I won’t; and, at the end of the day, I don’t think it will matter. My story is known to God—indeed more fully and honestly than it is known to myself—and it is God who will tell all our stories with perfect mercy and justice.

But there is no shame in still being in the process of being healed—and where we feel shame, there is cleansing to be found in the compassion of Jesus.

The mask I wore today covered my nose and my mouth, but left my eyes (and my increasingly Rowan Williams-esque eyebrows) visible to the world. So it is with our stories. Tell your story as fully and honestly as you are able. But don’t apologise for where it is for the best for all concerned that, for now, your face is partially hidden.

Be wise. Be kind, to yourself and others.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 3

Today is a breathing space for me, and this morning I went for a run. Running has been good for my mental health in many ways, including spiritually, physically, and socially.

Yesterday I noted that we can speak of each human being as having three Selves. This, I believe, is part of what it is to be made in the likeness of a triune God: the Father, I AM, eternally dwelling in the present and inviting us to be with him there; Jesus, the Son, who has an embodied history, from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood, suffering, death, and beyond; and the Holy Spirit, whose harmonising activity in the world is socially dispersed.

When I run, there are times when I find myself—Self 1—caught up in the present moment. Whatever concerns I took with me, whatever problems I turned over in my mind, attempting to multi-task, fall away. Not every time. And in this present moment, I know that I am, and that, whatever state I am in right now, I am beheld by the loving gaze of Yahweh, I AM.

When I run, I find myself—Self 2—aware of my body. I am not as young as I once was, nor as old as I hope to become. Today, my back is moving more freely than it has for several days, but not yet as freely as I have known it and hope to know it again. Having been unable to run for a week, to get out today and move, to feel the warmth of the sun on my back and the sting of sweat in my eyes, has been good for me. A blessing, to give thanks for--and to share in greeting others out for a walk in the sunshine.

When I run, I find myself—Self 3—a part of a community of runners. At present, we are unable to run together, as we would like. But I have been so very blessed by the ways in which fellow Strollers have taken to connecting via Facebook and Messenger. When I run, even if I do not cross paths with another member of the club, I do not run alone. We run, for one another as well as for ourselves, holding on to the times we have run together and to the hope that we shall do so again. And on some days, any given one of us is not up to holding on to such hope, and so we are held by one another. Mental health—indeed all health—is social, because it is personal, and persons only exist in relation to one another.

Of course, running is not a magic talisman. There have been times when I have had to put it down, because my head has been broken. It has been there, my friends waiting for me, when I have been able to pick it up again. Nonetheless, I am thankful for the Sunderland Strollers, the best running club in the world (possibly best equal, but I could not say). They have been and are one of the ways in which God is saving my life, right now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 2

There are three interconnected Selves.

Self 1 is the recognition that I am, in the present moment (and, if I am not alone, that I am not the other). It is expressed by words like ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘mine’ (and ‘you’ and ‘your’) and remains intact, even if we forget our personal histories, as when a woman with dementia says to the man she married sixty years earlier, “You are not my husband!”

Self 2 pertains to our characteristics and attributes, and our perception of these. Self 2 is susceptible to disillusionment, and, in fact, this is a good thing. Disillusionment is the stripping away of illusions. A baby, and even a toddler, is the centre of their universe, and any healthy growth to adulthood involves the discovery that this is a false perception. Overgrown toddlers do not make good adults. But unchecked disillusionment can pitch us into a new illusion, that we have lost value in one way or another. I am not as wise or as needed as I thought; but that does not mean that I lack wisdom (quite the opposite: in this very recognition, I have grown in wisdom) or that I am useless. But Self 2 can swing rapidly. One day, I see my wrinkles in the mirror and embrace the privilege of aging; the next, I feel haggard. It may depend on as little as the difference between a sunny and an overcast sky; or on repeatedly rehearsed cultural scripts, that need re-writing.

Self 3 is social, and, unlike the other Selves, can only ever exist in relation to other people. It is not possible to be a loyal friend without friends, to be a faithful spouse without having or having had a spouse, a loving parent without having children, a much-loved teacher without students. And here it is clear that our identity is found both within ourselves and distributed between many other persons, both in the present and in our shared recall of past moments (which we will each remember differently).

Mental health concerns our personhood, and, therefore, our interconnected Selves.

Self 1 can feel isolated, and its agency can be turned against itself, as in the violence of attempted or completed suicide. But it exists in the present moment only. Hence, it cannot see a future, nor take into account a past that may have been genuinely positive in many ways. Hard though it is, we must learn to accept Self 1 for what it is.

Self 2 has a longer memory, although of course this can be lost. I am the same person and not the same person I was yesterday, let alone in my teenage years. Some days my health is robust, and some days it suffers, but I may regain health, or I may reconstruct my world to a new normal.

Self 3—which, potentially, has a memory that is wide and networked—is where we can really support one another, for we each have a role to play in the construction of robust Self 3s, and their profound bearing on Self 2. If I am kind to others, if I honour them with loving actions motivated by warm affection, then their Self is nurtured, including, potentially, a healthy disillusionment of their self-centredness or self-despair. And their kindness towards me may dispel my own illusions. Together, such kindness can re-write cultural scripts which have tended to admire competition and victory over others.

In as much as you are able, be kind, not only to your friends but also to your enemies, to those who wrong you. For in this we are like God, and participate in the remaking of the world anew. Together, let us be kind in response to the mental health burdens that are these days endemic, the anxieties and depression. The alternative is that we respond in shame or anger, and tear one another and ourselves apart.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 1

This was me, on the morning of the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week. By the end of this week, I will have taken as many funerals in four weeks as I have taken in an average year since moving to Sunderland. It takes a toll. But right now, we are all grieving multiple complex losses, and constrained in how we are able to mark those losses, and it is taking a toll on us all.

For me, and for many of us, it isn’t unrelentingly bleak by any means. The quiet confidence in that face isn’t faked. There is joy and peace as well as sorrow and restlessness—and part of mental health is recognising these for what they are.

Grief is an active process that involves engagement with the tasks of accepting the reality of our loss; processing the pain; adjusting to a world without what we have lost; and finding an enduring connection with what has been lost in the midst of embarking on a new life.

In our household, we aren’t doing a great job at this. Part of accepting reality is that, unlike soundbites, reality doesn’t deal in ‘Great’ or the need to be the greatest. My presence in our household—not just what I do, but who I am, my personality—has both positive and negative impact on everyone else, and on the sum of the parts. Moreover, the truth is, I am not enough, we are not enough. That’s a painful thing to recognise, certainly painful for the ego, but we were never meant to be enough. And in acknowledging the pain, I am enveloped by the Comforter, the indwelling presence of God's life-giving Spirit.

This same Spirit is the One who leads us out, in time, to fill the world with life again, as Noah was brought out of the ark; and the same Spirit who inspires stories, of continuity and change, that root us deeply within a story of a people who are treasured in the memories of God. There is nothing superficial about these stories, about this Spirit who is more substantial than my flesh and yet rejoices to give life to my burnt-dry bones.

We are frail, and yet we are so very loved. Health, mental and otherwise, interconnected, has its days of freedom and its days of confinement; and both are an invitation to know more of the mystery that animates us. At times, all we can do is wait, trusting that the season of our soul will change, as seasons do. So wait, my soul, in quiet confidence.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020


One of the greatest gifts that the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England gave to the wider C of E in the twentieth century—that is to say, that the Anglo-Catholics offered it, and the other traditions that together make up the Church of England, such as Evangelicals, chose to receive it; or, also, that the Holy Spirit gave it through the Anglo-Catholics, and the wider Church discerned the Holy Spirit to be the Giver—was the parish communion.

Prior to this, the principle expression of the gathered church was a church at Morning and Evening prayer. While holy communion was to be celebrated every Sunday, the requirement to attend was on three occasions a year. For those who attended habitually, before or staying on after the ‘main’ act of worship, it was very much an act of private devotion. The parish communion movement changed that. In time, the weekly celebration of holy communion became the focal point of ecclesiology: a community being shaped as they gathered together around the Lord’s table on the Lord’s day. This was, now, a communal drama, undertaken together. There was music, with some members of the body bringing rehearsed voices or instruments, and all joining in. There was seasonal colour. There was the procession of the Gospel into the middle of the congregation, standing and turning to face it, read aloud beneath the cross of Christ and flanked by candles symbolising illumination. At the churches I serve, the processional cross and candle stands might be carried by teenagers, or asylum seekers, or a man who has Down Syndrome; or by pensioners, retired from employment but still deployed in and through the church. There was the bringing forward of the gifts of the people, their financial offerings, and the bread and the wine to be consecrated. There was the movement to the communion rail, and back again, the (more) steady on their feet providing an arm for the more infirm.

Of course, being Anglican, provision was made for those for whom this went beyond the pale. And so, in many churches up and down the land, those for whom communion remained an essentially private matter came at 8.00 a.m. to a quiet, reflective, spoken service; while those for whom communion had been rediscovered as a collective remembering and re-membering, came to a noisier more joyful celebration at 10.30 or 11.00 a.m.

Meanwhile, Morning and Evening Prayer retreated from the public to the private sphere. The recent mini renaissance of attendance at Choral Evensong is part of the mindfulness response to stressed lives, self-care rather than giving even more.

In these present days, the church is unable to gather together in our buildings. Anglo-Catholic priests are celebrating communion from their homes and inviting parishioners, watching online, to receive ‘spiritual communion’, the benefit of the sacrament without the outward substance of bread on the teeth and wine on the tongue. Some Evangelicals are leading their congregations in communion via video conferencing, each household providing its own bread and wine. Most Centrists are abstaining from communion, until such time as we can share together person to person again. For all, however we are responding, there is a real sense of loss. But there is also potential for gain, including the discovery or rediscovery of things marginalised by previous practices.

For me, the key question is, what is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church of England in this season; and, through whom will it be given?

Right now, it is too soon to be able to answer that question, and for this reason I, for one, am in no rush to return to the church building.

But if I were to risk a guess, it might, at least in part, have something to do with a reimagining of the public/private divide into being the church expressed as intimate space (2-4 people, in vulnerability), personal space (5-12 people, in accountability), social space (20-50 people, in availability), and public space (70+ people, in visibility; and, these days, all taking in virtual as well as physical space—such as the wonderful UK Blessing) [to draw on (developments to) Edward Hall’s theory of proxemics]; and given through the experience of the body of Christ, as a whole, in time of pandemic.