March 2020 has been the strangest and most unnerving month of my life. It began in Guernsey as I had been invited by A Rocha UK to speak at various churches on the island on the weekend when February turned to March. Everyone was aware of coronavirus then and hand sanitisers were evident in Guernsey, but when I returned on March 2nd there was little indication of what was to come. Two days later, Flybe, the airline I travelled to Guernsey with, went bankrupt, citing coronavirus as one of the causes. We were in the midst of a very busy time for speaking and I came back to two more evening events in Beaconsfield and Woking. During that first week of March, the news got worse, and particularly in continental Europe. My wife, Margot, and I were due to go to Les Courmettes, the A Rocha France centre near Nice, the next week. There we were due to teach our Environmental Sciences Cross Current group. But advice from France came in that the virus was rapidly spreading there. At a meeting on Friday 6th we decided, very reluctantly, to postpone the meeting. I had spent months setting everything up. At the time we had still had some doubts that we were doing the right thing, but events proved that the decision was correct.
And then things got worse, the pandemic was announced, and coronavirus cases started to increase in the United Kingdom. During this time our list of speaking engagements evaporated, as did the meetings we were committed to in Bristol and Cuddesdon. Now more or less everything is cancelled or postponed until at least the autumn. And then the UK entered lockdown on Monday 23rd March.
So what now? The three JRI staff are dispersed around the UK and are working at home for the foreseeable future. We are maintaining frequent contact. Speaking and meetings may be off the agenda for a while, but we still have a lot to do! We have behind the scenes work on databases and websites to do. There are several briefing papers and other publications going through our system. Blog posts are coming in, and we have quite a number of writing projects that need our attention.
The distance learning course, Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) that we run with A Rocha UK can continue more or less as normal. All tuition will now happen by phone or Skype, and there will be no face to face meetings. Sadly we had to cancel our April meeting in Cuddesdon. But we have all the usual things happening: work coming in for marking; modules to upgrade; administration to happen. Perhaps not surprisingly, we are already seeing a fair amount of interest from people intending to start the course early. It is not a bad time to do a distance learning course.
So JRI and CRES are fine at the moment. We are praying that things stay that way over the coming months. And we pray for all our friends and supporters that you will keep well until we have a chance to meet again.
Dr Martin J. Hodson
JRI Operations Director
Coronavirus image by Vektor Kunst iXimus from Pixabay