Ministers Update – ‘On Prayer and Face Masks’ 19th July 2020

I am sure many of you are making the most of the easing of lockdown and opportunities to meet face to face with family and friends after several months apart. This past week I enjoyed 3 outdoor social gatherings; a small picnic by the river with friends from the Godalming and Guildford Interfaith Forum, a gathering at Godalming bandstand with Community Art / Chapel folk, and dinner in the garden of friends. It was good to finally see people once again in the flesh, rather than on a flat screen! These meet-ups ‘almost’ feel like getting back to ‘normal’ – but not quite – there’s a new self-consciousness about not leaning in too close, not sharing our food, and of course no hugs! We are all still ‘testing the waters’ – cautiously navigating the new norms of social etiquette – it will take some time to adjust.
As part of this ‘testing the waters’ we are working towards a gradual reopening of the Chapel – starting with the Prayer Circle on 23rd July. With our newly configured arrangement of (socially distanced!) chairs, I will be leading a gentle guided prayer practice – interspersed with silence and the lighting of candles. We have 6 spaces still available so please be in touch asap if you would like to join us. Then on August 9th we are hoping to test out a service Zoomed directly from the Chapel – more details to follow.
Amidst the easing of lockdown, it may seem a bit strange that the government is making face masks mandatory as from 24th July. Some say it is too little too late, that this should have been done months ago; others say wearing a face mask is an infringement on civil rights and cannot be reinforced. I’ve heard it said that wearing a mask is an act of ‘love’ towards our neighbours – worn not so much to stop you catching the virus, but a means of protecting others (if you are a non-symptomatic carrier).   As well as protecting others, face masks can be a means of personal self-expression – already they are available in all sorts of colours and patterns – the new fashion accessory! Jenny Miller has pointed me in the direction of a website offering masks imprinted with the UU Chalice, in various designs – offering the wearer the opportunity to promote the Unitarian faith as well as protecting others  https://www.redbubble.com/i/mask/Unitarian-Universalist-Flaming-Chalice-black-by-cnkna/36393348.9G0D8  There are also eco friendly and fair trade versions available online, at a reasonable price https://www.sharedearth.co.uk/face-masks-c102x3873489  Whatever mask we choose, it’s good to remain mindful that the environmental crisis threatening our planet has not gone away. If possible, we should leave medical grade disposable masks for medics/carers, and use washable reusable masks that don’t add to the mountains of PPE plastic waste this pandemic is causing (plastic which is already ending up in landfill, showing up on beaches, and polluting waterways and oceans.)
 There are people from some religious groups who say they don’t need to wear face masks as God will protect them.  But most people of faith would say that prayer offers no magic protection against covid 19. So what’s the use of prayer? It can help to quell the anxiety and fear that rises up in these times – returning us to our still centre which remains grounded and calm amidst the storm. Just as fear and anxiety are contagious, so too those who are able to maintain inner peace can have a positive effect on others.  Whilst prayer and face masks may seem contradictory – I think they go together; we do our spiritual practice, hold on in faith that we will emerge from this crisis as individuals and as a human race – and we also take sensible precautions, doing all we can to make it so – including wearing a face mask when required. In all this I’m reminded of the wisdom of the Muslim saying: ‘Trust God but first tie your camel’!
 
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In faith and hope, Sheena