The Past is a Different Country

Today, as November ends and December begins, across the UK the numbers of people affected by COVID19 have been rising dramatically. Even now, we are hoping the recent lockdown may have slowed the spread of the virus. While the emergence of possible vaccines is giving us some cautious reason for optimism, we know that it will be a long time before we are out of the woods. The situation in Cambridgeshire is a microcosm of the national picture.

We’ve heard about the different areas of life in our county: hospitals – especially intensive care units – in danger of being overwhelmed; schools constantly having to reorganise their ways of working; some businesses facing imminent insolvency or bankruptcy with employees being made redundant whilst others are so busy that they don’t have time to think; prisoners being locked up almost around the clock; police officers trying to understand and implement frequently changing regulations; and local government officials battling with ever increasing demands on rapidly dwindling resources. And there will be others known to each one of us.

Although the present circumstances are unprecedented in our recent history, it is times of stress and trauma that underline the need for someone who can be ‘present’ for those who are struggling with the pressures of life; someone who can offer listening ears and words of encouragement and guidance. And that, surely, is what the ministry of chaplaincy has always been about?

How can those who are chaplains fulfil that ministry when the pressures on host organisations are so great, and not just financial pressures, although those will be a factor. There are so many challenges for chaplains who want to walk alongside those in the various workplaces where they have a role. But it is not something that is easy to do at the moment, when people have to socially distance and wear masks that muffle their voices. You can’t have a confidential discussion with someone when you have to shout through a face covering to someone who is six feet away.

It seems as though the pressure on government to ‘move things on’ has been amplified because of the desire to be able to celebrate Christmas in some sort of traditional fashion. But, deep down, probably most of us realise that there will be no return to that which was there before. In the notable opening words of (one-time Peterborough resident) L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between:

‘The past is a different country: they do things differently there.’

L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between

The normal in future is going to be very different to the way it was.

Over the past few months many people will have started to interact with their doctor, their supermarket, their bank, their children’s school, even their place of faith or worship, via the medium of the internet. However, even as these interactions take place, there is a recognition that there is something missing. No matter how good our electronic device nor how fast our broadband connection is, there is something of the muffled shouting through a face covering about it. We are rediscovering that it is the personal contact, the soothing voice, the fleeting smile, the gentle touch on the arm, that makes all the difference.

Today, as November ends and December begins, we are starting the season of Advent. Contrary to popular belief, Advent is not about putting up the Christmas decorations and opening calendars to find bits of chocolate. For Christians, Advent is a time for anticipating Christ’s return to earth, for desiring an immanent God to be present in this corner of creation.

The great German theologian Dietrich Boenhoffer, who was tortured and died in a Nazi concentration camp for speaking out against Hitler’s horrors, said that “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

If there ever was a time for people to be troubled in soul and to know themselves to be poor and imperfect it is now. But Advent is also surely the time for us to sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

A prayer: Almighty God – we hold before you at this Advent season those who hold roles as chaplains in our county; those whose desire it is to walk alongside people with a whole variety of needs. Compassionate God, may our chaplains be aware of your firm and constant embrace as they minister to those they stand with at this difficult time. Amen.

(Photo by Smart on Unsplash)

The Place where I work…

It sounds simple enough. The place where I work. My workplace.

We used to say this in a matter of fact statement in a conversation, and often it involved a physical description; a description of an organisation, based in a town, a specific industry, business park or office perhaps.

Of course, if you’re working in healthcare, or retail or perhaps education your workplace is still the same physical place; albeit with many modifications and possibly some virtual existence too.

But living through Covid-19 is showing how everything has been shaken up like a pair of dice, then thrown in the air whilst we all look around at where the dice have landed! Some of us are struggling with the constant uncertainty – it’s completely normal to feel like that as humans need some certainty.

Recently at CWC we have been discussing the need for interactions with others and how the changing dimensions of a ‘workplace’ is affecting so many people. If the workplace is now as varied as kitchens, offices, living rooms, co-working spaces, shops and factories then how do we ensure employees and the self employed are best served emotionally? How do workplace chaplains respond and adapt to this? This is a key area we are considering and discussing with chaplains to ensure CWC can support them as best we can.

Boundaries for comfort

Whatever your personal circumstances; it’s important to create boundaries that comfort and support our emotional, physical, spiritual and practical needs during these times – wherever our place of work may be.

How do we separate work (paid and unpaid) and home life? I know of some friends who are working from home but have a ‘commute’ to help get them in the mode for the working day, it could be a walk that is equal to a (previous) commute or it could be a different morning ritual to nourish and separate home from work.

I recently read 7 great tips that many of us can try, whatever your circumstances. I hope you may find some of these useful:

  1. Plan ahead – plan out your week and days so you can see where you need to divide up time for things to replenish you. It could be a lunchtime walk or set breaks every 30 minutes if you’re working at a desk. Work with your other household members so that everyone knows how the week is looking for you all.
  2. Routine – It sounds boring but these strange times mean your mind will be craving routine when life around us feels so uncertain – these boundaries will help you feel more organised and give structure to your week
  3. Maximise your outside allowance – we all know time outside is important and never more so than now. Whatever you can manage outside will boost your overall health and wellbeing, even if you can only fit in a quick walk round the block.
  4. Learn to switch off – make food breaks the time to switch off or hide your phone/laptop to aid you switching off. Go for a walk. Plan something nice for the evening like a social call or a hobby. Talk through your day with someone to help you process your day.
  5. Make time off sacred – whether you have a morning off in the week, a day off or a weekend, make this time special and restorative. Make sure it is relaxing or fun – whatever you crave and don’t feel guilty about a lie in or treats!
  6. Create a designated workspace – if you’re someone working from home, try to create an area where you only work. A spare room/office is of course a luxury for many so it could just be a section of worktop, a certain chair or area of the kitchen table that is the only place where you work. It just means you can separate out where you might sit to relax or watch TV and this simple divide can help.
  7. Prioritise your relationships – Everyone is experiencing the pandemic in a different way so we all need to be tolerant of how others are feeling even if it is at odds with how we’re personally feeling. At home if you are part of a household then remember that being together 24/7 under exceptionally stressful circumstances can put a lot of pressure on relationships and dealing with these thoughts and emotions is necessary so that you don’t bottle them up. You may feel you can’t talk to a loved one if things are difficult but find someone else you can talk to. We all need this release!

Jane Thompson

Administrator, CWC

Image credit: Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash