With streets empty, wind-blown not car-droned, every interaction now looks shocking; every meeting a surprise; every perambulation somehow questionable.
For six months there has been no familiar trundle of suitcase wheels coming up from the Euston Road past Argyll Square and into the Fairway, the Florence, the Meridiana, the MacDonald and the Melville. It’s Friday lunchtime, but on streets characterised by their relentless comings and goings, nobody comes and nobody goes.
But people stay, and people pray, and life goes on. The benches on Argyll Square are filled with the people who have nowhere else to be, staying what is now unnaturally close, some busy in lurching conversations, some sat bone-still hands deep in pockets.
Two streets away, the members of King’s Cross Mosque form a long, patient and chatty dotted line down Cromer Street, comfortable to be waiting in the sun for distanced and orderly prayers.
And between them is no-one. Not a soul.
There is no Friday Club feeding at the Chinese Methodist Church, nor has there been for months. “You must be enjoying the time off,” parishioners tell the Deacon, Linda. But the church still congregates, only on Zoom, and with the warmth of community gathering gone the intimacy of phone calls and fellowship overfills the space left.
Prayer comforts and calms, but it also changes. Brian, his padlocked Eleventh Church tucked on the other side of the square, prays to heal, and healing comes. His Christian Science discipline, like Linda’s, demands ministry – sharing and spreading – and like Linda’s too it reaches into the small crowd in the square, through the open doors of St Mungo’s.
The smallest mosques, Amad assures me, are the most effective. No getting lost in the architecture, here only to engage. To look inward, to the soul, and find a simpler beauty in the service of the community. Sharing, finding the neighbours waiting behind forty closed and darkened doors up and down the street.
“Pray for me,” people ask, and it is Linda’s gift. Prayer with the boarders in the Chaplaincy House, fearful for families far away; prayer dispersed by WhatsApp, first in the morning and again in the evening giving structure in endless days – the routine of prayer an offering of the opportunity of hope.
And for Amad, for Brian, for Linda: prayer is powerful.
Brian says it is to feel the love and the possibility held in two words. Our Father. To meditate on that phrase and find all human needs met. A global community united under God. Like Amad, his is a delicate bifurcation of the corporeal and the physical, spirits separated from the bitter winds and bleak streets; joy and certitude freed from the temporal aches and doubts. Heal the spirit, heal the thought, he believes, and the body will surely follow.
At the mosque, the men are grateful to be reconnected. Over eager, says Amad, flooding back and packing the simple room – just a carpet really, says Amad with a laugh – and spilling out and beyond, into the car park. The Quran can be lenient over these Friday obligations, but they would rather be here. Together, again.
And Linda too is happy to be so engaged. A life in peace held gracefully in balance by simple rules of life, three floors above unruly Argyle Street.
Brian, himself healed by his faith, faithfully continues to heal others – lifting spirits, changing lives.
What we’ve got, Amad says, we use.
My thanks go out to the wonderful Linda Gilson, Brian Blandford and Amad Uddin.
I smiled for hours after meeting each of you.
You each increased my knowledge and renewed my faith.