A mass and woman, both wearing masks, elbow-tipping each other in greeting.

Photo credit: maximeutopix / Unsplash

MY FEELINGS during the periods of Covid lockdown were probably quite different to most people. For me it was life-enhancing and felt like a leveller. Everyone thought more about what germs they might be passing on to someone and home became the orbit of more people. All kinds of things suddenly became available at home.

I live with a chronic illness that leaves me with little energy or strength to do more than the absolute necessities. I am in pain if I sit for too long. I struggle to do anything for any length of time and generally feel unwell a lot of the time. The same illness also effects my breathing. I regularly suffer from chest infections without needing to catch anything else on top.

I have had pneumonia twice in the last year, and when I did catch Covid-19, through an unfortunate set of circumstances, it took me three months to get over it – and I don’t mean long Covid, just the initial infection and the damage it did to me. I am immunocompromised because of the medication I am on. I leave the house to go to medical appointments and when my husband bundles me in the car for short trips to see a different view. My home is generally my life.

But all of a sudden, with lockdown and the restrictions that came with it, the same, with added energy, was true for most other people. Very quickly, so much became available online. I could attend meetings, be at conferences that for many years I had been told it wasn’t possible to livestream, see art and theatre, talk to people, and regularly attend church again. I became a part of something that hadn’t been available for a long time. I was able to take part in life, from the literal comfort of my own home.

There was much talk of, “We must remember this, we must keep this.” Yet so many people have been so keen to get back to ‘normality’, and once again the chronically ill, the housebound and those who struggle with accessibility for any reason have been left behind. I appreciate that it is impossible to remove all risk, but it is perfectly possible to do what we can to reduce it if we want to.

Masks have quickly been abandoned. This makes me feel very unsafe in a busy area. I understand that masks are uncomfortable and hard to wear. Imagine what it’s like for me to wear one when breathing is difficult enough as it is. But I wear one because it is the best that I can do to keep safe, and to keep others safe. When other people don’t wear one so that they are doing their best to keep me safe, that makes me feel like I don’t matter. My health is not important enough to you for you to wear a mask.

If people are not wearing masks that makes me very nervous to go into a space in order to sit and stay for a time, even if I have the energy. Masks are not just about you and how safe you feel; they are about me – and people far more medically compromised than I am. They are a sign of care. And this is not just about Covid, it also applies to all kinds of germs that I do not need on top of what I have already got. If people will not wear masks, can they be relied upon to stay home when they have something that to them seem minor, but to me could be serious? Experience suggests not, sadly.

Even the local hospital has abandoned masks. In fact I was even asked why I was wearing one. If we want those who could be seriously affected by catching any illness to ‘come back’ to buildings, then all that can be done needs to be done to welcome them – and that may include masks, or at least safer practices. When I see it being advertised that “no tests, social distancing or masks are necessary” I am hurt and afraid – especially when, at the same time, you see whole groups of people who have caught Covid, or even just a bad cold, all in the same place. Would some more precautions have stopped that?

So, if it is not safe to go out, or we are still not able to, because what was keeping us from buildings before has not miraculously disappeared with the lifting of restrictions, online provision needs to continue.

I am very fortunate that our church has continued its Zoom provision. Even more so that there is a community of us who Zoom together to worship and who can share together. But that itself leaves two questions for me: Could we be doing more to involve those at home? For there to be participation as well as just being a viewer of other people worshipping? I am sure that with only a small amount of effort those taking part in worship via Zoom (other platforms are available!) could lead the prayers or read the reading for the day.

Because the biggest question in my mind, while everyone else has gone back to the building, is: “Are we out of sight and out of mind to the in-building congregation?” Because it certainly feels like it. I think most people in the building, even if they are aware that there are those joining online, do not know who they are. They are not aware of where we are at with our journey of faith, or what difficulties, or joys, we might be having. They do not interact with us in any meaningful way. And that is hard when you ‘feel’ a member of the community, but simultaneously feel forgotten.

So, I will finish with some questions to ponder – and these apply to those isolated at home, as well as those more able to return to a ‘normal’ life. Who did you make links with during lockdown that you have walked away from now your ‘normal’ life is open to you? Who have you forgotten? Who might you have made a connection with that you no longer keep in contact with? What price is your ‘normal’ costing someone else?

The disappearance or scaling-back of online presence and the removal of sensible health precautions feels even more painful now than it did before lockdown, because then we glimpsed the possibilities of something better on a more permanent basis. We saw what could happen; what could be provided when it was for the benefit of those unused to the home life. Things that it is now no longer important to provide, apparently. I know providing meetings and events online can be extra work, but you can also gain extra reward, extra participation, bringing accessibility to those who can’t make it to a building for any amount of time.

Life with chronic illness, disability, or any other condition or reason that keeps you at home all day is hard, lonely, and isolating. In ‘going back’, instead of taking what we learned forward, how are we adding to that pain?

This article is part of Ekklesia’s Pandemic Humility and Hope’ series, originally launched to coincide with the third anniversary of the first Covid lockdown on 23 March 2020. See also Everyday Sacrament: Visual Meditations in an Age of Pandemic (review), Scotland After the Virus (review), Beyond the deadening grip of the ‘old normal’ (article) Rediscovering the sacred during lockdown (article), and ‘The pandemic: an issue of life and death’.


© Pam Webster is a Methodist Minister unable to work through chronic illness. More of her occasional writing can be found at https://pamsperambulation.com/.