Sailing forward

Article in Stretton Focus June 2020

The practice of religion is built on two ships, Worship and Fellowship. These two vessels normally sail together through the sea of life. Now storms have blown them apart and, separated, their essential characteristics get highlighted.

Worship is at sea, moving into a new ocean. It has moved out of buildings on to television and the internet. The sight on the television news of a man in robes standing in a kitchen talking about the incredible, could have come out of Monty Python. There was the equally bizarre sight of an old man blessing the world while standing in the largest empty church in Europe. Celebrating worship at a distance may be very pragmatic but it serves to highlight how odd it can be. All sorts of people are pontificating through YouTube and some no doubt are trying to build a personal religious following, with all the dangers that implies.

The other ship, Fellowship, has docked and shared its cargo. Fellowship has a core theme of ‘love thy neighbour’. It is not policy from a government living in a fantasy world distant from reality, but an intuitive command from within which everyone tries to obey. At its peak is the self-sacrifice of doctors, nurses and care givers, endlessly taking risks. More mundanely it is seen in a food box on a doorstep, or a donation to charity inspired by a centenarian walking his garden. Again, technology and creativity have played a part. They have brought orchestras and choirs together through the use of mobile phones, and conferencing technology has allowed the sharing of meals by Jewish families at Passover and Moslems for Ramadan.

The uncertainty which the coronavirus has created for us all is one of the biggest challenges most of us will ever face. The structures in our life have disappeared; even life itself is threatened, and we don’t know how to adjust. What is more, the threat is going to continue for months, possibly years, even when ‘lockdown’ is a distant memory.

What is clear is that things will have changed when a new normality is established. It will be a new normality, we should not doubt that. The two ships will reflect the different experiences they had in this crisis and they will not be the same. Will the expression of faith be different when churches are open and we are back together? This is another uncertainty to add to the challenges provided by the emergency.

Uncertainty has been with us since time immemorial and the response of individuals can inspire us. Historically people have adapted and created structures for the expression of faith which help them handle uncertainty. The response of people with or without faith to this crisis has been as inspiring as the responses of the past. In this time, too, technology has come to the fore.

What will the future bring for the expression of faith?

Roger Wilson

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