Closed doors – open minds?
Updated: Apr 23
The doors of our churches may be closed, but we still have many opportunities for communal worship and companionship despite our physical separation. The lockdown affords unaccustomed time for many of us to read, browse websites of interest and so broaden the range of those places from which we draw spiritual refreshment.
The nation's cathedral websites are a rich resource of prayers and reflections. Don't forget to check your local cathedral's website. Rochester, for example, has the country's first cathedral-based Anna Chaplain. The seat of the lead bishop on health for the Church of England is Carlisle Cathedral. The cathedral is offering a variety of different forms of worship online. With the announcement of an extension to the lock down, and no clear end to the current restrictions in sight, we know that for many this experience is becoming increasingly difficult. In the Winchester Diocese's website, the Area Dean of Basingstoke, Richard Harlow, who has mental health chaplaincy experience offers a reflection and some useful resources to help all those offering pastoral support at this time:
'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' These words of Jesus as he dies on the cross (Matthew 27:46) take us deep into the mystery of atonement: the perfect one tastes the consequences of sin, so that we, the guilty, may know reconciliation with God (or whatever other interpretation of this verse is offered by your theology). They are words from a unique moment in time. Nonetheless they may be echoed by others around us in this time of stress, fear and isolation. Stress can take any of us into anxiety or depression, where a felt absence of God may be experienced. For others, stress takes them to a heightened sense of awareness, perhaps even mania. They can feel wired, completely inseparable from God, convinced that God is speaking directly to (and perhaps through) them. Sometimes, tragically, those who experience the symptoms of mental illness/distress can be the last to recognise that they are unwell. We spot these signs better in others than in ourselves. And isolation can make it harder for others to help us become aware that we need help. The task of carers is never easy, especially around mental health issues. Those caring for people with dementia are especially vulnerable in this time. The Church of England has produced some basic guidance on looking after our mental health and well-being, available here.
But if you want more in-depth advice or individual support, I found some of these websites and apps helpful during my twelve years as a mental health chaplain. All have useful resources around this epidemic:
Mind and Soul Foundation (Christian resources and reflection around mental health): mindandsoulfoundation.org
MIND – the mental health charity: mind.org.uk
The Mix – mental health support for under-25-year-olds: themix.org.uk
The Mental Health Foundation: mentalhealth.org.uk
Alzheimer's Society: alzheimers.org.uk
Directory of NHS and charity helplines: nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines
If you want to develop some good habits during this lockdown, you could try this Christian meditation app and website, promoted on Facebook by Archbishop Justin: soultime.com
Take Time - guided daily Christian meditation on the gospels: taketime.org.uk
Father God, When the news is bleak, steady us; When the pain is bitter, surround us; When the days blur, sustain us; When despair burdens, still us. In our weakness, make us strong; In our lowness, lift us up, Confident that our Redeemer Lives and prays for us And will never let us go. Amen
Prayer by Martyn Payne, BRF