FAITH MATTERS: Nourishment in a Pandemic

In this week's Faith Matters, Rev. Christine Sheppard OAM reflects on how maintaining her faith journey nourishes her during lockdown, especially when access to Eucharist is limited.

Recently, I asked the women in my gym class over post gym coffee, "what nourishes you during the pandemic?"

These were the answers: "Being kind to oneself; keeping connections with others; maintaining health routines like breast screening; sharing lemons and limes."

As I told them, I was preparing a homily for the August Gospel of John 6 reading and wanted to include their ideas. To their list, I added "maintaining my faith journey".

I have been inspired to think about Nourishment in Pandemic because of a recently published book, about a heroine of mine, Julian of Norwich. The Book is Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a time of Pandemic- and Beyond by Matthew Fox. Fox is a former Dominican, now Episcopalian Priest, in the US.

I first met Julian of Norwich, who was born in 1342, when I read a passage from her writing in a 1977 book published in Australia by Bishop David Walker, God is a Sea. She lived through the plague, which Fox describes as "COVID on steroids ". I have been fortunate to visit her reconstructed cell attached to a Church in the City of Norwich, England.

I came to Christian faith in an ordinary Newcastle suburban church in an "ordinary" Holy Communion Service. But in that ordinariness, came the extraordinary! I was changed, in the simple act of having bread put into my hand. Jesus had changed me. I had no sense of having to believe a series of theological statements, some years later, I was baptised and confirmed.

Julian of Norwich spoke of a God, who loved, not condemned. She rejected ideas like Original Sin, and that Jesus death was an atonement for sin.

Knowing that we are profoundly loved by God, a God who loves us as if we are the only ones to be loved, nourishes me during Pandemic times, especially when access to Eucharist is limited.

Since I was ordained as a Uniting Church Minister, in 1987, my theology has deepened and changed.

But, the amazement of meeting Jesus for the first time, in that act of receiving Bread hasn't left me and, I have been graced by the opportunities to learn from others, throughout my life.

My Dad, as a non-practising Methodist, was active in St Vincent de Paul from 1965 until his death in 1981.

My dear husband, Warren, who died in 2020, was a practising Catholic, active in Pastoral Ministries and together we lived an amazing Inter Church life, with our daughter, Sarah.

Warren and I were able to share this Inter Church life when we were invited to join the Ecumenical and Interfaith Council of Diocese of Maitland Newcastle, which I currently chair.

During this Pandemic, I have been nourished by others on the journey- and I am grateful.

I have, in the last weeks, rediscovered Carey Landry 's song, We are Companions on the Journey, and that phrase that he concludes with "for the love we bear, is the hope we share, for we believe in the love of our God.” No, I can't go to gym; no, I can't have coffee with my gym friends; no, I can't celebrate Eucharist with local faith communities.

But as Companions on the Journey says, God's love is still with us.

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Reverend Christine Sheppard OAM Image
Reverend Christine Sheppard OAM

Christine Sheppard OAM is the Chairperson, Ecumenical and Interfaith Council, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.