They were always heroes, and always will be
As we prepare to Clap for our Carers again this week, Andy Bryant reminds us that these essential members of society will still be caring for us after the clapping falls silent.
Anyone who has had a family member cared for by the NHS or who regularly visits in hospitals knew, long before we had heard of Covid-19, that our hospital staff were heroes. And not just the doctors and nurses but all the ancillary staff too.
Anyone who has had a family member in a care home or who regularly visits in care homes knew, long before the public became familiar with phrases like PPE and SAGE, that our care home staff and home carers are heroes. And also, the myriad of volunteers who support care in the community.
Anyone who has visited a supermarket, received post at home, had their bins emptied, and benefitted from the full range of services that sustain our lives knew, long before the phrase key workers became part of our common language, that these are heroes too. And not just the workers that we see but all those working behind the scenes and in more distant supply chains.
The problem is that we had become forgetful. We had allowed ourselves to become distracted. Instead we had allowed ourselves to be drawn toward the world of celebrity and of social media influencers. We were mesmerised by the salaries paid to footballers and media stars. We had fallen for the delusion that the size of a salary or the number of followers on social media somehow defined who was really important.
This was the ultimate fake news with which we all colluded. It turns out, when our backs are really against the wall, that the people who were drawing all our attention are not important at all. The people we need, that our very lives depend on, are more likely to be invisible, who we pass by on the streets without a second glance.
Tragically the Church has succumbed to the same forgetfulness. Our attention is being endlessly drawn to the latest whizzy initiative. The “super” churches are held up as examples for us to follow. The limelight is on Archbishops and Bishops or those with titles like Very, Venerable, Canon, Prebendary, with the presumption that that makes them somehow important or extra worth listening to.
Yet we have forgotten that the real heart of the Church of England is the parish, with its faithful priest and committed laity, regardless of their age or their number. Quietly, day in and day out, maintaining Christian witness and service in every community in our land. These are the unsung, and too often forgotten, heroes of the Church, the true salt of the earth, the real lights shining in the darkness.
The use of the term heroes is our way of trying to give honour to those whose work we realise is especially important and to be a sign of our thanks. But the label hero can, if we are not careful, become a burden. Placing people on pedestals is rarely helpful and we do not like it when we discover they have feet of clay.
All of those we currently gather to applaud each Thursday night are very ordinary, fallible human beings. They have no superpower apart from their humanity. All each of them is trying to do is give of their best and it is this that makes them beautiful. It is in being fully human that they are at their most wonderful. It is a lesson for us all, that when we give of our best, the world is enriched in ways beyond measure.
Some have suggested that during this time of pandemic NHS workers should receive extra pay as soldiers do when on active service. Others have suggested that when this pandemic is over, they should receive a special medal. The motivation behind such ideas is nothing but good, but there is a fundamental flaw in such thinking. Before Covid-19 and after Covid-19 our NHS and care sector staff, and all key workers, were and will remain on active service.
In the present emergency we have been awoken from our forgetfulness and become aware of all they do, but they are not doing a new thing. They are doing what they have always done and will continue to do long after the lockdown is just a distant memory. One day #clapforcarers will fall silent – what then?
At the end of the First World War Lloyd George promised a land fit for heroes and proposed significant changes to housing, health care and welfare. Spanish Flu and economic troubles limited what he could achieve. In our own time what would a land fit for heroes look like? When the attention on Covid-19 fades, when we are released from lockdown, when the financial consequences have to be faced, what then for the heroes of the hour?
You could be forgiven for not realising because of the way the Church sometimes behaves, but Christians are a people of the Magnificat committed to lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. We are the people of the Beatitudes who proclaim that the poor in spirit, the meek and the merciful are especially blessed and will inherit the earth. Our inspiration is the life of the One who spent his time with the marginalised, the overlooked and excluded and whose harshest words were for the those with power and influence.
There is much talk of what life will be like post lockdown, the things we hope will change, the things we want to be different. If #clapforcarers is to have had any meaning then going forward our NHS and care sector staff, and all key workers, need to remain at the centre of who we are as a society, supported by appropriate pay and resources. We must not allow ourselves to grow once again forgetful or be dazzled by fake glitz and glamour. It is time, together, to make the vision of the Magnificat and the Beatitudes a reality.
#clapforcarers must not be a one pandemic wonder but the beginning of a real revolution that challenges the very values and priorities by which we live, so that post-lockdown Britain really will be different.
Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash,com
The Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users.