The pandemic continues. It is the first time anyone younger than 101 has lived through a time like this, where every connected country and people group have been perversely united against a common enemy, coronavirus, in its increasingly variant forms.

The so-called Spanish flu was different, as the information exchange was far less, scientific and medical knowledge was nowhere near the complexities of today, and society wasn’t as mobile.

I am head of chaplaincy for Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Evelina London Children’s hospitals, and for the London Fire Brigade and the Firefighters Memorial Trust. My work is with the sick and the dying and those who care for them, as well as those who rescue and protect people and property. It is a large multi-faith and belief team.

Along with everyone else, we are so tired. We have gone through the excitement at the beginning of the first wave: the adrenaline rush to get things changed, to prepare the best treatment possible in the circumstances, to make sure everyone had a useful and fulfilling role. In the summer we had some time to step down as we waited for the next wave. It came, slowly, but it came.


We were transfixed, watching numbers, waiting, trying to make sure people took snatches of time to walk along the river or in a park. Many, including myself, don’t have a garden. As London prices are, staff either travel long distances to get to work or live in poky flats. If you are in a multi-generational family living in a crowded living space, then coming to work in a COVID hospital or a fire station covering ambulance shifts can be places of respite.

Some staff have told me that work is their safe place’, where they have colleagues who understand what it is like to work in health or emergency settings in the middle of a pandemic. At work they trust personal protective equipment and safety procedures; they can’t in the same way trust travelling, going to the shops or sometimes the people they live with.

So many tears

The cries for help in more recent weeks and months have come from different places in the hospital, social care and emergency services worlds. The single mum struggling to work from home and educate her children. The healthcare professional juggling working with coronavirus patients whilst caring for two shielding people whose mental health has been badly knocked. The dad, a nurse in the thick of the coronavirus fight, who has decided to leave one hospital and go to another, because with no chance of a relaxing holiday perhaps a change will help him cope.

The support staff member who has no opportunity to support their family in another country after their sibling has been killed. The many teams of staff that have lost a colleague during the last year, maybe due to coronavirus but mostly as a result of other illnesses. The patient who hasn’t seen a family member for many months as they live a long way away; now they’re close to death, should the family come into a busy COVID hospital?

The firefighter struggling with mental health issues after seeing too much. The proud parent of a firefighter who doesn’t know how to express that they’re terrified they might catch coronavirus. The person who has been made redundant during the pandemic and is questioning whether they should eat or travel into central London to see their dying loved one for the last time. The parent caught between visiting a sick baby or looking after their other children at home – social distancing means they can’t easily do both. Even so, there is hope, there is always love, and there is respect. God is in the midst.

To survive this time, we have learnt that we need to be flexible and kind to others. One of my team sends a joke to the chaplains every day; yesterday’s was: There is always light at the end of the tunnel, except there has been a power cut.” It made us laugh.

As Christians, we need to walk as Christ walked on the way of the cross; it is an incarnational theology that is required, which offers love and prayer, service and calmness – being present when words seem hollow.

Paul wrote: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3 – 6).