With ‘lockdown’ being the way of life in Greater Sydney for about a month now, the broadcast of the Olympic Games couldn’t have been better timed for many people. When you’re forced to stay at home to work or study the Olympics have provided something of a welcome distraction from the realities of a housebound life – even if it involves more staring at a screen, which you’ve probably doing that for most of the school day anyway…
Apart from being a productive conversation starter in our online lessons (revealing some surprising sporting interests of my students), I’ve experienced another link between the Olympic Games and the online teaching I and so many others are doing each day.
It’s happened when I’ve looked beyond the sporting action that’s happening on the field, or on the court, or on the track…and into the stands.
Empty (in most cases).
Not the ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables’ from Les Miserables – but rather ‘Empty Seats In Empty Arenas’.
Row after row after row of seats – occupied by nothing other than the echoes of the competitors’ or the officials’ voices.
For me, that’s been a steady reminder of what school life and ministry at school is currently like for many in my part of Australia – and what it would have been like for many other parts, not that long ago.
Empty classrooms – replaced by faces in boxes on screens (often looking a bit like an expanded title picture from The Brady Bunch).
Empty staffrooms – replaced by conversations in a string of Zoom or Teams meetings.
Empty Chapels – with only cameras and microphones staring at you as you ‘speak’ to your audience of students and staff (if you’re able to have that sort of set-up).
All those empty spaces have led me to reflect on the loneliness that many colleagues will be feeling in their work at the moment, as they try to teach and relate to and care for students and fellow staff members whom they can’t see in person.
There’s also, in those empty spaces, a reminder of how the role of School Chaplain can be a lonely one – not least when you’re seeking to serve and pastor a forcibly-scattered community, for however many weeks a lockdown lasts!
But the reality is that none of us serve our God in front of empty seats – in the stadium, the Chapel, or the classroom. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that, whether in lockdown or not, we run our race in ministry ‘surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses’. Women and men who were commended for their faith, trusting in God’s promises. That has encouraged me afresh to run the race, in these weeks of ministering to the ones whom those empty spaces represent, just as I would in “normal” school life: with perseverance, fixing my eyes on Jesus, who is ‘with (us) always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). That, at least, should not change – whoever I’ll be seeing and serving this week, in person or on screen…