On 8 May we celebrated Julian of Norwich and the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Both fell under the shadow of the corona virus.There’s a theme of opportunity and crisis which draws the three together.
Julian lived in a cell attached to the church of St Julian in Norwich. From one window she could watch the Mass being celebrated. Another window looked out onto the street from where people would come seeking her guidance and advice. She was writing in the early 1400’s but reflecting upon earlier visions during a time of plague which brought fear and huge upheaval in society and church. Incredibly, at this time, she wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. She referred to God as the “ground of our beseeching”; God is the desire within us and the inspirer of our will. When she had her vision, all could not be well for people, many would die prematurely, businesses and farms would fail and priests were particularly badly hit, bringing comfort to plague victims. However, there were positive transformations: serfdom ended, as a consequence of labour shortages; and the church was renewed, especially in her convents and monasteries.
The end of war in 1945 also transformed society. So many had sacrificed so much and it was clear that health could no longer be the privilege of the monied classes and a basic standard of living was needed for all. As the pain was felt across the nation, so a new national social contract must emerge. Both the National Health Service and the Welfare State have their roots in the conflict with Nazi Germany. The horror of war necessitated the building of a just peace. “All shall be well”, not because the pain of grief and injury was to be forgotten, but because a new model of society emerged from the rubble and heroism.
Today, with the lockdown and disruption of the corona virus, we could be on a similar social cusp. There is fear for lives, jobs, education, mental wellbeing and future prospects. Also, the fear is different across the generations: older people are disproportionately at mortal risk; younger people have their education, job prospects, future pensions and ability to buy property profoundly impacted. This contemporary social upheaval may lead to greater equity across generations and communities or it can reenforce the privilege of those who are already secure. The proper recognition of our front line workers is a priority be they NHS, bus drivers, care home workers or food retailers. Could this also be a time to rediscover that: globalisation could be less about the market and more about health and the environment; that lack of opportunities among our young people affects the future of us all; and inequalities across our communities undermines the wellbeing of all the nation?
Can a parish with five livery halls, offer a model of community building on education, craft, association and charitable endeavour? A tradition which has weathered several plagues, can look beyond this pandemic with the gift of hope, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” The livery movement was reimagined after 1945, it can be part the reimagined future of us all.