A Letter to a Distant Church

Dear Church,

For most people, the end of lockdown was a relief.  Now, life could begin to go back to normal.  The strain of not being able to go out, to mix, to see loved ones, was over, and people were starting to anticipate the joys we formerly took for granted, of meeting up, going out, relaxing with others, having fun. Not having to be separated any more, which all of us find so painful.
 
For the large number of housebound people in the UK, however, life is always lived in a kind of lockdown.  People with chronic illness, or those with mental health problems that means it is difficult to get out and mix, those who spend all day every day caring for a child or relation who is sick, has special needs or has dementia are never free to go out and join in like the rest of us.
 
I have CFS/ME, which means that at its current moderate severity I can go out once a week or once a fortnight.  For many years my illness was so severe I could not get out at all, and the painful sense of isolation we all knew in lockdown became my ‘normal’. Even when I could get out again the kind of choice as I had to make were agonising.  Was it to be my best friend’s wedding I attended, or my niece’s birthday? To do both would mean relapse and months of recovery, or no recovery at all.  At Christmas I dreaded the extreme demands on my body and the cruel payback which would last two months or more, leaving me in pain and fighting to stabilise my condition.  I had the bittersweet joy of going downstairs for Christmas dinner, then having to go back to bed while the rest of the family spent time together. 
 
For me and my friends who have M.E., although Covid brought anxiety, it also brought relief and joy.  For once, rather than being left out of normal life, suddenly everyone was like us!  The world arrived to join us online and rather than us being the minority that couldn’t be catered for, (‘No, home working isn’t possible.’ ‘ I’m sorry, but to access the support you must be able to travel.’ ‘I’m afraid we can’t make this concert/exhibition/service available online.’ ‘it’s not worth our while just for a few.’) all the access issues fell away and we were surrounded by a plethora of activities, all the normal things we had longed to participate in, and sweetest of all, company!  The sense of being all together with everyone else, that many people take for granted but which we are usually painfully excluded from, was at times overwhelming, despite illness preventing the same level of participation that the healthy housebound now enjoyed.  Suddenly we counted again. We weren’t different.  We could be together with our church families, and the joy of worshipping with everyone else also brought with it a renewed sense of mattering to God, having a place, just like everyone else.  The message we were receiving was ‘God loves us all the same’.
 
My hope and prayer is that, after lockdown, people will remember their loneliness and isolation, how painful and stressful it is, how challenging to mental health, and won’t forget their brothers and sisters for whom lockdown is a way of life.  It was a joy for a while to have your company and fellowship.  Now, while many churches have chosen to continue that online presence and are still able to include their housebound worshippers, others don’t have the capacity or will to do so, and once more, the unintentional message to the housebound is ‘The Love of God makes everyone welcome…. except you.’
 
As my church recedes, along with a sense of belonging, being valued, being part of things, and enjoying each others’ gifts and insights, I’m filled once more with the ache of separation.  My prayer is that we will be remembered, and included once again, as members of the body of Christ. 
 
‘The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’.’

Lookin’ at you, Church!

God bless,
Alison Orland

 

Posted: 11/12/2021 14:20:41 by You Belong Filed under: blogger, christmas, church, faith

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