Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls down and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
We all suddenly found ourselves at home and unable to be together with family, friends and our church family. At first, many experienced March 2020 as a bit of a novelty, but we quickly realised that this is not the way things are meant to be. It never occurred to us that the relationships and contacts we took for granted would be no longer there. We still needed each other, but we were apart.
Young people retreated to their rooms, spending more time online than ever. Many older people felt more isolated and scared as time went on. Those with the greatest need often were those who suffered most as people of all ages felt the reality of loneliness and separation.
But this is not the way things are meant to be. We are joined in a way that is inseparable because “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). When we were apart physically, how could we express the reality of our interdependence, especially when “anyone who falls down and has no one to help them up?”
People found ways to be resourceful and express in new ways the reality of being joined together. Through the experience people managed to creatively maintain genuine caring community. Youth leaders worked hard to get young people to come online, delivered packages to them and made phone calls. Young people wrote letters to older people and delivered gifts. Elders went out of their way to look out for people. People went for intentional walks before they could meet in any other setting. Congregations delivered refurbished tablets for elderly people so they could watch online services. New discipleship groups emerged which met online or in person when allowed, deepening relationships and building community. Youth groups experimented with online activities to create a sense of community, even though they were in separate places. Congregations were creative with drive-in church or online services, which got people involved in ways they never would have been before.
You can think of your own examples because you saw it happen, even in small ways. Ordinary people did ordinary things with extraordinary results that enabled the body of Christ to remain joined, even though physically separated.
Leaving a mark
Of course, the pandemic is far from over and has gone on much longer than most of us ever imagined. We should not let the return to gathered church and some sense of normality in most other parts of society fool us into thinking that its impact has all passed. The experience may have subtly but significantly changed how we relate to each other; many are still missing from our churches; community links have been weakened or lost.
Reflecting on this, I ask myself some direct questions about how I now relate to others and how the experience of these past months has impacted me. Have I become more introverted and do I tend to avoid bigger groups of people these days? Have I become more inward looking or even more selfish? How have my patterns of life changed and impacted the relationships that I previously valued most? I conclude that I have become more isolated, not so much physically, but perhaps in my outlook.
This is not the way things are meant to be. As a part of the body of Christ I am joined to others in such a way that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). If my outlook is separate there is no joint suffering, and no joint rejoicing.
So let’s take another look at one another, as members of Christ’s body, as people made in the image of Christ, and seek to be together in person and in outlook, so we support each other.
An opportunity for another look at others
As we move forward, it is a time to ask some questions of ourselves, and each other, in order to see afresh the reality of how much we need each other. How can we make that a tangible reality in our personal and congregational lives?
- Is there somewhere I can make an effort to go in the next couple of weeks where my presence will encourage others and make a difference because I chose not to stay at home?
- Is there someone in my life who might be struggling and a simple, “how are you doing… really?”, may make a huge difference?
- Is there a young person or a family who have not been back to church who I could contact to see how they are and if we can support them to return?
- Can I send someone a message of encouragement and appreciation because they made me feel cared for and connected?
- Is there a need in our community which has emerged during the pandemic that our congregation could find a simple way to meet?
- Is there someone I could ask for help, because I know I need it?
I need others. Others need me.
Let’s all ask ourselves how we can learn from our experiences and make our churches increasingly the grace-filled, loving communities they are meant to be.
God help me to better see and appreciate the part others play in my life and the role you call me to play in theirs.
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.