The term ‘quarantine’ is often associated with periods of self-isolation to avoid contagion and disease. Coming from the Italian word for ‘forty days’, it is a word which also brings to mind the forty days and nights of the season of Lent, when we remember the time spent by Jesus in the wilderness.
These are extraordinary times. Since Wednesday, following the advice of the Bishop, public worship ceased at the University Church for the time being, although the church is still open for private prayer from 10am - 4pm Monday - Saturday and 12noon - 4pm on Sundays. The self-isolation and social distancing required by the government to stem the spread of Coronavirus will demand each of us to draw considerably on the spiritual resources of our faith. In the early church, the desert fathers and mothers withdrew from ordinary society and sought the solitude of the desert, imitating Jesus in the wilderness. They learned to devote their lives in prayer, and to structure their day in a disciplined way in order to cultivate the virtues of love and compassion. They also learned something about the frailty and fragility of being human. We will need to support each other in the days and months ahead, to pray for one another, and to ensure that the most vulnerable receive the support they need.
So… first, spend some time either alone or together developing a daily discipline of prayer, work and recreation. There are some resources for prayer below, including the shared experience of Morning Prayer via Zoom, which will start at 9am on Monday morning, and some resources for daily prayer prepared by John Olson, one of our students. Each Saturday, we will also publish a podcast, which will contain some music, readings, prayers and a sermon - material provided by our clergy, musicians, and members of the congregation. We will send the link via the Epistle each Saturday. In developing a daily routine during these days of self-isolation, you may find some wisdom in this guidance from the charity Oxfordshire Mind: https://www.oxfordshiremind.org.uk/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/.
Secondly, look after yourselves and look after each other. If you are fit and able to offer help in some way, please contact Patrick Croom, our Operations Manager, indicating how you might be able to offer support or help or you may want to get in touch with the Oxford Hub, which is coordinating volunteers in response to Covid-19: https://www.oxfordhub.org/.
Most importantly, you may need some logistical and practical support yourself in the days and months ahead. This might mean someone getting some paracetamol for you, or help negotiating the mysteries of online shopping for the first time. One of the great things about our community at St Mary’s is that we have a large number of people, especially younger people, who are very willing to offer help and advice. Please do not feel any embarrassment asking for help or support. Again, Patrick will be the first point of contact for practical assistance. You can email him on email@example.com or phone 01865 279111. If you need to contact one of the clergy, please phone 01865 279114 and leave a message. Although the phone is not staffed permanently, the messages are monitored regularly. One of us will be in touch with you. Sarah Ockwell, our Administrator, will also be in touch with those who have given us their contact details to make sure that the details are all up to date.
Finally, please remember one another in prayer, and keep the valiant staff of the NHS in your prayers. These words from the prophet Isaiah have been on my mind recently. They are words which speak of patience, solidarity and hope: ‘in returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength. The Lord waits to be gracious to you. Blessed are all those who wait on him’ (Isaiah 30.15, 18).
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
The Revd Dr William Lamb