Church of England Diocese of Winchester Barton Stacey and Bullington

Pandemic Haves & Have Nots

27 Jun 2021, 8:30 p.m.

Bridging the Gap 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15

As we continue to muddle along, as best we can, through the pandemic – constantly looking over our shoulders in fear of the impact of this next wave of the latest variant of coronavirus that is now sweeping across our world – so questions become clear about the disparities between the haves and the have nots. Our own government acted judiciously and with speed in funding research into vaccines and in procuring enough vaccine to immunise the whole of our country’s population. And it has to be said that the roll-out programme, and all the logistics that that has involved, has been a huge success not least because so many have stepped forward to volunteer their time and energies in the name of community well-being. All of this has to be lauded and praised, from neighbours helping each other through periods of isolation during lockdowns to nurses and doctors working in war-zone conditions in our hospitals, to scientists applying their knowledge to thinking out of the box in attempts to wrestle the virus to the ground, to government ministers at the very top echelons of power making very, very difficult decisions that have affected and continue to affect the lives of millions of people and the quality of our everyday life.

But if there is one thing that we who live in this country are grateful for above all else, it is that despite the failures - and there have been some serious failures along the way, not least in our care homes - it is that we happen to be in this place at this time. And for us as Christian people that is to acknowledge the grace of God in giving to us who live here, a rich resource of blessing.

My own family, live in Johannesburg, and for the people who live in South Africa the present time poses a different experience. Accessing the vaccine is near impossible for many people in Johannesburg as the third wave of the virus hits hard, putting thousands at risk of dying. It has to be acknowledged that a poorly resourced state healthcare system for those who can’t afford private medical aid and endemic corruption are symptoms of a system sliding into ever deeper chaos. Even so, here’s a thing, not surprisingly perhaps, but the pandemic is highlighting the difference between the rich and the poor. Not just in terms of rich people and poor people but between rich countries and poor countries. It was ever thus - except that coronavirus has brought to the fore, in perhaps more stark terms than we have felt for quite some time, that we are only safe in a pandemic situation when we are all safe and so, in that sense, we are all invested as the whole human family in the well-being of each other, whoever you are and wherever you live. Charities like VaccinAid and others are doing their best to help bridge the gap – but the gap is wide – and in many places, the vulnerable are left feeling forgotten.

The quest to access the vaccine across nation-states is one thing. But closer to home and embedded within our own village communities there is another disparity that we are only now beginning to wrestle with, and which will, I fear, have longer-term consequences for us as a nation, and that is the impact that the pandemic has had on the education of our children. Within our own village primary schools what is now becoming more apparent is that quite a lot of children have not fared well during lockdown. Many children have braved online learning and through the valiant attempts of their exhausted teachers and parents have kept up with their education but for many thousands of children online learning has been more than a struggle. One of the costs of trying to keep everyone safe from the virus has undoubtedly been a severe impact on those children who struggle to focus without the face-to-face support of their teachers and classroom assistants. The long-term consequences, for what I suspect may well become known as the ‘pandemic generation’, will follow some of our young people all the way through the education system up to university level and into employment. What are we to do? What do we need to do now to help and support those who fall in the camp of the ‘have nots’ both overseas and here at home?

St Paul, writing in his second letter to the Corinthian Church in Greece appeals for help on behalf of the financially struggling church community in Jerusalem. The Church in Jerusalem might well have been the spiritual home of the Early Church, but it was shrouded in relative poverty, unlike the bustling centre of Corinth, which stood and stands even today as an important shipping and mercantile centre. The Corinthian Church with a wealthier congregation benefitted as a result. Paul says to the Corinthian Church, ‘you have' and the Church in Jerusalem ‘does not have.’ The Church in Jerusalem is spiritually rich; this is true and let’s not forget that without the Church in Jerusalem there would be no Church at all. So, a reminder from Paul that the Church in Corinth exists because the Church in Jerusalem existed first. But now it is time for the Church in Corinth to help the Church in Jerusalem. Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that generosity is modelled on the understanding that whatever we have is a gift from God. God himself, who is rich beyond all measure, has given himself to us in Christ Jesus. This gift of salvation is a blessing to us and is one which we in turn are compelled to share with others. But not just the message of salvation; we are equally called to share generously what we have with those who do not have. In our own day – to share with those less well off than ourselves by supporting those charities working hard to address the imbalance that many in poorer countries are experiencing when it comes to accessing the coronavirus vaccine. And when it comes to our children and our grandchildren – and maybe grandparents have a particular role in this - to support wherever we can those whom we know and love and who now need some extra support with their learning. Lots of children have fallen behind with their reading and their spelling and their maths. Don’t assume that because children are back in school everything is back to normal. Not true. So, be brave, ask the question. ‘Can I help with reading or spelling or doing some practice with sums.’ It might just be the most generous gift that you can share right now – giving of your time and patience in helping a child catch up. Nationally, it is going to be a huge challenge.

As St Paul writes, “… it’s a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need… The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” Those are challenging words for all of us right now. But perhaps it is right that we journey with them at the forefront of our minds.

Revd Mark Bailey