Canterbury Cursillo Ultreya by Zoom November 2020

Here is a copy of the witness talk given by Chris Scoble


Good Morning. My name is Chris, and I made my Cursillo at Canterbury #43. By profession I am a Community Pharmacist and I’m a Lay Reader in my Benefice. I have been asked to talk today about my experiences of the Pandemic. The Lockdowns have impacted everyone, with restrictions on shopping, social gatherings, Worship, weddings and funerals. Indeed, in the last 9 months, every aspect of our lives has changed, the very fabric of society is now different, with only a glimmer of hope that normality will return. For some the opportunity of working from home was amazing. No more commuting. For others, they missed the camaraderie of the workplace, resulting in feelings of isolation, leading to depression and despair. Working from home was never an option for me. I suspect that a Community Pharmacist working from home could be regarded as drug-dealing. We won’t go there!

The Pandemic has given us all the opportunity to demonstrate that we are Christ’s hands in action whether through prayer or through deeds. I have been constantly reminded of the words from Epistle of James 2:14-17 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’’. So many Christians, throughout the Pandemic have sought to help those in need, not for reward, but because it was the right thing to do.

Before the Pandemic, I, like many, was a bit of a technophobe. I’d never heard of Zoom or Teams. I had heard of You-Tube though. My kids think I’m a dinosaur. However, necessity is the power of invention. I now use the technology on a regular basis, and wonder why we used to travel long distances for meetings when the technology was available to be just as productive at home.

Professionally, in the week before Lockdown, my workload more than tripled. The number of Prescriptions received increased from 200 per day to over 600. The number of people who were shielding and therefore unable to collect medication and therefore required deliveries almost caused the formal delivery service to collapse. My team and I took out those deliveries we were able to on the way home and we were fortunate to have the support of our regular delivery drivers and Together-4-Dover, a local organisation set up by the local churches, the District Council and the local Rotary Clubs. This meant that all who needed delivery of their medication, received it. For some patients, the contact with the person delivering their medication was the only human contact they would receive. I became a Community Pharmacist because I wanted to work within my community. It never occurred to me that patients in time would become friends. Attempting to protect patients through non-contact deliveries, standing 2 metres apart, whilst having a meaningful conversation, checking on their well-being was sometimes hard, especially when I learned that they no family or friends locally and that they were completely isolated. The socially distanced conversation for some, was incredibly important. If a patient phoned the Pharmacy, it was sometimes possible to tell if they were socially isolated because they wanted to keep talking, to hear a voice. The conversation with a patient whose husband had died, who wanted help finding a priest to conduct the service. I never expected this to part of my role. I thanked God that I had been equipped with the necessary skills to help.

Lockdown was difficult for us all. For one group of patients, the substance misusers, life changed out of all recognition. Rather than the daily supervision of their methadone, they now collected a week’s worth at one go. This presented challenges; the storage of medication for one, but for the patient, the interaction with the Pharmacy Team, with the Pharmacist, may have been the only positive interaction that they’d have that day. The daily interaction also provided a form of daily structure in an otherwise chaotic lifestyle. They knew that the Methadone Hatch would close at 1715 and after this time they would be unable to collect. When this interaction became weekly, patients would lose track of the day when they were supposed to attend, and also lose track of time. If the patient did not attend for 3-days, then they would lose their Prescription. To then try and arrange for the patient to see a Doctor for the prescription to be reinstated was almost impossible, as the Prescribers and the counsellors were often working from home and contacting patients by mobile phone. We therefore spent a lot of time attempting to ensure that this didn’t happen. There was also the concern of accidental overdose, the continued use of illicit substances or perhaps concerns regarding their mental health. In this situation, and where there was genuine concern as to their demeanour when they attended the Pharmacy, this would be reported to patient’s counsellor and the patient would be returned to attending the Pharmacy daily. Fortunately, this happened in very few cases. The patients that this happened to weren’t particularly happy, but eventually understood that we had their well-being at the centre of any decision. At the end of the day, I have a duty of care and the safety of the patient is paramount.

At work, it is known that I am a Christian and whilst I’m not allowed to evangelize at work, if someone asks me a question about my faith, I will always answer. The ‘Methadone Hatch’ has over the years, proved an interesting place to have conversations. Given the same life choices that some of these characters had been given, I have always suspected that I would be in their shoes. To have the patient, released from prison during lockdown, who travelled to Dover once the restrictions had eased, to tell me that while in prison he had given his life to Christ and was now off drugs, that was something special.

My Pharmacy Team and I were overwhelmed with gifts of cake and chocolate from appreciative patients. Community Pharmacy has received more recognition and appreciation since March because the Pharmacies have remained open and accessible. In order to cope with the massive increase in workload, we had to change our opening times. This didn’t mean that we clocked off early. It meant that we could concentrate on the dispensing, ensuring that patients received their medication, very often staying on after the Pharmacy would normally have closed to ensure that we were fully prepared for the following day, and then do the deliveries on the way home.

Our church buildings were closed and yet the churches remained open. It is the people who make the Church, not the building. Our Church Family remains active in the local community supporting those in need. I volunteered to deliver the weekly newsletter in my locality with the help of Naomi, Jacob and Isaac (three of my children) who do the deliveries on the weekends that I work. Naomi was furloughed during the first Lockdown and would bake brownies, cheese scones or bread rolls to give as small gifts to those that she was delivering to. I know that this small gesture was greatly appreciated. It was a joy to have doorstep conversations, renewing friendships. The reason for this was we delivered to everyone on the electoral roll and some, for whatever reason, they were not regular attenders. To deliver to 6 people could take 4 hours! One of the friendships that renewed resulted in me being invited round for a drink once Lockdown 1 had eased. It was a little disconcerting to return home (yes it was late) to find my sons sitting on the stairs welcoming me home with the words, ‘What time do call this this then Dad!’? Perhaps I have been fortunate. My professional role dovetails with my spiritual. The simple act of talking to a patient about a medication often becomes something more like pastoral care. The opportunities to deliver medication or to deliver newsletters have been an opportunity for Pastoral Care. An opportunity to check on someone’s well-being, that they have enough food or maybe a newspaper. To not be able to go outside, but to remain isolated at home, with perhaps only the radio or television for company is very difficult. Inevitably for some, there was a decline in both physical and mental health. The impact of a friendly face that accompanies the delivery of medication or a newsletter, with the chance for a chat, for human interaction, must not be underestimated. How many of us have picked up the phone to an isolated friend, thinking it would just be a quick ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’ and an hour later you haven’t moved. I for one, am very grateful for unlimited calls.

In Dover, we had been running a service called Ignite-D. The service was open to all and consisted of food, fellowship and bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Some of the congregation were homeless, some had mental health problems or were substance misusers. For some it reminded them of something they’d learned in their youth, while for others it was a message completely new. During Lockdown, all were put into accommodation and it was difficult to locate them. Whenever I met members of the Ignite-D congregation in the street we would always chat. The question asked was the same one. ‘When can we come back to Church’? My reply was always this, ‘The Church is the people – it is how we look after each other, respond to each other’s needs, that’s important’. 

Online Worship became a regular feature for all of us. Services via YouTube and a pattern of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. Interestingly, the number of people attending via Zoom was greater than when the Services were held in Church. For example, Compline on a Saturday night in St Edmund’s Chapel would attract a core congregation of two or three, yet via Zoom, we have a core congregation of 10. Lockdown has enabled us to make our services more accessible and I suspect that a lot of what we do now via Zoom, will continue one way or another. There is still more that we can do. Not everyone has access to YouTube, Zoom or Teams. The question is how can we stream our services live, so that the house-bound or self-isolating members of our Church family still feel included as part of our Church Family. In 9 months, we have come a long way. We still have further to travel. I have concluded though, having used Zoom etc. extensively, that my face is better suited to radio!

One thing that I have learned during the Pandemic, that when work went crazy, and at times trying to keep everything together, there were occasions when I wondered where was God in all this? It was the realisation, that, where God was, was in those people who came alongside to support and carry you, to enable you to do what needed to be done, whether at work or with respect to the church family. We all sustained each other in prayer and simple acts of kindness.

The Pandemic has given us all a chance for renewal, for hope. It has given us the opportunity to take what we believe outside of the church building and into the wider world. The Pandemic has empowered us to combine our faith with action. The Pandemic has allowed us to demonstrate to our wider community that our faith is not dead, it is ALIVE. When all is stripped away, the Pandemic has enabled us to look at what is important to us all, to bring our focus back to the constant in our lives, God.