by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith and Member of General Synod
I am sure you will be familiar with the statements about ‘flattening the curve’.
I am of course referring to the curve of coronavirus infections and I hope you are reading this at home, unless you are a key worker, so that we can support the NHS and do our very best to help them cope with current health crisis. I’m working from home, which as an Archdeacon is more straightforward then many jobs, supporting parishes across the Isle of Wight to care for their communities and continue the work of prayer and worship albeit not publicly.
There is of course another curve which I am trying to flatten, the curve of my mental health. Those of you who know me or follow me on social media will know I have a history of depression which, thanks to therapy and the support of friends, is manageable. For those in a similar position to me this management becomes critical as the mental health curve fluctuates up and down like some reckless roller coaster.
I wake up and do a work out at home – this feels good and I am relatively calm. I watch the news and anxiety levels increase. I pray and the calming presence of Christ restores peace. I check social media and the peace dissipates. I speak to some of the amazing people in the churches in my archdeaconry and peace is restored along with hope. Someone phones me in a panic and their anxiety feeds mine. Whether you struggle with your mental health or not this pattern is probably very familiar right now.
If you are expecting me to list a series of helpful suggestions as to what to do during the current crisis which is expected to last for some time yet, then you are about to be disappointed. There are more than enough self-proclaimed ‘experts’ broadcasting on social media telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Personally, I find that unhelpful and you do not need me to add to them. Instead I am going to share with you the single most useful thing for me at the moment.You do what works for you in the current situation, within the Government guidelines obviously!
I started last week wondering what it meant to be the Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight in this unchartered territory. What did it mean to be Chair of OneBodyOneFaith when our members will be concerned and possibly self-isolating? How should I be a priest, a father a partner? How should I behave and what could I do? Should I have rushed out and bought toilet rolls for all my neighbours? Should I have set up a TV studio in my office and started broadcasting inspirational messages across the airwaves?
In a fast-changing environment I guess I am still working out the answers to these questions and they are changing as fast as I start to grasp them. The truth is, with or without a national health crisis the thing I do best, the thing I know how to do and can be is Peter. So that is what I am doing, and it looks slightly different to what doing and being Peter looked like a month ago.
Firstly, I have rediscovered the power of personal prayer, not that my prayer is so good that I am changing the world around me, but that prayer is changing me. It is enabling me to be calmer, more peaceful and thus to be more useful to my family, friends and neighbours. Prayer is a stone which casts significant ripples. Peter prays right now.
Secondly, I am working out at home rather than the gym. As an extrovert, who gets his energy from others, this is a big deal for me. But the home workouts are helping me feel better about myself and my situation. Do I work as hard as when I visit the gym? No. Given the third thing below will I gain some weight? Quite possibly. Does that matter – not in the great scheme of things and I can tackle it at some point if I choose to. Peter works out and doesn’t add guilt to his curve.
Thirdly, biscuits! Well, strictly speaking tea and biscuits. I had forgotten how immensely comforting tea and biscuits are. Alongside drinking lots of tea and eating biscuits I am also baking. I find baking incredibly therapeutic and so that too brings a sense of calm and well-being. Peter finds time to do the things that make him feel good.
Fourthly, resisting the pressure which others put on me, or more likely I put on myself, to do and behave in certain ways. There are plenty of amazing people broadcasting worship and prayers and reflections. I do not need to add to it. I was overcome with hope and peace and pride this morning as I visited more churches in my patch than I have ever done before – via live streams, recordings, podcasts, prayer leaflets and emailed liturgies. All from the comfort of my study. Peter receives from others.
Fifthly, connecting with my neighbours via a WhatsApp group has been wonderful. I have had conversations about supporting each other, shared jokes and even been passed a recipe for hand sanitizer made from sexual lubricant! No, I am not posting this to my Facebook page! Peter does what he can to help others.
Be the person God created you to be in these testing times. Do what brings you hope and peace and calm and joy. You do you.