This month.....

It all looks so clear when you look back…

In these strange times we are all trying to find our way through the Covid 19 Pandemic. People are talking about the new normal but none of us knows what that will be at the moment. In hindsight it might be obvious what the new normal should be, it’s not obvious for us living through this time.

In Church we have had months of not being able to have services in church. Now we can but with social distancing, having to wear face coverings and with people’s wariness of being in an enclosed space with others we are slowly working out how we use our physical spaces.

But there have been silver linings too. Most benefices have used the technology at hand to have online services and the common experience has been that a large number of people are accessing these services; many live but even more people are accessing these later in the day. Part of the new normal for the Church of England will be worshiping online. One question might be about what that says about our relationship with our local church. We are aware that we have people joining us who are geographically distant. Some are joining us because they have lived in the benefice in the past, some join because they know someone in the benefice and have joined us to see what we are up to and I am certain that there are lots of other reasons why people join us too.

What is certain is that we are living through a very rapidly changing point in the history of the Church, our Nation and the World. Many people who I talk to who are working from home have been told that they shouldn’t expect to be back in offices this year. Some businesses will be planning for new physical working arrangements. This has major implications for businesses that supply the needs of those at work. People may still be popping out from work to get a few bits and pieces but they are doing this where they live rather than where they used to work. Great for our village shops but not so great for town and city centres who have been struggling in so many ways.

I’ve just written a few reviews of books that I’ve read (or more likely listened to) during the last few months. I thought they might act as material to fill a gap in our magazines. When I’ve edited parish magazines I’ve been always grateful for such material. Our magazine editors might, or might not, find my musings useful? But one book that I want to talk a little more about is one that’s been on my to read list for about 4 years. Published in July 2016 “That Was The Church That Was” by Andrew Brown and Prof Linda Woodhead might bring to mind immediately “That was the week that was” to those of us of a certain age.

This book looks at the history of the Church of England over a period of seismic change in the life of our nation. Starting with the election of the Conservative government in 1979 and Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister it charts the huge changes that have happened in the nation and in the Anglican Church since then. The basic thesis is that these changes have not been in step.

I can remember well what the church was like in the rural parish in which I grew up from the early 1960’s to 1980 when I went to university and experienced Church in a city. Having lived through the era covered by “That Was the Church That Was” I remember well many of the events, issues and discussions that were part of the life of the Church of England in those years but also remembering well the years leading up to this I have some appreciation of the background as well. What is often so useful when looking at events we have lived through is to be given a different perspective.

We know the geography of our community, we know it’s lanes and byways well but it’s only when we can see it from the top of a hill or when we examine a map that we can put our personal knowledge into perspective. When I first had a satnav I found that on well know journeys I’d be taken by a new route only to find that this new route was quicker. Having known Leicester well for a few decades, having lived in various parts of that city and worked in other parts I realised that my mental map of Leicester was more like the map of the London Underground than a map of the physical geography. I knew how to get from A to B but I might not go in the most direct route. It was only the satnav that made me reassess my mental map.

Reading “That Was The Church That Was” gave me an overview of a history I had lived through. A history of the Church of England set in the context of the history of this nation and the context of a rapidly changing culture. Having been involved in Church life all my life, and of course professionally in the last decades, my mental map of the history of the last four decades has been from a particular viewpoint and we will all see these events from our own particular viewpoint. But this book gives us a view from a ‘high mountain’, a view into which we can slot our own personal perspectives into a bigger picture. I certainly had a number of ‘penny drop’ moments when I could see a broader significance of events I lived through.

By the time I’d got about halfway through the book I was thinking that it gives a good diagnosis but what is the treatment? In the end the prescription is written throughout but four years on perhaps more important than the prescription or the treatment regime is the diagnosis. I started by stating the obvious that we are living through a period of rapid change a period that hindsight will point to what in the future will be obvious but what in the present is not.

When ploughing (something I have no personal experience of) or sailing one looks forward to where one is heading but one judges one’s progress by occasionally looking back. “That Was the Church that Was” is a good look back and one that asks us to be frighteningly honest about what we can see but we then need to adjust our course in the light of what we have seen looking back and in the light of the rapidly changing current context.

As we come to the Autumn we are moving into a new stage of living with Covid 19. We are going to be seeing a variety of changes to our national life. Hopefully all the children will be back in school and hopefully we will see a decrease in the number of positive Covid 19 cases which will allow some further changes to how we can live our national life. I’m wondering how we will be able to celebrate, harvest, Remembrance Sunday let alone Christmas all of which will be rather different. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a glimpse back from a few years in the future but whilst we can all have hindsight, foresight is something no one is blessed (or is it cursed) with.

Praying that everyone keeps safe and well in these continually changing times.

Richard Curtis