The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell
York was quite severely hit during the pandemic in hospitality and tourism. My job is to be a voice of the Christian faith – and therefore a voice which is trying to speak up for the poor, and for issues of justice and peace. The Church is always trying to be involved as a voice for good within all the networks of our society; here in the North of England – as it’s known in the political discourse and perhaps it’s the job of the Church in part to constructively hold the government to account.
Perhaps even now it’s too early to draw conclusions but there has been some fascinating research done about the impact of Covid on the church. For a while there was for a short while a narrative running about the Church being withdrawn – but that turned out not to be true. Two things I’ve noticed have been the building and nurturing of online community; many churches now tell a story of people participating in online church of one kind of another. We don’t yet know whether those people have gone on to participate in person. We’ve nurtured online communities in ways which churches three years ago which once had had 50 participants in person sometimes had 70 or 80 participants online.
For the whole world, we’re going to have to learn to live digitally for the sake of the planet. There is an opportunity for us to find new ways of living which will be better for the planet – it’s already a hybrid world and I want to see the Church take the lead on that.
When it comes to the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis, because the church has a presence – amazingly still in virtually every community in this land, we have been in the front line when it comes to providing support and pastoral care to people in need, particularly isolated people. It’s not just been the church, of course, but often the church has been in the lead with others when it comes to doing simple things like during Covid, making sure that an isolated person gets their prescription for them. Then there’s all the other stuff that’s well-known with food banks, debt counselling, homelessness, shelters, it is the Church on the ground which is leading in these things and I think we have seen the benefits of that.
The question of work is a complex one. The most important thing I do each day is to say my prayers: that is the foundation and heart of my day. The Christian way of inhabiting life encourages us to live by that Biblical principle of the Sabbath. By that I don’t just mean literally the Sabbath, but the Sabbath as a principle which runs through life: God’s good ordering of time and space whereby we give time for rest and refreshment.
My great hope is that as 2023 continues, we won’t go back to how we were before the pandemic. The first thing we should consider is time for refreshment and rest. Of course, we all do that in different ways; my advice is to weave prayer into the rhythms of your daily life. Even in lockdown, most of us had routines. My advice is to examine the existing routines of your daily life, and see where prayer can be woven into it, so that you stop seeing prayer as an additional burden, by getting up half an hour earlier for instance. Instead, look at your working day and consider whether there is an opportunity to weave prayer in. For instance, if you walk the dog, for example, you might find that that is a good opportunity to pray or be still. Some of it comes down to personality; some of us find stillness much easier when we’re moving. You need to find the way which is right for you. I sometimes worry that people have a picture in their mind of what prayer is and think they must conform it.