Learning from Lockdown Reflections from St Mary, Barnes

The  “Learning from Lockdown” series of reflections are from a variety of people,  connected with St Mary, Barnes, on how they experienced lockdown in their context and any lessons that might be learned for us locally and further afield in the future.

Reflection from Julie Smith

At the beginning of 2020, I was very excited to become more heavily involved with the Youth Ministry at St Mary’s and our plans were all in place to relaunch the teen youth club and several other new initiatives. Then Covid-19 struck and lockdown followed. With almost no warning our lives were very different. As I was promptly furloughed, I had little time to contact the young people in the church at a time when their lives have been severely disrupted. I sent them the following advice and settled in to follow it myself!

“L.O.C.K.D.O.W.N.” is a time to:
“L”isten to God’s voice and reflect.
“O”bey his word and his teachings.
“C”all on Jesus’ name and be calmed.
“K”now what is the purpose of all this.
“D”well in his presence. Do not panic.
“O”ffer a prayer for everyone’s safety.
“W”ait and be patient. This too shall pass over.
“N”urture our personal relationship with God.

As we begin to come out of lockdown and I am once more able to make contact, however, I am impressed by the resilience and positive mindsets of these young people. Many had their last days at school interrupted and have been robbed of the rites of passage of carefully planned and long anticipated final assemblies and leavers’ balls. There was just no chance to properly say goodbye. They have had public exams cancelled. “Lucky them” is the response of many but rarely the teens themselves. Those exams were worked hard for, over many years, and would have provided an opportunity to our young people to prove themselves to the outside world, and indeed to themselves. Hopefully, the predicted grades provided to them by teachers and exam boards will do them justice and allow them all to proceed on their chosen paths of study. Some, however, will still feel cheated and many too will feel some doubt moving forward. Do I really deserve this grade? Could I really have achieved this on my own, on that one crucial day, under exam conditions? For those with exams still ahead of them, there are worries too. Will so many months of missed classes and homeschooling impact their final grades next summer, even if things return to normal in September, which must surely be a big if?! There will, no doubt, be mental health implications moving forward. Many young people have been ill with the coronavirus themselves or seen family members or friends suffer. Lots have been parted from grandparents and other family members who have been sorely missed. Sadly, in a country where the death toll has been higher than we hoped, there have been young people touched by bereavement and grief at a time when mourning has been especially difficult. Yet, despite all this, there is also a lot of positive feedback coming from our young people.

For many, lockdown has provided a welcome moment to step back from frenetic lives and really consider what is important. There has been an opportunity to spend quality time with parents and siblings. Many have challenged themselves with new interests and will be heading off to university with newly acquired cooking and cleaning skills. Many have really helped in the community with shopping for elderly or shielded neighbours, or making masks and PPE for the NHS. The environment really matters to this generation so the cleaner air and reduced pollution of early lockdown provided hope that their message was finally being heard, although the number of discarded facemasks currently being fished out of the ocean suggests there is still much work to be done. Our young people have led the way in keeping communication going throughout lockdown with the use of zoom and teams, alien terms to many only a year ago. We can be very proud of the way they have coped and be inspired by their enthusiasm to move forward to our new normality.

As I look back at the words of advice I sent out in March, I realise that understanding why God has permitted the global suffering and devastation of Covid-19 remains far beyond our understanding. For many, however, the knowledge that we can turn to God with our worries and anxieties and that he will carry our burdens has helped in the past months. We thank God that in any situation we can trust in him to be our strength, that he will always be there for us, to give us hope, to encourage us and to lighten our load. We have just started up our latest Confirmation preparation classes and, inevitably, there will be many questions concerning the events of the last few months. I believe that the very fact that we have an enthusiastic group of young people contemplating taking this positive step forwards in their faith, especially at such a difficult time, is surely a sign of hope for us all.

Julie Smith, Youth Worker, St Mary Barnes

Lockdown Poems from Bishop Richard Harries