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Fiona Sherwin —

As I write, today on the 11 May, the New Zealand Government announced that the COVID-19 limitations are to be further reduced from Level 3 to Level 2.

Under the restrictions of Level 4 and then Level 3, we did not have much movement and were largely confined to our homes. I imagined what it would be like when we were allowed to emerge from our homes. The image that I held was much like the films from the “apocalyptic” genre where people step out of their houses tentatively after the major event with their hands shielding their eyes. I don’t think it will be like that, but we know that there will be a “new normal”—small groups only, no mass gatherings for a while. Social distancing will still be a part of our reality whether we realise it or not. This new "normal" will take a bit to figure out. 

When COVID-19 first hit New Zealand’s shores, we could only look to the countries already affected to catch a glimpse as to its potential impact. We saw the devastating images of hospitals overwhelmed with casualties and deaths that were beyond belief. What did that mean for New Zealand? The government decided to move swiftly to shut New Zealand down. We heard our Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern state “we must go hard, and go fast.” And we did. Within forty-eight hours, New Zealand went from being open to completely “locked down.”

 Much like the rapidity that New Zealand shut down, the Stimulus team moved swiftly by a flurry of emails with one another and then expanded out to our social media connections to release a call for articles for a special issue dedicated to the current situation we found ourselves. To say that we were overwhelmed with the response would be an understatement! Our journal, which usually has two issues with four main articles a year in June and December, has quickly swelled to three issues in three weeks with at least sixteen articles in each issue. It has certainly been an exciting time; while some were required to stop their regular productivity in their businesses due to the lockdown, we went up a level with activity alongside our regular responsibilities at Laidlaw College as lecturers and support staff.

This issue—the last issue specifically dedicated to COVID-19—has articles from various perspectives: from our traditional theological disciplines of Christian spirituality, contextual theology, practical theology, systematic theology, biblical studies and church history, to vocational ministries found in community and mission.

Ryan Lang begins this themed issue with an aesthetic reading of Isaiah 60-62. He contends that when we read the passage through our senses, we can catch a glimpse of the reality of Zion’s experiences, and how that might speak to us today.

Two authors write from vocational contexts. Biomedical scientist, Gareth Jones, looks towards the “unavoidable questions” between science and faith in the COVID crisis. Alongside the call for prayer, which is, of course, something we should all do, he asks whether Christians can do more?

Michael O’Neill reflects upon the vocational call to friendship to his neighbours and what that means amid a crisis when connecting to others has become difficult.

Missionally, there have been opportunities that have arisen from the COVID-19 crisis. Rosemary Dewerse and Ruth Osborne use a case study of the not-for-profit missional agency, Interserve, to look for a way forward for similar agencies to continue in taking the gospel to a very hurting world.

Looking back to moments in history has been helpful in times such as these. In our previous issues, we have had engagements with historical figures. This issue brings two more. Sean du Toit uses the first-century theologian Cyprian’s work On Mortality written in a time of an epidemic and asks what lessons we can learn from Cyprian for today.

Martin Luther lived through the plague and deliberately chose not to flee from it. Nathan Runham looks to his circumstances and ponders why he decided not to leave during a contagion. He asks, “how do we love our neighbours – in the midst of a pandemic?”

Thomas Kimber uses the example of the monastic movement to give insight about life in isolation. Time and routines are now readjusted, and with this down time, we can reframe our old practices into something new by rediscovering “life as God intends it.”

Bonhoeffer has been used in several articles over these three issues. Brian Rosner has kindly shared with us his article that he had published with the ABC Religion & Ethics website in Australia. A lot of us have experienced disappointment as a result of the COVID situation, as such, Rosner uses Bonhoeffer’s story to aid us as we make sense of things amidst our disappointments.

From the perspective of practical theology, Tanya Wittwer discusses pastoral considerations for a pandemic. She rightfully states that our handbooks in our theological institutions do not hold lessons as to how to lead in the midst of a pandemic pastorally. But, as she contends, crisis brings opportunity for new things. Geoff New also discusses the implications for pastoral care. From his context of the Knox Centre for Leadership and Ministry in Dunedin, he reflects upon some guidelines that might help answer the questions concerning how to lead congregations when they can no longer meet. He considers pastoral care practices when we can no longer be with one another by using Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Derek Tovey also uses Paul’s letter to the Philippians to look at our circumstances where “physical distancing,” and “social isolation” have become well-known turns of phrases, and asks what it means to be in this together. He wonders how some of these concepts can be applied to the way in which we read Philippians.

Continuing with the theme of biblical studies, Tekweni Chataira looks to Esther chapter four to see what can be applied to the church as to how to respond to a crisis—particularly a call to lament for what has been lost.

Alan Stanley draws upon Genesis 3 and 11 to give insight as to how to understand pain, loss and disappointment when we lose parts of our identities due to crises. He suggests, such time as these, we have a chance to reflect in where our identities lie.

Finally, Miriam Fisher returns with an offering of another delightful piece of poetry.

We have asked our St Imulus contributor to continue to keep an element of humour in our journal, and as such, St Imulus continues his musings at “the pearly gates.”

As we pause and resume life in our new “normal”, whatever that looks like, the Stimulus Team hope that these three issues will give something to you as you navigate your bubbles and beyond.

Fiona Sherwin, Sarah Penwarden, and Mark Keown

The Stimulus Team.