The virus that can steal our sense of community

It’s understandable that after all these months of lockdown, there is a degree of nervousness in response to the Prime Minister’s encouragement to go back to the office.

Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 11:25 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 11:28 am
The new Bishop of York Stephen Cottrell reacts as he addresses members of the congregation outside the West Door of York Minster following his Confirmation of Election as the 98th Archbishop of York which was broadcast via video conference.

But apart from that nervousness about the future, what might we have learnt from the months that followed the sudden requirement to work from home?

It’s been a very odd experience. Many parents have faced serious demands from the children who were being schooled at home, while at the same time trying to do their day job.

Difficult, impatient clients and seriously confidential and complex negotiations are not easily handled in a Zoom meeting, when there’s an entirely understandable cry for help from downstairs because someone’s let the rabbits out in the back garden.

In this respect the lockdown has revealed more about our lives than perhaps we wanted. But this has also meant that work has invaded personal and family space in ways that are not always helpful.

A good life/work balance generally demands the capacity to maintain separate spaces, so that both parts of our life can flourish. As clergy, we understand this because we have always worked from home.

I hope that a lesson we might have learnt from this pandemic lockdown is a greater attention to how all of us handle the competing demands of work and the other parts of our life.

As the lockdown has eased, I’ve noticed a number of dads taking younger children to school, all of them on bikes. The school run has become a cycle trip. The parental interaction and the environmental benefits have been obvious.

But there’s another group for whom the life/work lesson has been gruelling: single people living alone.

I was talking to someone who has been working from home, a studio flat, since the end of March and has been told to expect to continue till Christmas.

He described this experience as like solitary confinement, severely damaging to his mental health. The capacity to meet with friends in places of social gathering is what’s essential to human flourishing for so many single people who live alone.

There is also a lesson here for the Church. Faith in God is expressed in any time and space. But it is uniquely nurtured in church, in a gathered community. This can be viewed on-line, but it cannot be replaced by being together, breathing in the atmosphere, learning that you belong.

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