Since the lockdown began in mid-March, the community in and around St John's Waterloo has made a point of staying in touch digitally.
How? They've started their very own daily coffee meetings and pub afternoons. We invited Scott Berwick and Georgie Bell to tell us how this is all going on!
Georgie is currently in the West Country and Scott lives in SE1 but the physical distance has been surprisingly manageable since all social contact has now been moved to online.
Here, Scott recounts setting up the community pub:
I had lost my job early in the crisis, 10 days before the lockdown and was feeling isolated. I had turned my hand to cleaning at the church and then that had gone too, I wasn’t feeling good at all and duly downloaded Zoom along with the others to see if it could work at all.
After a few digital teething troubles it gave the community a chance to meet and share their thoughts on the crisis.
We found we needed that, and we weren’t the only ones. Mostly people just wanted to talk; the community that binds us had been holstered and people felt it, I felt it and I could see the need for an outside church platform where people could talk away from any formality.
So I set up the “pub” - I posted the Zoom meeting link on Facebook and my wife shared it with the church community. ‘Coffee, Chat, Prayer’ started, similarly, with the church and to meet up when we needed contact.
We have found that both fulfil a need; people really needed to talk, some in absolute lockdown and isolation, some in fear of what was outside, but people needed to talk. Eventually, as the differing tech opportunities arose, that was replaced with people simply wanting to talk but in a different setting.
There were no rules in the pub, you could say what you wanted, you didn’t even need to bring a ‘drink’. What I didn’t expect was that people found it really difficult to listen. There was a great deal of turn taking and patience as people would need to be able to (a) use the equipment and (b) wait for someone else to have their say, and at the start this proved tricky! I can say this has mostly been overcome and good deep conversations happen, sometimes long into the morning. And that’s OK! I don’t exactly have to get up for work now!
‘Coffee, Chat, Prayer’ has a tighter time-frame, as befits a coffee break. Kate and Al, two blind computer-users, say "it’s great: no doors to locate or roads to cross..just a click and, hey presto, St John’s has come round to coffee."
We meet from Northants, Sussex, South Africa, Balham, Vauxhall, Devon and beyond. We discuss the availability of white spirit and weird vegetables, high (and low) culture on TV – hopes, dreams and sadness. We share cleaning tips (some people are polishing ornaments they never knew they had!) and plant-growing wisdom. We talk about our health – physical and mental – and our prescriptions (a strange openness when you are physically separated – why is that?). We meet for this at 11am, with tea or coffee at hand, and when everyone is checked in and ‘chat’ turns to particular concerns, someone brings a ‘thought for the day’ or reads a psalm or poem – and we spend about 10 minutes praying together before calling time with the lovely sonorous ring of the Buddhist bowl.
As Ken says, this call to prayer reminds us we are part of a worldwide community, even when we are alone. Then we go back to our own projects and coffee break is over.
Cups and mugs, illustrated, tell their own stories, of which another time…