A brief theological reflection on the Coronavirus Crisis

Dear Sisters & Brothers,

Over the past 18 months facilitated by the Waymark process, we have found ourselves drawn together to see ourselves much more clearly as God’s people, travelling together alongside one another as God’s pilgrim people. God’s people on the move across the Diocese.

God, it appears, has been preparing us for this present crisis as well as for the longer term. We have made discoveries about ourselves. The crisis and its attendant restrictions have shown us that we can be fleet of foot; we can change, and change rapidly. We have had highlighted the centrality for us of our life of prayer and worship, personally and corporately, and our enduring commitment to caring for the poorest and most vulnerable people. We have been made to re-think what it is we value about one another, our church buildings and our worship. We have been accelerated into behaving, operating and thinking differently.

This has led many of us, including the Bishop’s Leadership Team, to ask questions on what God might be saying to us at this particular point in our lives together. Here are a few different images to help us reflect on what has been happening, and what this might mean God is saying to us as we continue to develop the outcomes from the Waymark process. Please prayerfully ponder these. We would welcome your thoughts and reflections by email so that this might be a conversation amongst us.
(Email Bishop Paul bishop.of.durham@durham.anglican.org or Bishop Sarah bishop.of.jarrow@durham.anglican.org)

For some, the image of God’s pilgrim people journeying through the wilderness offers a powerful image for us at present. God’s people were led by the cloud and pillar of fire. They were provided for day by day with manna. God’s people worship in a movable yet resplendent tent. They move in response to God’s leading, always travelling together. Though the story is also full of struggle, conflict, failure, God is always present with them. God keeps leading the people forward. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. (Numbers 9.15-23)

For others, a later period of God’s people’s history that speaks is that of the exile into Babylon. There was such loss. The Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was laid waste, and many were taken into exile. The exiles had to find new ways of being God’s people in a strange land. This is where the synagogue and the significance of written Scripture strongly emerged. They had to discover how to gather, worship and learn differently. New worshipping communities were planted and emerged in Babylon. Those left behind in Israel, the poorest, also had to live under occupation and with great hardship. They had to learn to gather in new ways. Everyone did not experience exile equally.

Here we recall that Bishop Paul’s closing reflections at Waymark were based on Jeremiah’s letter to those in exile (Jeremiah 29) where they were called to ‘Seek the welfare of the city and pray for it.’ Bishop’s Council has been using this passage for its Dwelling in the Word this year. As God’s exiled people we are to bless the communities in which we are set.

A third image that helps is that of the early church being scattered across the known world so that they became the people of the dispersion. As they were dispersed, they shared the good news of God in Jesus and new communities of hope and life emerged. The dispersed people of God, the living stones, being built together though scattered apart, were those through whom the light of God’s love would shine. Peter’s first letter brings these themes together. He outlines the good news (1 Peter 1.3-12). He outlines living holy lives, that includes sharing the good news with others (1 Peter 1.13 onwards). He describes the kind of leadership needed for such a dispersed community (1 Peter 5.1-4). Throughout, he sees the baptised followers of Jesus as the dispersed pilgrim people of God. He is hopeful, confident that God holds the future, even in the face of opposition, suffering and difficulty.

In all three images, the home/family in its extended form were crucial to how the faith was passed on through the generations and lived out.

Finally, in addition to these 3 images, a theological reflection was offered, at our request, to the Bishop’s Leadership Team by Canon Simon Oliver. Simon entitled this ‘Theological Reflection on the Coronavirus Pandemic; The Isolation of Illness and the Body of Christ’. This was an immensely rich and thought-provoking reflection that we believe should be read more widely. Simon has kindly agreed to make this reflection available to all and it follows this letter.

We dare to think that in many ways God was preparing us for this time through the Waymark process. As we now take forward the Waymark process we have to include all we are learning through this unexpected major change. We had begun to discern that the task ahead was to be God’s pilgrim people on the move. We knew it would challenge us all in how we are church in our communities. We knew it would include planting new churches and discovering new ways together. What this crisis has done is to make it clear that the changes will have to be greater than we had perhaps imagined and will come more swiftly than we thought. Yet we are still absolutely the praying, worshipping, serving people called to display the glory of God into all corners of our Diocese and our World. In following this call of God we will be a people without great financial reserves, dependent on God for our daily supplies. We are God’s pilgrim people, travelling alongside one another. We are God’s people on the move together blessing our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all.

+Paul & +Sarah


Theological Reflection on the Coronavirus Pandemic: The Isolation of Illness and the Body of Christ by Canon Simon Oliver. Download Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13w6Bu1WrFt8wzXh5MbGaphV0shK8mK20/view?usp=sharing please copy and paste into a browser or click the link. 


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