Beyond Lamenting COVID-19

CTE's lead on Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, shares his Reflection of the Month for June 2020.

CTE’s lead on Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, shares his Reflection of the Month for June 2020… 

The past three months, March to June 2020, has been the most intense and sustained trauma I have ever experienced.  An unprecedented number of my friends have fallen ill or have died during this time; a situation made worse by social distancing measures introduced by the UK government in an attempt to bring the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 under control. These measures meant I, like everyone else, could not visit my sick or dying friends, or the bereaved. All but essential services have been closed down, including churches leading to a mass movement to online activities.  

Early on I was invited by the Woolf Institute to take part in its Covid-19 Chronicles series and found myself reflecting upon what it means to ‘lament’. I was reminded that a major theme in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, including over a third of the Psalms, is lament; i.e. to cry out to God in times of deepest distress and despair for intervention. My own lament has been less a crying out to God and much more a deep sense of loss and sorrow, and an inner searching in the spirit of Jesus when he prayed, ‘My Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22 & Matt 26).

As this Covid-19 pandemic has tightened its grip upon every aspect of our lives it has become clear that my own grief is better served as motor for reaching beyond myself and deep into the concerns of those around me. My Pentecostal tradition offers a mainly activist and interventionist approach to challenges punctuated by crisis moments leading to radical change – sometimes tending towards theory than practice. But how do I do activism and interventionism in lockdown? Professor Robert Beckford helpfully initiated an audio documentary: Better Must Come! Black Pentecostals, the Pandemic and the Future of Christianity, to which I was pleased to contribute and which has much to say to the wider church beyond Black Pentecostalism. 

Lockdown has presented challenges and opportunities for us all irrespective ethnicity, faith or denomination. I am reminded of a visit I made to China in the early 1990s, when the country was emerging from its Cultural Revolution during which all faiths saw their places of worship closed. As they began to re-emerge from enforced lockdown collaboration across faiths and Christian denominations became essential. Covid-19 has in some ways levelled the faith and denominational playing field, with everybody locked out of their places of worship and all having to discover new ways of being. An interesting form of unity has emerged, with unprecedented sharing of information across faiths and denominations via multiple online platforms. 

From this place of mutual inconvenience, grief, and a searching for new ways to be together, we have additionally to face up to some of the lessons of Covid-19.  For example according to a recent report into factors impacting health outcomes from Covid-19 by Prof Kevin Fenton, the over 80’s are seventy times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the under 40’s; those living in deprived areas, those most recently come into the country, and BAME people are all over-represented in infections and deaths linked to Covid-19. 

And so, as together we search for meaning and how to be good neighbours to fellow sufferers in the wake of coronavirus, just maybe this cup of suffering can teach us something about our oneness as a humanity and as the church of Jesus Christ.  

Dr Joe Aldred is a Bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, from the Pentecostal tradition. He is a broadcaster as well as ecumenist, providing Pause for Thought for BBC and having regular slots on UCB radio. Joe has written a number of books, including Respect, about understanding Caribbean British Christianity, and Thinking Outside the Box. Joe also edited Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain – An Anthology, published by SCM Publishers in April 2019.