Will this topsy-turvy world last?

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

The lockdown during the present crisis has made many amazing changes to our lives and the way we view the world.  Almost overnight, humble, low-wage jobs have been revealed as crucial to society.  I don’t think that their wages have increased but the stackers of shelves, the drivers of white vans, the staff of care homes have been revealed as essential to us all while it turns out that we can actually manage without the Premier League and hedge-fund managers.

We may not have seen the Church-as-we-know-it on the frontline but a new form of Church is surely evident. God is active in the selfless behaviour of doctors and nurses, the eruption of kindness among people, rainbow messages of support for the NHS appearing in windows and even the Conservative government putting the welfare of people at the top of its priorities. The Catholic social teachings of The Common Good and Solidarity are being enacted in front of our eyes. I am astonished to see a socialist policy of universal income (ridiculed as an impossible dream during the recent general election) being enacted by the government. 

How long will society remain turned on its head? I have just been reading a booklet called ‘Mersey Reflections … on Faith in the City’. It was written in late 1995. Eight years earlier Margaret Thatcher had declared that there was no such thing as society. I was amazed at how relevant it is to our current experience during the Covid-19 pandemic. Consider the following: 

‘But our churches are surely being called to re-integrate life and faith, to get a feeling for the “secular” as the locus of the sacred.

‘This re-integration will involve a certain redefinition of what it is to be church at all. Many people, inside and outside the churches, think of them as enclaves of the saved, enclaves which at least give the impression that human affairs outside their confines are indifferent to God. Are we not called to affirm the presence of God in all of people’s lives, to acknowledge and indeed to celebrate the creative and redeeming power of Christ wherever it is discernible? After all, we profess a God who creates all people in his image and likeness, and a Word of God who enlightens all people. Our role as churches is to be sacraments of this creative and redeeming God, communities of those who freely want to be living witnesses to “the one who stands in their midst, unrecognised”.

‘Although notionally we assent to this unfettered presence of God – of God who is always in situations before we get there – yet we confess to finding many of our churchly attitudes, actions and structures in fact belie it. We are humbled by Augustine’s comment: “God knows many whom the church knows not, and the church knows many whom God knows not.”’

I am hoping and praying that when the pandemic has become a memory we will have emerged, re-energised, as the Church that nourishes people in the joys and sorrows of their lives, and that the upside-down world of the Kingdom of God will continue to be evident in the Church we will have become.