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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2021

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I want a transformed, improved, new abnormal’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I want a transformed, improved, new abnormal’

Paul Kerensa asks: ‘Covid: Should I change the subject?’

Read me! For I am an article that craves your attention.

But here’s a dilemma. To hold that attention, should I talk about these Covid times, or ignore them? Do you want to read a pandemic polemic or a distracting palate cleanser?

I doubt anyone’s noticed, but over the past few issues I’ve tried to alternate between pandemicky and non-pandemicky articles. I ask myself what I want to read – and the answer is a bit of both.

To talk about Covid or not to talk about Covid, that is the question. (To paraphrase Basil Fawlty, I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.) In my own downtime, I sometimes want to dwell on the virus, sometimes to disappear into nostalgia. My two most-watched channels are BBC News and ITV3. I recommended the ‘No news after ten o’clock’ rule that we enforced in the first lockdown. Sorry Huw Edwards, much as we love you, we don’t want to go to bed on your grim tidings. Instead, we follow the News at Six with Marple, Poirot and Endeavour to drift back to yesteryear. (I’m aware of the irony that my happy place involves solving fictitious murders. Apparently, it’s nice to take a break from the grisly news by watching Martine McCutcheon crushed by a giant block of Midsomer blue cheese.)

I wonder if churches have a similar dilemma about where to focus. Should sermons and small group studies reflect the pandemic? It seems that most choose not to, and I can see the value in business as usual. We’ve had enough changes. Churches that have moved services online may not wish to alter too much else. Perhaps, though, in the detail of our church talks or small group discussions, there’s room to talk about post-pandemic living, how we can improve beyond this, or how we can help isolated individuals re-engage with society.

Our church recently had a series following Nehemiah. I don’t know whether that was always the plan, but it tied in well with notions of rebuilding after a crisis. I’m no politician, so I won’t say: ‘Build back better’, but that idea was certainly there. Contrast that with a talk I saw online that also drew on the Covid crisis, but pointed the finger, saying physical ailments stem from sinfulness and spiritual lack. It was a less encouraging take on the global crisis.

St Paul wrote to an isolated and fractured early church, urging Thessalonians to encourage one another, Romans to build up their neighbours, and Hebrews, perhaps, to spur one another on in good deeds.

There are many responses to today’s troubled world. That curse of a saying leaps to mind: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Well, we do, and I wish we didn’t, but here we are. I feel I should know the news, bad and good. It’s encouraging to hear about the incredible vaccine rollout, the celebrations of heroes and geniuses, plus I heartily recommend post-Covid documentaries like

Radio 4’s Inside Health. And, of course, celebrate the best news of all, the good news of the gospel, beyond this broken world.

As Christians, we’re in the business of hope. As a comedian, I’m also in the business of entertainment. So I welcome a happy medium between distraction and discussion. I don’t want a new normal, I want a transformed, improved, new abnormal, that starts to feel right.

I may disappear into a Poirot now and then, but perhaps there’s also a time and a place to talk about how we socially rebuild after this – and perhaps that time is now and that place is here.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and radio broadcaster

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This article was published in the June 2021 edition of Reform

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