Everyday Christian: why picking up tennis balls is my job

The tennis ball lay just next to the walking track. A kind passerby approached and was just about to pick it up. I raced towards her, yelling “please don’t pick it up!”

Sally* had whacked the ball over the tall tennis court fence – which happens a lot when our Saturday morning disability tennis group meets.

I got there just in time, as the passerby reached down. Apologetically I explained that we were trying to make it so only the coach touches the balls. I am a ball-person, but armed with a tennis tube I can do ball-distancing. (A tennis tube is a length of PVC pipe that you can pick up balls with. Old codgers like me love them.)

Maybe this is COVID overkill, but our sports club for people living with an intellectual disability, Recreation Sports and Aquatics Club, is trying hard to keep everyone safe. So we put out coloured cones which helps the athletes remember where to stand. And there’s plenty of hand sanitiser – and alcohol wipes for when someone reverts to habit and picks up a ball.

Speaking of usual habits stopped by COVID, have you gone back to church yet?

In our COVID world something that would normally be a simple kindness in normal times – such as tossing tennis balls back over the fence – is something we stop. And instead of being relieved that I don’t have to trot around the back of the tennis courts with my tube, I have to seem ungrateful to passersby doing a kind thing.

Speaking of usual habits stopped by COVID, have you gone back to church yet? That is, if you live in a state where you can.

I have not. Our Church building – it is old by Aussie standards – has been de-pewed, and there’s social distancing with chairs spaced the mandatory 1.5m apart. Church is still online and they have done a good job – more of that later.

But being over 65, diabetic and a bloke puts me in a high risk group.

Yet I have gone back to teaching scripture in a local public school. It’s a joy. Last week I told the story of Ruth and Naomi. Making sure I have not mis-remembered the story, re-reading it in the Bible and telling it with panache is something to look forward to.

But it is 20 kids, in a poorly ventilated classroom (it is a demountable) for half an hour each week. The kids bunch together, and although I have prepared plastic bags to hold each child’s material, they do get handled.

So what’s with the tennis balls? The kids? And church? It is hard to make sense of it all.

As Christians, we are all over the place on COVID habits.

I am not the only one. As Christians, we are all over the place on COVID habits.

Most churches are pragmatically following the guidelines, navigating any shades of grey – is it 100 people on a church site, or 100 in each building?

NSW parliamentarian Fred Nile believes it is unfair that a Mosque was given an exemption to have 400 for Eid, but Easter gatherings were restricted. (Ignoring that our holy day was in the height of the initial lockdown).

And there’s John MacArthur’s big church in the States suing California for allowing protests outside while restricting them from filling their 3,500 seater church – which they do anyway. And sing, maskless.

So as I ponder the tennis ball conundrum – and feel sheepish as I keep the flock of tennis balls pure and separate from the world – I know this is a time for imperfect solutions. Things are not cut-and dried in the COVID world, and we have to live with it.

And so we pray.


Some prayer points to help

Pray for wisdom in this COVID era. Pray that you will be a good neighbour. Pray for those you encounter who might see things differently or face a complicated situation. Pray for frontline workers from supermarket staff to nurses.