‘How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ I thought of that line from the Psalms as I walked down our deserted High Street this week on my way to the bakers.
Even the places we know best have become a ‘strange land’ in these extraordinary times. I guess we don’t feel much like singing either. Some of us are working round the clock to do essential work while others are wondering how to fill their time at home.
We should have a special concern for those who live on their own and usually rely on meeting friends at cafes or churches or in one another’s houses to give shape to their week. ‘I haven’t spoken to anyone all day’, an older friend told me on the phone last week.
But there are positives. Both my daughter and son-in-law are nurses and they and their colleagues were taken aback by the public show of support a few days ago when we all took a moment to stand and clap.
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The Jubilee Foodbank (set up by our church, but now with volunteers from all parts of the community) has been receiving extra donations from people simply saying, ‘we heard you were busy’. How generous that is!
And we have learnt a new word, or perhaps better rediscovered an old one.
The word is ‘furlough’. Before aeroplanes made travel so much quicker, people on challenging overseas postings were allowed to make the long journey home every few years for a time of rest and recuperation.
That was a furlough. It wasn’t quite a holiday, but it was a time to look after the whole person, rather than be treated like a machine.
At this time, a lot of us are on furlough because the business for which we work is closed down by Government order. Many of us are realising just how stressed we were before that happened.
We also realise we have been stressing the planet which is our only home. The news that dolphins had returned to the canals in Venice turned out to be fake, but it is true that the world is having a much needed rest from our polluting and climate changing hyper-activity.
There is another word for furlough, something that is not work and not a holiday, but good for us. Like the line about it being difficult to sing ‘in a strange land’ it comes from the Bible and we have nearly forgotten it. That word is ‘sabbath’.
I wonder if we will remember how it felt to let ourselves rest and let the world have a rest when this crisis is over? I hope so.
By Rev Stephen Haward,
Minister, Market Harborough Congregational Church
Chair of Churches Together in Harborough.
To find out what resources all the churches have to help members of the community at this time, go to https://www.harboroughchurches.org.uk/churches/town.html and follow the links to the individual church websites.