At the end of March, the Stimulus editorial team of Sarah Penwarden, Fiona Sherwin, and I met and discussed putting together a special edition of Stimulus based around the COVID-19 event.

Our desire to do so was, in part, catalysed by wishing we had done something for earlier significant events (e.g., the Christchurch mosque attack in 2019). We were also aware that the church of God (like all people) had been thrust into something unprecedented and were grappling with what it all means. Hence, we agreed that we wanted to hear the voices of thinking Christians during the time of lockdown. We wanted them to come from that time and be read while we are still facing the challenge. There will be time for other reflections in the future as we move into the uncertain post-COVID-19 world.

With such thoughts in mind, we put out the call for papers on 1 April. We were overwhelmed with the response, with over sixty submissions. We sent every piece to blind peer review, and over forty were seen as contributions that fitted our criteria. The usual Stimulus has four feature articles and a range of other contributions per edition. So, having so many quality pieces created an excellent dilemma for us. The beauty of our current online format (Hail), is that we have no limit on the number of articles we can put in any edition.

Consequently, we started to think of putting together one bumper edition with all of them (although the challenged daunted us). Then, Steve Taylor, Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin (and contributor in Vol. 2), suggested we publish them in levels. We ruminated on this and decided to have a three-volume COVID-19 special edition instead of the one. We chose not to run with levels because if we did, we might have given the false impression that there was some kind of ranking system running through the volumes. We also chose three volumes rather than four, mainly because it fitted better for our desire to get them out quickly. As such, what you have in this Stimulus is volume one: fourteen pieces that speak to us in this COVID time. Within it is a rich fare of Christian thought to stimulate your thinking.

While taking us on a journey of understanding the virus phenomenon, Bob Robinson cleverly ponders where we might find the living God in a pandemic, summoning us to subdue and resist this virus, yet to support one another through this time. The notions of the Triune God and social distancing are explored by Marty Folsom, who reminds us that in God, “we have tools to transcend our social distancing and to personally connect.” Considering hunting bears, workouts, and generosity, Lynne Taylor grapples with how the Mental Health’s Five Ways of Wellbeing provide us a framework “that can resource the gatherings and pastoral care of the churches.” Jason Goroncy wrestles with “what it means for Christian communities to celebrate Holy Communion online” and tentatively proposes that they refrain until they can meet again after lockdown. With rampant eschatological speculations abounding, U-Wen Low helps us read Revelation in a time of pandemic reminding us that “God is always in control” and so “there is no need for believers to panic.” He summons us to “continue to pray and seek justice” and “re-evaluate global priorities and systems.” WH Chong creatively considers the responses to suffering found in Job and the play JB (Archibald MacLeish). He avers that Job offers “better responses to suffering worth reintroducing into the public conversation. The idea of “hibernation” is explored by Sarah Penwarden. Journeying with the theme with regards to the practice of Christ, foster’s Christian disciplines, and her rich experience in counselling, she urges us to use this time as an opportunity to retreat, listen, and to recharge.

Twice Augustine becomes a resource for our writers. We are brought into the world of Augustine’s reading of Psalm 4 by Elliott Ku as we are urged to “reach out to God in prayer,” to “reflect on the object of our worship,” and to “rest in the Lord.” Luke Collings explores the practice of holy waiting based on Augustine’s De Patientia, something essential to the Trinity. We are challenged not to do so for personal advancement but to recommit to the kind of love seen in the Good Samaritan. Chris Seglenieks considers the responses of fear and faith in Matthew’s Gospel, urging us “not to let the fear control us” or “simply stay” in the fear that such an event creates. Instead, while we feel the fear, we remain confident “in God’s provision and protection.” Gwyn McClelland considers how the notion of “Dangerous Memory” (which looks at “theological scandal in times of trauma” and reminds us of “Christ’s association with suffering”) provides a better model than war language to deal with the doubt that comes in such a time as this.

Our poem is from Miriam Fisher—a delightful piece, reflecting on the world of sewing (which so many are doing in this time) and looking forward to our renewal even through this difficult time. We also have our usual witty contribution from St Imulus, who is feeling positive, having been busy the “significant influx of newly minted saints” coming through the Pearly Gates.

We offer this volume as a gift to readers in the hope that it helps them grapple with the challenge we are all facing. We do hope you enjoy them. For us, it has been a joy bringing this together. We are incredibly grateful to all those who have contributed, to Laidlaw College for supporting the idea, and to the peer reviewers who worked tirelessly turning around peer reviews expeditiously.

May the writings draw you to consider our situation in new ways and challenge you to be more than overcomers in this trying time.

The Stimulus Team

Mark Keown, Sarah Penwarden, and Fiona Sherwin