PCN Newsletter 26th March 2020

This is the first in a series of newsletters from PCN Britain.

PCN Newsletter 26th March 2020

The spread of the coronavirus has meant that we have all had to face restrictions, on our friendship gatherings, our social life, our work, our journeys, our contact with close family. For PCN, as you know, it has meant the cancellation of meetings and conferences.

HOWEVER our friendships have not been quarantined and we can communicate with each other by email, telephone, SKYPE, social media and the good old letter! And so we have decided to make a virtue out of necessity, to find that silver lining, by sending you (if you are happy to receive this) a regular email containing a rich variety of thoughts, stories, musings, even theological debate! And we hope you will contribute by responding with your comments, opinions, articles, light-hearted and serious, via the dedicated page of our website, our Facebook page and other ways. Some of the PCN trustees will regularly offer ideas, perhaps a poem here, a book review there. Let’s turn the enforced inactivity into an active exchange of ideas. And lets also support those who do contract this virus and need our love and friendship.

So……here is my little reflection on today…….

Waking up, turn on Radio 4, wall to wall coronavirus news, reminding me that I am now a vulnerable person since passing the Rubicon age of 70. Pah, nonsense! What about my mother, soon to be 103? But she is in lockdown in her care home and I won’t be able to sit with her for quite some time, no more Pointless at 5.15,
to watch with her. Instead I sit at home and see Boris Johnson at that time. (
just as pointless I muse).

After breakfast (and more radio 4) I paint a garden fence. I am going to have the most cared-for garden since Adam delved and Eve span. Such a beautiful spring day here in Sheffield and I glimpse the Derbyshire hills from the top of the house but being discouraged to go walking in tourist areas, I settle for more gardening. (an aside = lets share gardening tips??)

I am about to go out in the car ( its OK I am using the exception of caring for a vulnerable person i.e. mum.) The virus would surely be the end of her. The most I can do is post a letter through the box at the care home, ring a staff member who brings her to the window and we wave to each other.

On the way back through the deserted streets of the city (today 106 confirmed cases out of a population of 582,506), past the closed shops and unusually quiet pavements, I am reminded of what it was like when I was a boy in the 1950s on Good Friday. Nothing then was open save the corner shop selling the papers. Off I went to sing Matins in the church choir, the church pretty full. The Benedicite. O All ye Works of the Lord , Bless Ye the Lord…….

Did this same Lord create the coronavirus which to date has killed over 20,000 people, I wonder? It’s the kind of question my smart grandson, aged nearly 5, might ask me when we Facetime later….. Please Teddy, no awkward questions today to grandad – but my fellow PCN travellers, you might want that debate!

No doubt I will muse with you again, for now keep well.

Adrian Alker, PCN Britain Chair

News has reached us of the death of a PCN group member resulting from Coronavirus. I am sure that you will join us in offering your prayers and best wishes to the deceased’s family and also to the West Yorkshire group who have lost a good friend.

I’ve learned a lot about life from doing the laundry.

It’s a daily practise that has taught me about the power of hope, how to cope with despair, the perils of being over optimistic, the importance of checking the weather forecast, and the marvellous kindness of strangers. Actually it hasn’t taught me anything about the kindness of strangers, I’m making that up. Mainly, the laundry has taught me about the importance of getting on with the stuff of every day life.

We keep our laundry basket in the bathroom, and sometimes I go in there and find myself facing a basket stuffed full of muddy clothes - a chilling sight. Enough to strike fear in to the heart of the bodest among us.

When I begin to tackle it, breaking it down into loads, separating out delicate fabrics and light colours, I tell myself that I’m making progress, that I’ll triumph. But then I return to the bathroom the next day, and as if by magic, the basket is full again. Extraordinary. Devastating. Temporary.

The thing about the laundry is that it’s constant, it’s always ongoing. But every now and then, I have another breakthrough, I get to the bottom of the basket again, and when I do I feel hope surge through me. Of course the wretched thing soon fills up again, and back to work I go, because that’s life isnt it: the constant work of hope in the face of the apparently inevitable.

There is no miracle solution to laundry (other than staff - and we’re just not that sort of household) just as there’s no magic wand which we can wave to get rid of the bigger trials of life. Our challenge is to keep returning to the laundry basket, keep sorting the clothes, and keep hoping for good drying days.

Simon Cross:
PCN trustee & Laundry slave

Two weeks before Christmas I had an exceedingly odd few hours. They started with a visit to my optician as I had developed a painful eye infection and ended with me collecting my daughter from her nursery Christmas party. In between these two events I found myself sitting in Gloucester Royal Hospital being told that I probably had cancer in my eye, the consultant said very gently to me “Don’t dwell on it and don’t let it ruin your Christmas.” At the time this seemed to be the most absurd thing to say, how could I not dwell on it?

And so I set off home with this news swirling around in my head and went to collect my daughter. She was having a wonderful time, attempting to steal chocolate biscuits from unattended plates and screaming with laughter at everything and nothing in particular. This was her first big party and she was delighted by it all.

In the weeks that followed I had to learn to live with that nagging sense of being unsettled, of not knowing what the future holds. It is very much the same sensation that I have now and I learned one main lesson from that time. The future is not a given, it is a promise that may or may not be kept.

Last Christmas I made sure that I was truly present with my family, when we decorated the tree, when we opened gifts and even when my daughter decided that it was all too much for her and had a sobbing fit on Christmas Day. When you have no certainty about your future you hold on to the present, use it to ground yourself. The consultant was right, fighting that which you cannot change and throwing your energy into anger and self-pity is not helpful. That is not to say that I was an angel, the stress resulted in plenty of tears but for me that was an important part of acceptance. In these peculiar times I am making sure that the future with its as yet unfulfilled promises and its insecurities do not weigh too heavily upon me, I have now and it is enough.

Today my daughter played on her slide and then we sat and read a book, tomorrow will bring what it brings but for now there are another fifteen Poppy and Sam stories in that book and I think she wants them all before bedtime.

Stay well,


Administrator, PCN Britain

PS. The cancer diagnosis was confirmed in January but thanks to the marvels of the NHS I have already completed my treatment and my prognosis is excellent.


1 On 27/03/2020 Martin Tilley wrote:

Adrian Alker asks the question ‘Did God create the coronavirus?’ Well, if God created the world then God created the coronavirus or at least set up the process for viruses to mutate. It’s a part of life and a part that we resist very strongly. Medical science is driven to find cures for everything that comes along. Natural but I suspect counter-productive. Each time we find a cure we allow people to survive who would have died because of some ‘weakness’ in their system. By allowing that ‘weakness’ to continue we weaken the population. Other animals die when they are no longer fit and their populations in general stay in balance with the rest of creation. Humans on the other hand are becoming more and more out of balance and the result is the extinction of species, scarce resources and global warming. I contend that we are doing it all wrong and must pray very hard indeed for guidance.
Martin Tilley, Bury St. Edmunds.

2 On 27/03/2020 John Hack wrote:

Very many thanks Adrian, Simon and Sarah for starting this newsletter.  One immediate comment at this time of “lockdown”.  I have always been struck by the irony in life, in the biblical stories and (perhaps) in some of the reported sayings of Jesus.  We are rightly concerned about the loss of life through the current plague, and prayers go out to all those affected. 

The irony is that I have just learned of the death of a very dear friend today from cancer. This is the third such loss in recent months of those my wife and I have known for very many years.  It reminds me not only of the supposed randomness of mortality but our inadequacies in helping bereaved family members.  Apart from offering any practical help and a listening ear, I would normally have offered thoughts more generally at attendance at a Eucharist, that being the centre of my prayer life.

However, the churches are shut (they could be less crowded than supermarkets, so I don’t understand this) and the prospect of being able to attend a Eucharist, let alone participate, seems weeks away.  When the current crisis has passed, leaving whatever trail of destruction in its path, perhaps there needs to be a wider conversation about the role of “church” and spirituality generally, particularly the meaning of those parts of life that have “outward expressions and inner meanings”, and a reformulation of ancient practices to fit the “virtual” age.
John Hack,  Woking

3 On 30/03/2020 Adrian Alker wrote:

Thanks for your response Martin to my question whether ‘God’ created the coronavirus. If we posit the notion of a creator God and continue to think of God as loving, compassionate and other characteristics which the Christian tradition bestow, how does this then make sense in the face of suffering? Back to theodicy and the age old questions of a belief in God and the presence of evil.

If viruses are just part of the natural world, are you suggesting that we should not have recourse to scientific development to eliminiate the viruses? And some might see the hand of God in the skill of such scientists…

John - I guess the Christian tradition offers us many approaches to help and support others at times of grief and loss. Some find the eucharist important, others will find prayer at home accompanied by the impulse of love and compassion leading to phone calls and other ways of communicating. I do think post - virus that all kinds of new ideas and approaches will emerge.


4 On 02/04/2020 Fred Pink wrote:

This is an informative article from the Church Times.  The author’s name and qualifications appear at the end.

WHY would God create something, or perhaps allow something to evolve, which causes such distress and suffering? I would argue: because viruses have a positive part to play in nature, and their ability to harm humans is a side effect of this.
Viruses are non-living entities that depend on their ability to hijack other cells to replicate. On their own, they cannot do the things that living beings do: grow, change, reproduce.
There are billions of types of virus out there: most of them are bacteriophages, which infect bacteria. So, why did God make viruses?
Bacteria and viruses are essential for life on earth; there are billions of types of bacteria, many of which can take inorganic compounds and turn them into a form that living things can use. But the compounds are trapped inside the bacterial cell. The bacteriophage viruses attack the bacteria, splitting them open and releasing these nutrients.
Bacteriophage viruses are also important in controlling the bacteria population. Bacteria divide into two every 20 minutes: unchecked, the earth would be filled with bacteria; so the ’phages are part of God’s balanced ecosystem.
Now that we can look at DNA in detail, we can see that many types of plant and animal have viruses in them. Often, the viruses are helping the plant or animal: for example, viral-infected mice are more resistant to some bacteria. All of us have viruses living in us, along with many types of bacteria — in our gut and on our skin — which are important for our continuing health.
Many of the viruses that cause human disease originated in another species, and crossed the species barrier: HIV seems to have come from a Simian (monkey) virus, and SARS from bats.
Some viruses that cause illness in humans were probably in a balanced symbiotic relationship with their intended host.
Viruses can be used by scientists in a positive, redemptive way. Our understanding of genetics, of how cells work, and how we can alter DNA and cells’ machinery are possible only because of viruses. Genetic testing and genetic treatments rely on viruses that cut DNA strands in precise places.
Viruses are a natural part of God’s good creation, and are important in cycles of death and decay, a tiny percentage of which can cause human disease.

The Revd Dr Alison J. Gray is Priest Associate at the Ascension, Munich, and a formal medical doctor. She chairs the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spirituality and psychiatry special-interest group.

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