How lockdown has strengthened communities this Easter – Bishop of Ripon

SPARE a thought for the Australian bird, the Regent honeyeater. It’s forgotten its song, according to a recent news report.

Easter remains a time of great symbolism - even in lockdown. Photo: James Hardisty.

Due to depopulation, this sweet-named feathered friend doesn’t have companions it can learn its song from. It has taken on the songs of other birds, and that’s not good news.

Male birds use their song to help identify territory, and female birds assess the quality of a potential mate via his song (sounds like a potential TV show to me).

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Help is on hand however, thanks to a university project working with young captive birds by playing them sound recordings of wild birds before they are released back into their natural habitat.

The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.

I might not be a captive bird, but I have been living through lockdown for what seems like forever.

Gradually however, we are being released back into a world that has been changed forever by the pandemic.

Familiar and taken-for-granted ways of relating with each other which relied upon closeness and proximity, have been replaced by face-masks, distancing and caution.

I shared a light moment with a colleague the other day who was on his way to take a service, wondering if he would be able to remember what to do!

The Bishop of Ripon reflects on lockdown life in her Easter message.

Like the honeyeater bird, I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to sing our song?

This is made all the more a poignant question given that communal singing is something we haven’t been able to do for the past year.

Outdoor singing is now permitted (provided distancing is still observed), and that’s progress, but I do long for joining in with a rousing Easter hymn.

That will come next year, I hope.

Holy Saturday as Christians name this day is an in-between day which carries a weighty absence.

It’s not Good Friday, and it’s not Easter Day.

To go back to that first Easter, at this point in the narrative, Jesus is dead.

His close friends have mostly abandoned him due to their own fear. Only a few remain to keep watch over his grave. There’s nothing to do except attend to the rituals for the dead.

Yet, at this point, we are waiting for the bit we know comes next: the resurrection.

I’ve heard the pandemic experience described as an extended Holy Saturday; living with anxiety, uncertainty and grief has been incredibly tough for many people and communities.

There hasn’t been much joy, it seems. Yet, in the midst of everything that has happened this past year, we have seen kindness, compassion and a profound appreciation for people and neighbours we might not have viewed with such thought before.

This landscape of despair and hope has also exposed serious inequalities in our social care system, with particular communities far more vulnerable to illness and death.

All that on top of Brexit and talk of nationalism amongst the nations that make up the UK.

It’s a toxic mess, to put it bluntly.

I wonder if part of the way of knitting back together our fractured lives comes through the power of a story?

In the immensely fast-paced ITV Saturday evening show Saturday Night Takeaway, as that impressively energetic northern duo Ant and Dec tell people they’ve been nominated to win a holiday, what often stops me in my tracks is a glimpse of the story that lies behind why that person deserves a break.

The common thread is that in different ways, they have each thought of others before themselves.

It’s as simple as that. Telling a story can be compelling, but it’s not the telling that matters as much as what is heard by the person listening.

In a way, I’m changed by knowing what someone has done for their local community, often in such self-giving ways.

Perhaps you can think of some examples local to you? Perhaps you’re that person who has gone the extra mile for someone you know, or perhaps don’t even know?

From my now over-familiar daily view at my desk in-between Zooms, I’ve noticed the changing seasons outside my window.

Our neighbours have moved house, and a new family has arrived with joyful twins who love nothing more than being outdoors, playing and helping their parents with garden tasks.

Perhaps I have appreciated this more than I would have done before this crisis began, I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that thought is true.

At the moment, my Holy Saturday involves another kind of waiting: for my turn to receive the vaccine.

When it comes I know I will rejoice. There is hope tomorrow. I will find my song again. Happy (almost) Easter!

The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon

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