Alongside the personal concerns that people have for the health and safety of their loved ones, the current crisis caused by Covid 19 has brought with it enormous disruption to the life of our schools both in this country and around the world. The normal rhythms of school life have been suspended, public exams have been cancelled, teachers and pupils alike have had to learn how to study online, and many of the normal school conventions and rituals have not been able to take place. It was, perhaps, particularly hard for those leaving School last year, for whom there was no proper sense of closure.
The Covid 19 emergency has also resulted in questions that challenge people of religious faith and perhaps harden further the views of people of no religious faith. At the core of this challenge, is the question of “where is God in all this”?Brian Cunningham, Senior Chaplain
Simultaneously, the Covid 19 emergency has also resulted in questions that challenge people of religious faith and perhaps harden further the views of people of no religious faith. At the core of this challenge, is the question of “where is God in all this”? To this could be added the supplementary questions, “has God abandoned his people” and even, “is Covid 19 God’s doing”?
These questions have been raised many times before when considering the extent of human suffering and tragedy in the aftermath of natural disasters like the recent volcano eruptions in the Philippines or on White Island in New Zealand, the Tsunami in Indonesia or, going much further back, the Spanish Flu pandemic at the end of the First World War 1918-20. The difference now for many in our schools is that this is perhaps the first time they have been at the sharp end of such a crisis, where everybody’s individual response matters hugely. Consequently, the need to observe the protocols of social distancing and confinement will not just have clipped the wings of the young but also perhaps undermined confidence in the perceived stability of the world around them. Potential questions surrounding personal wellbeing and faith develop naturally from this.
“In these strange and testing times, it is more important than ever that we encourage and support all pupils and staff in their faith.”
For Chaplains, when faced with questions of this nature within a School environment, a pastoral response is called for, not a philosophical one. It is important initially to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, there is a sense of “exile” about where we are. Although we may not have been physically separated from our homes, we have at times been separated from our School communities and the regular rhythms of life. Indeed as a boarding school, some of our overseas pupils remain separated from our School community. We have become hugely reliant on the “virtual” world rather than the “real” world and there is a sense of alienation about this. So, the words of Psalm 137, “how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”In these circumstances, we need to return to the fundamentals of our faith. We need to remember that we believe in a loving God who neither wills nor orchestrates the suffering of his people; indeed, we believe the opposite to be true. The Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus show us that God knows exactly what it means to suffer and, so is able to stand alongside and support us in times of personal and national crisis.
These are the roots of our faith and must inform the pastoral approach we adopt in our contact with pupils and staff alike. It lies in the ability to communicate and reassure people. In the words of St Paul to the Romans we need to emphasise, “that neither death, not life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In these strange and testing times, it is more important than ever that we encourage and support all pupils and staff in their faith.