My new role began in early February with the Bishop making me rector at a special service that was described by a friend as “great, really brilliant - a fine combination of the moving, contemplative and enjoyable.” Then followed five enjoyably hectic weeks of meetings, events (Stansfield parish lunch, Cowlinge village hall pancakes), visiting those who can’t get to church - basically on the go full-time for the first few weeks, in the expectation of reducing to my notional half-time hours thereafter. Those weeks were busy, interesting and fun.
Then came the sudden instruction for social-distancing in church services and the good-humoured adaptation to it by the congregation, thinking this was to be the new normal for a few months … quickly followed by the shift to churches being closed except for private prayer … then within days the heavy, heavy disappointment of churches closed altogether.
I don’t have a specifically Christian ‘angle’ on all this. Like many people I speak to, I’ve been aware how fortunate I am to have a garden and access to countryside for dog-walks, easy access to the supermarket and plenty of things to get on with at home; so fortunate to live alone at a time when many experience irritating or even violent relationships in their home.
So I didn’t notice the loneliness creeping up on me; the lack of motivation to make phone calls, write emails, attend to admin tasks, DIY or gardening. I was lucky, I told myself; of course I’m ok.
It was only when another lovely face-time chat with my son left me feeling sad for the rest of the day, that I realised I deeply miss the actual physical presence of other people and a hug from family or friend. There’s no substitute for that. Some of us simply live with this lack, this absence, for now.
I’m glad I’ve admitted to myself that it’s hard, because this admission honours the value of physical companionship and stops me lying to myself that it doesn’t matter. It does matter, I must treasure it, and I hope I never take it for granted again.
Here’s a prayer I’ve used at a time of bereavement, and I find it helpful now in this different loss, where the loss of physical presence, the absence of a hug, is pressing in. It’s best said outdoors.
O God, though you are unseen,
let me see you all around;
though you are silent,
let me hear you in the birdsong and the trees;
though you are untouchable,
let me feel your touch in those who care about me;
though you are unknowable,
O God, let me know your presence
amidst the mystery of loss.
Revd Eve Bell
Rector Bansfield Benefice