In February 2020, I travelled to Melbourne to begin my studies as part of candidating through the Uniting Church WA to become a Minister of the Word.

My studies and ministry formation took place at Pilgrim Theological College and I lived – and worked as the chapel verger – at Queen’s College, University of Melbourne. At the time there were a few articles about a new virus and some travel restrictions to a province in China, but it seemed far away.

By the end of February my studies were full steam ahead. I was attending ministry studies, theology classes and enjoying the new social life of Queen’s. I began attending church at Brunswick Uniting Church and I ran the first chapel service at Queen’s in mid-March. Everything seemed normal and was going well – but that was all about to change.

It was not long before all of us went into lockdown in some form or another. In Melbourne, like many places, people were asked to stay home where possible and some businesses were closed. The university was shut and my studies moved online. The gates of Queen’s were shut, all visitors banned, and chapel services were cancelled. Fear quickly took hold as we did not know what was going to happen and how bad it would get.

By mid-May some of the restrictions were beginning to lift. Unfortunately, most churches remained closed, so my winter placement was cancelled and I remained in Melbourne. I was able to enjoy my birthday with friends, lunches at the pub, and a short trip to the Mornington Peninsula. Life was beginning to return to normal and it became fun being able to eat out and catch-up with others.

This trend continued for WA and many friends and family still there transitioned back to life as usual. However, COVID-19 was still spreading in Melbourne and my life was about to change drastically. By the end of June, cases had begun to rapidly rise, and lockdowns were put in place. Initially it was just local lockdowns, but as the infections per day got higher and higher the state government imposed incredibly strict restrictions.

Everything ground to a halt, businesses were closed, masks were mandatory, and people remained at home. We could no longer visit friends and we could not travel further than 5km. A sense of hopelessness began to creep in as the spread seemed unstoppable.

Thankfully, the restrictions began to work – but very slowly. It became clear that these restrictions were going to be the new normal for at least a few months.

A trip to the supermarket became the highlight of the week as it was something normal. I enjoyed walking around the park and seeing people enjoying the sunshine. Nevertheless, the reminders were always there. Every time I saw a person wearing a mask it was a reminder that they could be a hazard. What if they had the virus? Instead of loving my neighbours it was easy to become suspicious and frightened of them.

But I considered myself incredibly lucky. I was able to continue my studies and formation, albeit online, and I was staying at Queen’s with over 100 other students. While we had to wear masks when we left our rooms, we could still sit outside together, talk to each other, go for a walk together and eat in the dining hall together. This strong community pushed back the feelings of loneliness and isolation that I know many Victorians faced. I also continued to attend worship at Star Street Uniting Church, in Victoria Park, via Zoom for most of the year and received many calls of support from family and friends in WA.

Eventually, after months of lockdown, the restrictions began to ease again, and we began to enjoy the little things. I remember the first weekend when we could meet in the park in a group of five for as long as you wanted. It felt so old-fashioned to see the park full of picnics and yet it was so wonderful. Soon after, I could travel up to 25km and visit friends for dinner. These little things brought so much joy and made me realise just how used to being in a low mood I had become.

In early November, I was granted my G2G pass and was able to fly back to WA. After two weeks of quarantine, it was wonderful to be reunited with family and friends. After returning home, I began my internship at Royal Perth Hospital as a Wellbeing Chaplain. Returning to worship at Star Street was emotional. Not only was I returning to my home church, but it was the first time I had worshipped inside a church since March.

It was not the best time to be travelling and Melbourne was a challenging place to be for most of the year. However, I am grateful for the support of family, friends, and my church who kept in contact and provided pastoral support. I am grateful for Queen’s College and Pilgrim Theological College which provided a safe home and enabled me to continue my studies while in lockdown.

Most importantly I am grateful to God for being a constant presence and comfort during these difficult times.

Rueben Edmonds

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