There has been much said and written recently about changes that are coming as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown. However, I feel I cannot be the first to observe that, beyond the practical detail, this is a time of profound social change. We will emerge from our domestic bunkers to find a world looking very much like the one we remember, but it will be possible to miss at first the scale of social change that has been happening under the surface.
I have been writing a book, during the lockdown, about the major (Christian) Revivals that have happened in the United Kingdom. That has led me into many details of revivals from the past. Times of local or shared trauma, such as cholera epidemics, have invariably been followed by local revivals.
It seems unsurprising that the possibility of the imminent death of oneself or loved ones leads many people to start asking the big questions of life. Some cynics may remain their cynical selves, but many others at such a time of trauma start looking for reliable answers to their questions about life. I suggest there is good reason for thinking that this is being repeated now.
The nation has had to celebrate more than once recently about the role of Winston Churchill in the Second World War, and I have been learning some new things from reading God and Churchill, by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, which I warmly recommend.
However, the party orientation of so much our politics means that we do not so easily remember to celebrate the achievements of Churchill’s coalition government during the war. They started planning together, while the war was still raging, for the peace that would follow.
The biggest product of the government’s joint planning was the Education Act of 1944, which was a very important and farsighted piece of legislation for the next few decades. I think we need to get planning for ‘the peace’ after the lockdown is fully over, and not just focusing on the lesser details of what it may or may not be like.
Those who will be most influenced by social change at the moment will probably be the under 12s, the generation that in any era does not have the luxury of mentally processing everything and is therefore most liable just to absorb the prevailing environment. That is not all bad news either, because many of these young ones will have had more attention from their parents in recent months than others alive today. Grandparents may have been heard too, if not seen.
We understandably focus on the minority of children for whom it has definitely not been a helpful or educational experience to be cooped up with one or both parents, but those unfortunate children are probably not the ones most likely to set the culture of their generation.
Parents generally do not have the same priorities and do not reward the same kind of performance as teachers (I speak as one who has inside knowledge of being both). Most of these children will always remember these months, because so much has been unique in their experience.
The actual impact of social change this time may be noticed and felt by adults before their children, especially as some are likely to lose their jobs and livelihoods.
In lockdown, many of us have become familiar with showing up to meetings without actually being there. This alone presents the potential for change relating to: friendship patterns, possible new jobs and roles, promotion, travel to work, effects on the environment, workplace norms, learning, geographical range, our range of influence, and ready access to other people who previously seemed remote. It represents an exciting set of opportunities in both secular and spiritual terms.
There is room, I suggest, for thriving and not just surviving in the new social environment that is still developing around us. I hope this provokes a train of thought and discussion.