Seeing God’s Kingdom in a Vaccination Centre
I’ve been walking past St Columba’s, the church used to host the vaccination programme in Crosspool, for weeks. During the heavy snow of January and February, the people in their yellow high vis jackets cheerfully cleared the paths so that those in wheelchairs could still access the building. Always chatting, always smiling, always laughing, a spirit of joy and hope surrounding the building, seen from many meters away. I had walked past many times. It always brought a smile to my face. It has been like a window into the rest of the country. First came the most frail, the aged, the most vulnerable. Carers guiding them with utmost tenderness. Hope and fire still present in the wrinkled faces and watery eyes. Wrapped up in thick coats and blankets, sometimes hardly visible, they passed through the church, exiting with new life and renewed hope. A hug with a grandchild, a cup of tea with a friend, coming, coming soon. And imperceptibly the people attending changed, fewer wheelchairs, louder laughing at the gate, people skipping out of the way as they do the 2m distanced dance. Occasionally a younger person, what are they doing there? What’s happening with them? An insight into how life is not the same for us all. What challenge has given them an early place in the queue. As the hours of daylight grow, the energy and the vitality of those queueing changes too. So much life waiting to happen, so many things paused that will soon begin. The church, once a beacon in the cold, snow covered dusk of a January afternoon now becomes a joyful blast of colour, matching the daffodils that are beginning to open. And still I walk past, not my time yet. But it is coming. Facebook posts show friends that have received theirs, joy and hope shining like lights through my newsfeed.
A day comes when I receive an unexpected diagnosis. Still processing this new information, a text message appears. It is my turn. While the realisation that I now have an underlying health issue is an uncomfortable awakening, I have a date and time. As the time comes closer, I pay even more attention to those that are waiting their turn outside. What has brought them here, their age, their job, their health? The day comes, it feels like a significant day. In two days it will be a year since we became ill, a year of slowly reducing symptoms, a year of life on hold, a year of hopes and dreams paused or wiped out. It feels significant. We’ve lived here 9 months, there are many places we have never seen open, never been inside, never felt the life of the community uncowled. As I approach I smile at the wardens waiting outside. They wait at a door to a different future. Joy and grace permeate the building, God’s house, being used to bring life and hope. These willing servants filled with the joy and energy of serving. I move from one mark taped on the floor to another, slowly progressing through the socially distanced network, our path takes us through the back door of the church, a fire exit probably, a door used for practical purposes. I give my name and date of birth, am ticked off a list, given a number and shown into the church to a seat, I turn to face the altar and there in the midst of all the activity is the cross. Love, scarred from the worst elements of humankind, a light in the darkness, looks out over this hive of activity. As my eyes are filled with it the world around me slows and I realised that here is God’s Kingdom.
My number is called. It is my turn. I walk into a room filled with doctors and nurses, faces covered, eyes visible, kindness in every one. A buzz of life. I realise this is a sound I have not heard since our last church service at college, people together, working, joyful, the weight of fear absent. And it is done. I am given a card, my record. I am shown the way out. This time my route is out the front door of the church. I am sent out into the world. I have been given a vaccination but more than that I realise that I have received God’s hope and salvation. That too leads to new life and my role is to spread that hope. I have watched the activities at the church for the last few months, watching people go in with expectation and leave with joy. If we had been here during normal times, would I have seen that on a Sunday? Would I have been looking for it? I realise that God is our vaccination against despair, against fear, against death and that at my time of baptism I was given the most powerful vaccination. And yet I do not always act like I have received this free gift, this life giving miracle. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I think it wasn’t true. Sometimes I become an anti vaxxer. But God knows this, and he loves us even more. He choses little things to remind us, little signs that will show us how much he loves us. Today I saw one of those signs. And it was joyful.