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We are all now becoming used to the sight of people using face masks in all sorts of situations. Prior to Covid I was used to having to put a mask on in some parts of the hospital to visit some patients, but now not wearing a mask is rapidly, and quite rightly, becoming the exception. Along with change comes innovation, and the imagination, plus ingenuity, can be seen in the vast array of styles of masks that have become available. These range from simple pastel colours, bolder and brighter designs, through to cartoons of superheroes. A couple that made me smile included a set of shark’s teeth and the opening of a tunnel with a train appearing as if from the wearers mouth.

Whilst the masks have become essential, they haven’t been without problems for some people. One of the issues has been that you can’t see an expression on a person’s face. I’m often told that I wouldn’t be very good at competitive cards because my face too easily gives away how I am feeling. This could be a smile, a frown, or a look of dislike and this is part of my personality. But at times it becomes necessary to put on a virtual mask, especially when feeling annoyed or frustrated.

So I began to wonder – Do I put on a mask when it comes to visibly living my faith?

There are times and situations when it can be difficult to live out the faith and this is never more true than when we are a group of people such as work colleagues, a sports team, a social club or just at an event with people of different backgrounds. We all have something in common, or else we wouldn’t be there, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we all share the same beliefs, opinions and faith values. And because we all have something in common it doesn’t mean that I have to have the same beliefs, opinions and faith values as everybody else. However, in my want to fit in, how much of my beliefs, opinions and faith values am I prepared to compromise?

For the sake of fitting in do I put on a different persona? Do I change the way I act and portray myself differently in a bid for acceptance? Am I prepared to reveal my faith in the knowledge that some others my see me differently and as a result treat me in a changed way? What comes first faith or favour?

This isn’t to suggest that the revelation of my faith to others is a bad thing, but in purely secular terms it might mean having to make a choice. It also requires a certain degree of confidence and knowledge of my faith in order to represent my choice with confidence and commitment. I have been told before that it is easier for someone like a priest or deacon to live the faith because I can “live behind the collar, without being judged!” Not something I agree with, because the judging comes from a different angle. But when any of us puts on the ‘cloak, or mask’ of Follower of Christ, a certain level of expectation seems to come with it.

If I take the time to reflect on how I live out my Christian calling with others, I can honestly say that I have a number of masks. Some are very similar, when I’m carrying out my role as parish deacon, school chaplain, hospital chaplain and assistant director of diaconal formation, much of what I do and the conversations I engage in have a common theme and focus. However, when I’m in the role of Fire Brigade chaplain, the focus can be quite different. It is more of a pastoral support element, sharing the lives, ups and downs, trials and difficulties of the men and women, without faith being their focus is no less my role of bringing Christ to others, than when I’m standing up in church giving a homily. Different mask, hopefully same outcome.

But what about in social situations, what about when others in the group don’t know that I’m a deacon? Obviously if the question arises I’m going to tell them what I do. If somebody makes a statement, or asks a question about the church or its teaching, then hopefully I’m going to not shy away from getting into that debate, or do I just opt for the quiet life?

And with my family and closest friends, does my life portray that I am a follower of Christ? Do those that know me best see that I’m trying to live as Christ asks me to, or would that be a shock to them. I’m told that I act and speak differently, dependent on the role I’m engaged in, family, friends, social, clerical etc.. but that is natural. The thing that defines it however, a bit like the variety of face masks, is which one I choose to put on!

Let us all then take a look at the extensive wardrobe of masks that we might have. I hope not to wear the ones that hide Christ from others. What’s your preferred design?

Deacon Ian Black

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