The epidemic arrived from the East. The was plenty of warning. We saw it happening but chose to ignore it until it had arrived. We didn’t react fast enough. There was denial, there was reluctance to suffer the economic consequences of trade disruption. We didn’t worry, and we risked the lives of the most vulnerable in society. As a result 402 people in my home city of Sheffield died in the cholera epidemic of 1832. There is a memorial which stands above the city and reminds us of this dark hour, a time marked by fear.
Today the disease has changed but we feel the same fear. It separates us. We need to avoid human contact, but we need to resist being stripped of our humanity. We have lost control; of our ourselves as we fight over toilet paper in the supermarket, of our lives as we face something we can’t fix. But we do have a choice. We can act. We can take the boringly simple precautions which should restrict the spread of the virus. We can retain our humanity by acting not out of fear but in love. You can touch people with your generosity from a safe distance. Say hello, pick up the phone, make contact, and if you are lucky enough not to need to stay at home run an errand, help someone. Don’t wash your hands of others. Reach out. We do have control of how we respond to this. It will change society. Let’s make it a change for the better. It will change the church too. We need to learn new ways of being church, of being together when we cannot be, of worshipping together apart, and of serving our communities without walls.
Sheffield’s cholera memorial is unmissable. Less well known but much more significant, is this, the beginnings of the public drainage system. This drain cover is near our house. It was put in place by the Local Board of Health established in 1832 to deal with the cholera outbreak. It may be less magnificent than the towering memorial, but it has made much more difference to the world. The response to cholera was to improve the lives and health of our whole nation. May our response today give hope to each of us, and change the world.
God of love,
Hold your people close.
Show us new ways to serve in these strange times.
Teach us how to be your body today.
When we are isolated, remind us we are not alone.
When we are afraid, give us courage.
When we despair, show us hope.
When we grieve, comfort us.
And keep us strong in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from your love
In Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rev Fran Kissack
Images – Fran’s own