**NEW April 3rd 2021** COVID-19


Should we have sacrificed the economy, or us?

John Barton considers the Government’s policy on Covid-19.

Suppose the Government had chosen an entirely different policy for dealing with coronavirus.  Instead of building temporary hospitals and instructing us to wash our hands, observe social distancing, and then locking us down, they had let the pandemic run its course? Hundreds of thousands of people would have died: mainly those who were old, as well as some younger people with pre-existent health deficiencies. 

As these potential casualties were already costing the National Health Service much more per head than anyone else, their (slightly) premature deaths would have saved the Exchequer billions and freed up resources to improve the health and standard of living for the rest of the more vigorous population. Only the fittest would have survived. Isn’t that the law of nature?

Instead, the policy was deliberately to sacrifice the economy. At all costs, human beings were to be saved, whatever their longer-term prospects. Consequently, many businesses have gone under, unemployment has shot up and may get worse when the dust clears.  Family relationships have been curbed, children may have lost a year’s schooling, and leisure, hospitality and travel have been hampered.

Why? Why choose this policy and not that?

The answer is a religious one. Perhaps without realising why, policy-makers chose to act as though each human being has a value which can’t be measured by their state of health or wealth or status. That’s not what ‘nature’ intends. It’s what the Christian faith demands. Everyone, everyone without exception, is unique and marked with God’s image. Everyone has the potential for adoption as a child of God. Christ died for each one. You can’t put a price on that.

Some countries have this faith ingrained in their national character. Some do not.  In some, life is cheap, disposable and valued only by its usefulness for production or warfare. The fittest survive. Even then some are sacrificed as warriors, like suicide bombers paying the price of an ideology.

Christianity doesn’t happen by accident. It is the outcome of missionary activity and the conversion of one-time unbelievers. They then saw other people in a new light: equally worth saving, whatever the cost.  

Dreadful as it is, Covid-19 will eventually be controlled. In its wake will be a history of survival, not of the fittest, but of the God-given value of every human being.


Fighting the pandemic of shame

 The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the power of shame.

 When it comes to preaching the gospel to 21st century people should we be talking more about shame? And will the Covid pandemic change our thinking?

For many years, the Church has focused our gospel appeal around guilt, pointing out that men and women need to repent of their sins and turn to Christ.  Which, of course, is perfectly true.

But would our gospel message resonate better with today’s generations if we first helped to address a widespread feeling of shame, before looking to guilt?

Guilt says ‘I did something wrong.’ Shame declares ‘I am profoundly wrong.’ That feeling of shame is one experienced by many today.

Rebecca Winfrey, a theological and pastoral researcher for a homelessness charity, explains: “God is intimately concerned about relieving the shame of His people. Never has this been more relevant than in today’s culture, in which shame is rife and yet largely unrecognised.”

In ‘The Cross and Shame’ (Grove Books), she says: “Shame is much bigger than guilt in most people’s concept of what is wrong with themselves.”

I believe the Covid pandemic could also make the situation much worse, with people experiencing the ‘shame’ of debt, redundancy or bankruptcy, or maybe the perceived shame of not being actively involved on the ‘front line’ of fighting the virus, or facing mental illness.

Jesus showed people on the margins that they were worthy of love and being connected with wider society.

In His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well, with the tax collector Zacchaeus or the woman accused of adultery, He shows compassion and affirms the dignity and worth of the individual – addressing their shame – before implying any guilt.

Jesus’s death by public crucifixion was designed by the Romans to be painful, humiliating and shameful. Having been subjected to profound human shame, the resurrected Christ brings humankind salvation and redemption from shame’s dehumanising impact.

In the Hebrew scriptures, Adam and Eve experience shame after they have eaten from the Tree of Life in Eden and have to clothe themselves with fig leaves. The Exodus is an account of the Jewish people being released from the shame of slavery into the freedom of their worth in God’s eyes.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians of believers “sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To the church in Ephesus, Paul writes that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Rebecca Winfrey encourages church leaders to teach and model true humility, acknowledging their own struggles with shame, and ensure that churches are communities that care for people affected by shame.

New Christians should be taught that they could face shame in a secular culture and to know their intrinsic value in God’s sight.

Winfrey recommends healing prayer and Ignatian-style meditation, where people encounter Jesus as they immerse themselves in gospel stories.

Confession of sin and repentance of our wrongdoings are vital parts of our Christian message, but maybe preachers and pastors could also be addressing the pandemic of shame in our society.


Walking and talking

 By the Revd Tony Horsfall of Charis Training.
More details at: www. Charistraining.co.uk

During the pandemic, I have enjoyed walking. In many ways, getting out daily for a good walk has not only helped me physically, but also bolstered my mental well-being. Often, I have arranged to walk with a friend, and we have enjoyed good conversation and fellowship.

Today I was walking alone, and I noticed it seemed further and to take longer. When you are walking and talking, you hardly notice the distance or the time. I am not usually able to think much when I am walking alone, but today the reminder came into my head of a saying: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

It made me thankful for all the friends who have encouraged me this year and helped me to keep going. We can walk alone, and sometimes that’s a good thing; but it is easier to be able to walk through life with others.

Who has walked with you this year? Do they know that you appreciate their companionship on the journey?


Lessons of Lockdown

This past year may have altered your perspective on life.  Some of the following statements may be worth thinking about….

  • Life is precarious
  • A nurse is worth more than a professional footballer
  • Spare time isn’t a waste of time
  • A smile is precious
  • Being alone isn’t the same as loneliness 
  • Hard work doesn’t guarantee employment
  • I’m spending more on food & drink and less on church & charity
  • Silence opens us to creative ideas
  • Social media are a mixed blessing
  • Shopping needn’t be addictive
  • Driving less and walking more is good for humanity
  • Isolation teaches us we need each other to generate energy
  • Getting back to ‘normal’ isn’t God’s plan for the human race
  • When everything else is shut, God is open


Thank God for dentists

Here is something gruesome: last year the sale of DIY dentistry first aid kits nearly doubled. People actually attempted to give themselves lost fillings, caps and crowns.

Most popular were products that offered ‘long-lasting’ temporary repair for caps and fillings, and a first aid kit.

The British Dental Association understands why; because of lockdown, there were 20 million fewer dental treatments available last year than in 2019.  That left some people desperate.

But experts warn against the damage that could be done. Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: “DIY home dentistry is a terrible idea and should be avoided at all costs. Home treatments in untrained hands … can lead to permanent damage to your health.” 

The good news is that dental surgeries are now back to relative normality.  So – book an appointment if you need one!


The pain of Covid on our youngsters

Five pupils in every classroom are now reckoned to be in need of some clinical support, due to lockdown mental health deterioration.

A recent study by Cambridge University has found that the number of youngsters with mental health problems has increased from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2020. Another by Oxford University has found that half of people aged 16-to-25 were reporting mental health problems, with one in four ‘unable to cope’, according to the Prince’s Trust.

Prof Ellen Townsend of the Self-Harm Research Group at Nottingham University said: “young people have really been neglected in this crisis.” Combined with the drop in education, the effects of the past year are going to be ‘life limiting.” She warned that anxiety, depression and self-harm have increased substantially, and that eating disorder referrals have trebled. NSPCC child abuse referrals have risen 43 per cent and domestic violence calls were up by 49 per cent. 


Give away the Hope for All magazine

The all-new Hope for All magazine helps readers plan a post-Covid Wellbeing Journey with TV presenters Joanna Adeyinka and Simon Thomas. The 32-page magazine from HOPE Together turns the spotlight on celebrities and their faith – singer Justin Bieber, cricketer AB De Villiers and James Lusted from Songs of Praise and the panto circuit.

Four real-life stories focus on reasons for hope and there’s the suggestion that celebrating Christmas and Easter together this year makes perfect sense. We also hear some good news stories from people who’ve tackled debt successfully and get the inside track on the trailblazing children’s gaming App Guardians of Ancora.
Copies of Hope for All cost just 10p each – order magazines for your communities from www.hopetogether.org.uk/shop.


Visit the C of E online page

There is now a range of digital resources for to you connect with God at this difficult time.  These include:

Time to Pray app (https://www.chpublishing.co.uk/apps/time-to-pray) which is free and has an accompanying daily audio offering on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Mental health reflections (https://www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/mental-health-resources/supporting-good-mental-health)

Tips to tackle isolation (https://www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/mental-health-resources/dealing-loneliness-and-isolation-five-top-tips)

Finally, there are the Church’s smart speaker apps, which provide a range of Christian resources.  https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/our-smart-speaker-apps  In March alone, the number of people using the Alexa app rose by more than 70 per cent.

More details at:  https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-online