This year has been a strange and difficult one for so many people. Due to the symptoms of my chronic illnesses, I am often housebound and was already working from home before lockdown forced many others to do so.
I got through the first lockdown without feeling any different mentally, emotionally or spiritually. However, as the rest of the world started to leave their homes – go to work, go out with friends and family, and return to church buildings – it suddenly hit me that, no matter what the government says or what a virus does, I cannot do those things anymore. During weekends, school holidays and other times of celebration, I often avoid social media as it can be very hard seeing everyone else out and about having fun, knowing my body won’t allow me to do those things. This felt just like that.
In January 2019, I had just graduated with a degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission but felt that, due to my circumstances, I would never be able to be involved in ministry. At the time, I was working as an office assistant in an IT company and had been asked to manage and develop their social media, including Twitter. I had never used this platform properly before so decided to create an account to ‘learn the ropes’. I had heard about the online church so used this time on Twitter to find out more and to attempt to find others like me. It didn’t take me long to find lots of other chronically ill and/or disabled Christians, many of whom were unable to attend a physical church. My Twitter account was called ‘YouBelong’ and since the start of 2019, it has grown into a wonderful online church/Christian community for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. I am grateful that I have been able to support people through YouBelong, but it has also become a place where I feel loved and supported through the posts and private messages of others in the community.
Seeing physical churches moving all, or some, of their activities, events and community online has given me great hope: that one day, the hybrid church that has arisen out of this difficult time, will be a place that all people will be able to access and feel welcome and included.
Laura trained as a lay minister at Ridley Hall in Cambridge and set up YouBelong in 2019, shortly after graduating. Laura lives in Norfolk and enjoys reading, watching films, baking, seeing family and friends, and spending time with her dogs and pet rats.