Okay, I know I’m going to get into trouble for that headline. This is too important to send confusing signals. And I agree. I’m getting the message. We’ve got to flatten the curve, stem the flow, stop transmission, practice good hygiene, wash hands, clean surfaces, use hand sanitiser, keep away from cash, protect our elderly, care about the vulnerable. I get all that. I’m one of the people at risk. And I live with a GP, have kids who are teachers, doctors, social workers, and students. But let’s be clear.
It’s not social distancing we need. It’s physical distancing.
Physical distancing is a strategy to stem the spread of the pandemic. Social distancing creates a mental health risk, amidst a while lot of other problems. We weren’t created to be alone. We need each another. Now more than ever. Fear, anxiety, panic, stress are all around us. We need kindness, calm, consideration, and courtesy.
Yesterday our church was told we can no longer meet on school premises. Like so many churches, we are exploring online strategies, streaming videos of talks, delivering Bible studies via the internet, purchasing hardware, trying out software, and scrambling to know what we’re going to do and how we’ll make it work. We can all play around with technology. We might even be able to make ourselves or our churches look better than we ever have before. But that’s not really the issue.
How we are going to do community? How will we put the ‘one another’ exhortations from the New Testament into practice? How will we stay in touch with one another? How will we identify the needy? How will we encourage the spiritually weary? How will we offer the message of real hope to a world in crisis? How will we pray together and for each other? How will we support one another when we need to keep our distance, when we can’t congregate, or when we need to quarantine or self-isolate.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Take yourself back 30 or 40 years to a world without the internet. There is no Google, no Facebook, no email, no Instagram, no Twitter. How would we manage our current challenges in such times? My first thought is that we’d go back to speaking on the telephone. Remember the telephone! We’d call and say, “How are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you?” “Have you got enough toilet paper?” “Can I drop a meal around?” “How are you off for money?” “Are you feeling any better today?” “What can I pray for you?”
We might call one another to pray for each other, or read the Scriptures together, or get some help on a matter, or share ideas on how we can encourage, help and support one another…