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This blog is a reflection on the first Community Care During Covid-19 webinar, hosted by St Ethelburga’s Programme Managers Clare Martin and Rebecca Brierley.

What is mine to do? It’s a question we’ll all be asking ourselves over the coming weeks. In the face of a problem which is both huge and invisible, this might seem like an impossible one to answer.

Community Care

In these times of uncertainty and change, St Ethelburga’s conducted an experiment. We put out an open call for people across the country – and even across the world – to join us in a conversation on community care. We held an unscripted conversation for friends and strangers to pause and reflect together, to enter into an unscripted conversation in a spirit of trust, respect and sensitivity.

Because these are unscripted times. Old ways of working, of socialising, of schooling, of communicating, even of shopping have been disrupted. As the coronavirus threatens the current status quo, it offers the potential to create new ways of doing things. It offers us the chance to re-evaluate not just who we are as individuals, but who we are as communities. Because, as one participant put it: ‘only together can we create a semblance of wholeness’ – the way we care for and reshape our communities is vital.

One of the St Ethelburga’s Centre’s core values is opportunity in crisis. We hold to this not as a kind of silver-lining or sugar-coating thinking, but as acknowledging the way things are, imagining of the way that they could be, and putting in the hard work to make this a reality. Right now, this creativity and imagination have never been more necessary. When the way we engage with our communities is changed by lockdown, when our relationship with food and resources is shaped by hoarding, when the meaning of love and family is altered by isolation, the possibilities for change are limitless.

Seeing Clearly

One participant offered the view of this time as one of judgement. Not in terms of wrath or punishment, but as a time to re-discern what is important to us. A time of seeing things clearly.

This outbreak has the potential to reveal the cracks already present at the heart of our society:

  • The amount of people hoarding food reflects a sense of isolation and detachment towards their communities that people are already feeling.
  • The under-resourcing of the health service – forcing a choice between caring for those affected by the coronavirus and those needing other forms of social care, disability provision, and mental health services – reveals a state which has too long neglected its duties of care and compassion.
  • The rise of racially motivated attacks and increased police presence to keep people in their homes indicates a society which has become accustomed to violence and force as a means of control and exclusion.

Yes, in many ways the coronavirus will change things, but at the same time in other ways it will just show us what has been there all along.

So we value the frankness and honesty of our participants who came to the conversation with the courage to ask the difficult questions that cut to the heart of who we are as individuals and communities:

Who am I if I am not doing things? Where do I get my value from?

Contemplative Activism

Our facilitators offered St Ethelburga’s 6-point plan of contemplative activism as a way of engaging in this process. Steps one to four are meditative. First is witnessing: We stop. Slow down, breathe deep, become aware of our bodies and our contexts. We allow ourselves to look around at the way that things are, without trying to make sense of them.

Next is feeling. We notice our emotions, name them and acknowledge them, without trying to form this into a coherent narrative of experience. We allow this feeling to guide us into the third stage of prayer or contemplation (whatever practice you feel most comfortable with), finding the places of the world where we want to extend our love. We follow this into material action: the fourth step explores how we can make this love visible in the world.

The fifth stage of this process is sharing, a crucial stage of voicing our intentions, making them real and tangible. Our participants suggestion ranged from committing to deeper prayer to creating online social spaces, from loving and caring for friends, family and neighbours to cultivating greater attentiveness to local situations. Finally, our facilitators encourage us all to find a buddy, a partner with whom to share our commitment and to support each other to make these intentions real.

By reflecting together, praying together, sharing together, in the words of one participant we took the time to find patience, generosity, gratitude, stillness. We committed to do this work together, every day. We committed to create together the new ‘us’ that will emerge from this outbreak. In the words of one participant: ‘anything that cultivates connection is what counts in the long run’.

Because when we find this sense of connection, then we can finally respond to the question ‘what is mine to do?’ not through knee-jerk reactions as individuals who are frightened and overwhelmed, but as a deeply interconnected ‘us’ who look into the hearts of our communities and ask:

What is ours to do?