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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

15 April 2020: Rev'd John Owen, Vicar of Steep and Froxfield with Privett

Rev'd John Owen - Vicar of Steep and Froxfield with PrivettThe importance of care, kindness and concern

“It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it was immediately said he had the plague; and though I had indeed no symptoms of that distemper, yet being very ill, both in my head and in my stomach, I was not without apprehension that I really was infected; but in about three days I grew better; the third night I rested well...and was much refreshed ...and I went about my business as usual.’’

Daniel Defoe’s ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’ was first published in 1722, and imaginatively recreated the events of the Great Plague of London in 1665, in the form of a memoir. It was so convincingly written that many readers thought it was the real thing. Defoe captured much that actually happened: the panic buying, the unwillingness to self-isolate, the prophecies of doom which circulated through gossip. He also captured the more admirable responses of those who were on the front-line of fighting the pestilence and who “went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage”.

Defoe shows a city which comes through the plague with a mixture of endurance, muddle and stoicism. He doesn’t see heroes everywhere and he is realistic about human selfishness. Defoe was an optimist who believed in the importance of living well in community. It was the collective life, he felt, which was the most satisfying and fulfilling one.

Today’s church recognises that living in community and sharing common values does a huge amount for our mental health and well-being. The support being shown locally in the community for those who are isolated in their homes because of the pandemic is a good sign of those things which keep us together in uncertain times. The small acts of decency, respect and kindness to our neighbours are the things which define us, and these will endure when COVID-19 becomes a distant memory. Community, in the New Testament, is close to the heart of God. It can therefore be a taste of Easter, and a reminder that in times of great anxiety and uncertainty, there are new shoots of resilience and of hope springing up amongst us.

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