Finding God's kingdom amidst Covid-19
Updated: Jun 25
Methodist minister and BRF author, Joanne Cox-Darling, has oversight of 23 church buildings across 12 square miles of Wolverhampton and surrounding areas.
She has no idea 'how many of those churches will reopen, will be able to be financially viable, or who will have a congregation with enough confidence to return to face to face community,' she says.
What she does know is that, 'We have – almost accidentally – discovered that ministry amongst the housebound is not only possible, but desirable. In turn, we are learning to confess where our routines have excluded those for whom physical isolation and exclusion, is a daily reality rather than exotic.'
Two loaves of bread
She concedes in an article for Churches Together in England, CTE, that:
I have been challenged to work out what a pastoral and sacramental ministry looks like when pastoral care is online or via phone; and what sacramental ministry means when Holy Communion is effectively suspended. My personal and imperfect experiment and exploration has led me to firstly bake two loaves of bread everyday – and to give one away to a member of the church. I might not be able to offer Eucharist, but I can take bread to God’s people.
Joanne Cox-Darling also warns us, and this is a rallying call to the church in general and the Anna Chaplaincy for Older People network in particular:
'For the wider community, there are still huge implications of delayed grief and bereavement which will continue for years to come.'
As she concludes the article, Joanne envisages a new way of working, specifically mentioning care homes:
'In the fullness of time, as life begins to move towards a new normal, our small ecumenical community will continue to collaborate – both at liturgically significant moments (Christmas and Easter), but also with how we provide sufficient support into our schools and care homes. We are learning how to listen – both between ourselves, and within a hurting, confused, and occasionally ambivalent community.
These are wise words from the Acting Superintendent minister in South Staffordshire which we'd all do well to heed. Her use of the term 'ambivalent community' reminded me of an excellent talk given by the former Director of Chaplaincy & Spirituality for Methodist Homes (MHA), several years ago at a conference in the USA.
In 'Ageing as an Unwanted or Ambiguous Gift' (Paradox and Promise in the Pilgrimage of Ageing - the 6th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality 4–7 October 2015), the Revd Dr Keith Albans referred to a phrase, 'reluctant community', used of care homes, a term which had been coined by the researcher and former member of our own Advisory Group on Anna Chaplaincy, Dr Harriet Mowat.
Dr Mowat had conducted some research for MHA. In it she had described the ways in which 'MHA Chaplains support and build reluctant communities'.
Living with the fractures
The second idea, which had resonated so strongly with Keith Albans - and surely does so even more for us in these times of a global health crisis - and which he quoted as yet another of Dr Mowat's most memorable phrases from that piece of work, was how, 'MHA Chaplains make connections but live with the fractures.'
These concepts, although articulated five years ago now, chime with our current times in the midst of this pandemic. Readers of Joanne Cox-Darling's book published last year Finding God in a Culture of Fear - Discovering hope in God's kingdom (BRF, 2019) will see why despite the challenges we all face the Staffordshire Methodist minister remains hopeful.
God's kingdom is present
'We are a church discovering that God is not confined by our walls, nor our best laid plans,' writes Joanne. 'We are a church rediscovering truths deep within our tradition: small groups, social justice, worker’s rights, healthcare, and systemic holiness. Helpfully, we were already doing some of this work already, but the pandemic has accelerated our thinking and our practice. Our future is in one respect more tentative, and yet now more than ever, we are noticing where God’s kingdom is present.'
The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling is Acting Superintendent, Wolverhampton Methodist Circuit Brewood, Codsall and Coven Methodist Churches.