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Bishop Martin Seeley asks if we want to go back exactly to how things were before the pandemic

I’ve just booked train tickets to London for a week’s time. This will be my first visit to London since March last year, which is remarkable when I think that I was going to London for Church meetings about twice a week until then.

Throughout this time people have continued to travel into London for essential purposes, but since all my meetings have been put on Zoom, I had no reason to do that.

A friend asked me if I was apprehensive – or excited.

Bishop Martin Seeley
Bishop Martin Seeley

I am not apprehensive – a double vaccination plus getting into the habit of masks and hand cleansing has eased any apprehension I may have had. But I am excited – or maybe not so much excited, as curious.

I am curious about what it will be like to meet people again face to face whom I’ve not seen in person for 15 months.

I am even more curious about what London will be like – what it will feel like to me.

I have become rather used to not being part of the bustle and busyness that had filled London streets, and we know that the bustle and busyness is not the same now as it once was. So I am curious what it will be like, and whether I will feel comfortable in the ways I always used to, not just being a visitor, but having lived there for more than 15 years.

It’s just one of many experiences that have been on-hold for the past 15 months, and which, we pray, we will be able to resume to some extent soon.

But there is a question.

Do we want to resume them in the ways they happened before the pandemic?

Do we want to go back to the exact same patterns again?

Meetings – my meetings – are an interesting case. Meetings have proliferated, and I am sure that is not just the case for me.

Every slot seems to be available for people to squeeze in another meeting – after all, you don’t need any travel time, so the day could just get filled up – if you let it. If I maintained the number of London-based meetings I have now on Zoom when we move back to physical meetings, I would have to move to London to make them all, one after another! I have no desire to do that.

So quite a lot needs to be different. We have discovered that we don’t need to meet physically every time and it’s better for our planet, and for our responsibility to protect the environment. There is no point people travelling from the four corners of the country for a two hour meeting.

And we have discovered that there are certain sorts of meetings where it would be really helpful to meet in person – meetings where the quality of our relationships, or where being more fully ‘present’ to one another, which includes difficult meetings, are important. We’ve discovered this with our return during the past couple of months to physical services in church.

We need to keep online services going because they make participating in church accessible to people who may not otherwise be able to come. And for those who want to share in the experience without what is entailed in being within the building. We also know that we have to be realistic – that if we have online services we may need to have fewer physical services, to make it manageable for those who lead them.

And this is all in the realms of experimentation. We need to see what works, what is feasible, what feels manageable. And that applies to a great range of other activities that have been on hold, not just trips to London, or church services in the buildings.

It won’t be the same, we have to try and see, and we will need to be patient as we work out what emerging from the pandemic will be like, and is best.

- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic

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