As we approach the 04th July weekend when pubs and restaurants along with campsites and holiday parks can reopen and if as seems likely, quarantine restrictions will be eased to allow sun worshippers to fly off to Spain, Greece, Italy and France, we can say with some degree of optimism that a sense of normality is returning for some – but certainly not for all.
Make no mistake, COVID-19 has left this country scarred in so many ways, economically & socially. Few if any have been left immune from its ravages particularly among those from the more vulnerable members of our communities. Add to this the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests following the horrific death of George Floyd in the United States, the almost daily breaches of lockdown across the country and the resulting violence being directed at Police we are witnessing, surely it is now the time for our political, civic and religious leaders to take a hard look at themselves and show the leadership needed to stop society imploding upon itself?
Those who profess to lead us must ensure a response which is founded less on political correctness and more on political necessities across all areas of our society whatever the l risks involved. For many single interest groups whatever their ideology, no response will do except one that fits in with the own narrow viewpoints. These are very often predictable and while not to be ignored in the overall debate, need not also necessarily feature in the most important of actual priorities when determining the greater needs of society as a whole. What the extinction rebellion, anti-capitalist, BLM as well as more extreme far-right and far-left groups have done, is to fill the political vacuum created by the collective failure of leadership by those to whom we place our trust to lead us through our present and likely future challenges.
If we are to rebuild our nation so that equality of opportunity is freely available to all our people regardless of creed, colour, ethnicity or social class, we need a renewal of spirit, a spirit which could be found as follows:-
Renewed Societal Spirit – One positive of the pandemic is how wider society has come together to support those who have been unable to support themselves over these recent weeks. It would take too long to provide even a brief snapshot of the depth and range of activity that has taken place, some of which admittedly already existed such as foodbanks and those supporting the homeless. But the fact remains when circumstances demanded it, the people of the UK responded accordingly. What there has also finally been is the long overdue recognition that real heroes in society aren’t celebrities such as footballers and their wags or reality TV stars, but the front-line workers in the NHS, the care sector, transport and logistics (civil & military), public transport workers, supermarket workers, the emergency services and those in the manufacturing sector who answered the urgent all to provide more PPE. These people have been rightly recognised for their efforts often carried out at great personal risk, and the hope must surely be now that our fixation with the cult of celebrity will instead, be replaced by a continual and permanent appreciation of those who serve us long after this pandemic has passed.
Renewed Economic Spirit – As we begin the slow process of economic recovery now is the time to ask what kind of economy are we seeking to rebuild? Press speculation has focused on the Government’s desire to “build, build, build” our way out of recession; to ensure our infrastructure is fit for the post-Brexit future they have promised us, as we finally look to replace the many legacy structures from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Certainly a programme of national house building would not only put the construction industry back to work and the associated supply chains that support it, but help to tackle the national scandal of homelessness and families living in temporary accommodation. Brownfield or greenbelt sites? New build or conversion of existing industrial and retail units by greater amending of building use regulations as has happened in many other parts of the country? The knock-on benefit potentially being that those units situated near town centres may help re-generate our failing high streets, many of which become ghost-towns after-hours with the resulting anti-social and criminal activity.
What about green technology and greater use of renewable energy such as wave, water and solar power? Will the opportunity provided by international free trade deals really prove a much-needed boom for our agricultural and fish sectors as well as manufacturing given that Nissan has decided to keep the UK as its main European manufacturing site – provided we get a deal with the EU? Questions, questions, questions I hear you cry!
The answers will have to come from people far more clever than I, BUT, given the spirit with which the ordinary people of the country rallied round and responded to the needs created by the pandemic, we can only hope and pray our leaders do the same.
Renewed Political Spirit – Admittedly I am on uncertain ground with this one. Many have criticised the handling of COVID-19 and have asked how many of the circa 43,000 lost lives could have been saved if the Government had acted earlier or differently? While we are all keen to hold those in power to account we also have to remember as former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has articulated in an interview to celebrate his 70th birthday for the June edition of Premier Christianity magazine, “That we all take decisions based on limited information, and all get sidelined or misled by judgments that look quite clear at one point and turn out not to be.” Fair comment you might say, but tellingly he also expresses the opinion that things have “not been handled well and that it’s symptomatic of a slapdash attitude in some high places.” OUCH!
When and only when, this virus is truly beaten or expires naturally as nearly all viruses eventually do, there will have to be a major enquiry into how COVID-19 was actually handled not only by Boris Johnson and his cabinet and Parliament in general, but by other related agencies like Public Health England and SAGE group of scientific advisors. The role played by people like Dominic Cummings in particular must also come under microscopic scrutiny as to how much influence he actually possesses. Doubtless the political conspiracy theorists among you will want to know how much of the response was governed in the interests of No.10 and the wider Conservative party, fixated as it was in getting Brexit done. Only time will tell.
To repeat; the answers will have to come from people far more clever than I, BUT, given the spirit with which the ordinary people of the country rallied round and responded to the needs created by the pandemic, we can only hope and pray our leaders do the same.
Renewed Spirit of Faith: Faith groups have long been providers of relief and assistance for those who find themselves on the margins of society and during this pandemic have once again shown the real value of the voluntary sector in action. The principles of love and service to others cut across all faith traditions and it is fair to say more unites people of faith than actually divides them. A Faith Meeting Faith Group that I attend has been meeting via Zoom on a weekly basis and will continue to meet online even after can restart our normal face to face gatherings. These and many other such schemes are a feature of the multi-faith engagement which has characterised and energised the faith communities seeking new ways of doing faith, to aid and deepen understanding of each other’s traditions in today’s multi-cultural society.
A particular feature of the pandemic is the rise of interest in faith reported by all faith traditions, particularly the Christian faith, since the lockdown began as people seek spiritual comfort in the face of so much uncertainty. According to a recent survey by Tearfund one in twenty UK adults have started to pray during the lockdown, despite not praying before with a further quarter (24%) of UK adults, saying they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown (on the radio, live on TV, on demand or streamed online). Is this perhaps the future of Christian Worship? Whether this trend is maintained or not is of course open to question but when The Guardian in reporting these facts includes in its subheading that its young people (18-34 age group) leading this resurgence of faith, one can perhaps dare to hope that it continues. What the COVID crisis has shown is that perhaps secularism’s seemingly unstoppable rise can be compared to trying to walk on thin ice; easily broken and with little in the way of support once you fall in.
One thing peoples of faith – whichever faith – will tell you is that God never changes. The only thing that changes is us, with faith providing that sense of spiritual renewal in all that we do, say and act toward one another. Faith could be the catalyst for this renewal in both public and private life; whether we chose to take the opportunity to do so having failed so often in the past is a question still needing to be answered.
I will leave the final word to Rowan Williams in his Premier Christianity interview on how we might respond to living life a bit differently in the future when the lockdown finally ends, he says;-
“We’ll have discovered that it won’t kill us to stand back, find our feet, find a fresh perspective – think, reflect and even pray….