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A Post-Pandemic Reality Check

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2: 43 - 47

A year or so ago the most demanding pandemic restrictions were lifted here in Scotland and, over the following months, restrictions were lifted more and more and now we are back to normal. Or course normality isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

In the pandemic our governments worked to protect and care for our people. Jobs were protected through an imaginative furlough scheme, the prospect of middle class people needing Universal Credit meant the amount offered was increased, those who worked in roles that had previously been scorned - retail workers, lorry drivers, and NHS workers, were lauded (if not with money then at least with a nice round of applause). Homeless folk were scooped off the streets, accommodated in hotels (which kept the hotels going) and offered warmth, support, care, and dignity. Overnight a Conservative government enacted policies more commonly associated with a Labour party more to the left than even Mr Corbyn dreamed of! For the first time in my 55 years the policies of the government became nearer to the cameo of the early Church that we read of in Acts 2. There was, albeit briefly, a sense of care, mutual responsibility, and a common sharing of wealth where radical steps were taken to prevent an economic meltdown. Of course low interest rates, the global emergency of the pandemic, and a public attitude demanding action all combined to make what had previously seemed impossible possible. I am saddened that in our return to normality we’re also returning to business as usual; the furlough scheme stopped rather too quickly, support for the homeless has lessened, benefits have been reduced, people in low status jobs are no longer applauded.

We’ve returned to normal…or have we?

Rampant inflation combined with a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers (who could have guessed that leaving the EU might mean Europeans returned home?) has meant that workers are emboldened to make pay claims that are in line with inflation. When a job as a barista in a hospital cafe pays more than a Band 5 nurse, employers are going to find, quickly, they have to up their game to keep people. Maybe, for the first time in a generation, Trades Unions will regain some influence in negotiating fairer terms for their members. Maybe we will remember those who are at the bottom of our economic pile.

Maybe we might change…

Our economic system is based on an assumption of ever increasing growth. We judge economic success by growth and wealth creation. The success of capitalism isn’t so much the wealth it creates but the myth that we can all become wealthy - despite the evidence to the contrary! Perhaps our greater awareness of the fragility of the earth might make us reassess our economic systems and see that growth is not good. Already workers are demanding to work from home more, businesses are piloting a four day week if productivity remains the same, the economics of heating buildings and asking staff to travel long distances on out of date transport systems are showing themselves to be hollow. Maybe, we might learn a little more from the pandemic and rethink our systems and our values. We might even think of sustainability more than growth. We might think of economic systems which share wealth and resources, which value and respect the earth, which remove the hideous disparities in wages and living standards.

The early Church started as a commune where wealth was shared, but for reasons we don’t know didn’t continue that way. Yet the early Church was radical. Slaves were welcomed with the free even becoming ordained leaders of God’s people - it’s believed some early popes were slaves. The Christian insistence on the dignity, worth, and equality of all fatally undermined slavery. We think of slavery as dreadful insittution - it was - but it was also the economic system of the ancient world; a system the Church undermined. I wonder if we’re willing to work to undermine our own dreadful economic system now.

The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the United Reformed Church’s Minister for Digital Worship and lives in Orkney.


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