The realisation in March that we were heading for an extended period of lockdown and confinement was initially rather disorientating. For one thing, I am a social being: I like people, I enjoy being with them and I thrive on sharing ideas and getting responses. For another, I’m a mobile person. I’ve spent a lot of time in planes and oversee a very active ministry – the Philo Trust – with colleagues and commitments, plans and programmes.
Given all this you can understand that, suddenly facing the lockdown, I felt concerned that I was going to be pinned down at home. Indeed, in the first few days of lockdown I saw seven months of planned meetings vanish from my schedule as fast as toilet rolls from the local supermarket!
Now, looking back, I’m happy and grateful – my dustbin has been out more than me – but my wife Killy and I have been busier these last four months than at any other time in our forty years of ministry. Indeed, it may sound strange, but I feel that we have not just survived but thrived.
Before I say a little bit about my own experience of being helped through this difficult period, let me say that I’m aware that for some of you this has been a very hard time, full of fears, troubles and quite possibly grief. You have my sympathies and empathy.
Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I’ve found this time of isolation to be both fulfilling and fruitful. In terms of ministry, Killy and I were able speak at conferences and churches in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, the USA and all over the UK by zoom and live-streaming. On Killy’s suggestion, I began a one-minute long ‘Daily Word’ video and have now filmed over a hundred of them – incredibly they have had over a million views across social media. I began a new series on GOD TV entitled J.John on Sundays that is now being viewed globally. I’ve been involved in broadcasting into every UK prison and have done all sorts of interviews and broadcasts on Christian and secular media. There’s a new weekly podcast and a Bible-study plan on the YouVersion Bible app. Lockdown has not just simply enabled us to do more, it’s also allowed us to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. So, for example, on Pentecost Sunday I usually preach at just one church but this year I preached at seven separate churches with seven different sermons filmed on my iPhone by Killy. And Philo Trust has survived – even if we could use a little financial help – and we are already praying and thinking about what to do when ‘this is all over’.
In the midst of it this enforced immobilisation we have all been surprised at how we are engaging with a lot more people and that we do it all without leaving home, which I have really enjoyed, especially after speaking at an international conference in my study and then going to my kitchen and making a cup of tea!
In reflecting on these experiences, I have to pause and say here that I don’t want to give anybody any sort of guilt trip. For many of you, simply to have stayed safe and sane during this time is a creditable achievement. If you were to ask me how I’ve done this I’d have to say that it’s been a combination of many factors: spiritual, technological, psychological and physical.
First and foremost has been the prayer of friends, family and colleagues, and here I thank you all (but please continue!). Second, as so many of us have found, technology has enabled wonders. Like so many, our team, Killy and I have developed unimagined skills in Zoom, creating and uploading videos and, somewhat harder, trying to maintain warm personal links through cool impersonal technology. Third, I resolved right at the start to play my own part in beating the worst effects of the lockdown. I developed a routine and have stuck to it. For the benefit of the curious, let me tell you about it. Monday to Friday, I get up at 5.30 am and make my minute-long devotional video. Then, after having a fruit juice, I get on my exercise bike and cycle 9 miles. I then shower and have a devotional time before joining our virtual staff meeting at 8:30 am. From then on I’m at the keyboard or being videoed until 6 pm. Saturday and Sunday? Those I keep clear for family, faith and rest. So that’s how I’ve been handling lockdown.
What have I learnt from this season? Lots of things but most of all I think I have learnt afresh the old lesson that, in Christ, God can transform the most difficult situation. He has the power to convert sadness into joy and despair into hope. And Covid? God would not permit evil in this world if good did not come from it, so I have faith and hope.
Revd Canon J.John