On arrival back into the UK last December, after ten months away in Kenya and Baghdad, we all looked forward to some well-deserved rest as we settled back into some sort of ‘normal’. We would have leave and Christmas with loved ones, and a slower more relaxed 2020. Then everything changed. No one could have foreseen that, within months, the battalion I have the joy of ministering to as chaplain would be called to fight a different type of enemy: one that could be just as deadly as any this country has faced.

The 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment would soon be deployed to protect its citizens by providing mobile testing teams throughout the North West. They would also assist in the building of the new Nightingale Covid-19 hospitals in Cumbria and Manchester. These soldiers worked long hours, day after day, week after week, month after month, putting themselves at risk for complete strangers. Every day they helped people and they loved their neighbour as themselves. In them, I was reminded of those wonderful words from the Christmas story…

Mary and Joseph’s life had just been turned upside down by the news that she was pregnant. They faced a very uncertain future. What was once a happy engagement with plans for a future together became one of fear and despair. Mary could have been cast out of her community; she could even have faced death. But suddenly an angel appears and tells Joseph not to be afraid since: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).

The young men and women of the armed forces staffing the mobile testing sites did not know it, but the way they helped and reassured people was like the angel saying ‘do not be afraid’. Amid what is and was a frightening time for people, in their kindness was the presence of God.

Diseases are nothing new. Julian of Norwich – a Christian in the Middle Ages – witnessed death on a large scale, being struck down herself and at one point very close to death. During her isolation she prayed for the people. I leave you with her profound words:

“…but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Why will it be well? Because ‘God is with us’.

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