Samuel Pepys: March 19, 1665
Lord’s day. Mr. Povey and I in his coach to Hide parke, being the first day of the Tour there – where many brave ladies. Among others, Castlemayne lay impudently upon her back in her coach, asleep with her mouth open.
March 19, 2020
Last night the Church Council discussed what to do if someone dies during the pandemic emergency. A much-loved member of the congregation had a fall on Sunday, and is not expected to survive. In ordinary times his funeral would be enormous, hundreds of people would gather to say ‘goodbye’. Obviously we can’t do that now.
We discussed whether or not we could limit a funeral to 100 people, but decided that that would be impossible. How could we decide who counted as a close enough friend to be in that hundred? Would we need to have people on the door counting mourners as they entered the church? It wouldn’t work. So we’ve decided that if we have funerals during the pandemic we will have small services for the immediate family, so that the person isn’t buried or cremated alone, and then have Services of Thanksgiving once the pandemic is over.
It’s really hard! I am proud of the comfort our funerals can offer people mourning. I tell people, “I do a good funeral,” and even though that’s considered a strange skill to have, again, I’m proud of it. I do good funerals. I’m good at helping people say say ‘good-bye’. I can hold their grief. And yet this is going to be one of the things that I cannot do during this emergency.
There are so many other parts of my ministry, and of the life of the church, that would actually be dangerous at the moment. We have decided not to have morning coffee after church services. We can’t touch each other. I have always used touch – holding hands while praying with someone, hugging when that’s invited – as part of my pastoral care, and I’ve always appreciated that as a woman I have a greater freedom to do that than male ministers have. Aged care facilities are limiting visits to one visit a day, with a maximum of two people. Churches are communities that visit our elderly. There are hideous statistics of the number of people in aged care who never get a visit – not for long-standing congregation members. We visit them. And now we can’t.
Then there are the people who are already socially-isolated, those on the margins of society, whose churches are their family. In the shower this morning I suddenly found myself thinking, “I’m glad B. is dead”. The congregation was her family, her carer, her trustee. She would never have understood being unable to come to the church whenever she wanted; she would have struggled with rules around touching and eating; there’s no way we could have explained to her how to follow virtual church online. I’m thinking of all the other people like her, who don’t have families, and don’t have the ability to negotiate cyberspace. There are members of the church who aren’t computer-literate; I’ve been having to print out my sermons for a few because they can’t access this blog. And the libraries are now closed; people who usually access computers at libraries are no longer able to do that. It worries me.
I’m fine. I’m probably still have at least some employment, even if church services have to go online; I’m not in any risk category; I have somewhere safe to live; I’m a massive introvert who loves working from home; I already live half my life online. But, still, I can feel the anxiety in my gut.