As we seek to rebuild and revive our vibrant City of London community spirit, this autumn The Royal Exchange has partnered with the charity Mind in the City to explore mental health in the City and the important role relationships, conversation, connection and community play in wellbeing. Here, we talk to the Reverend George R Bush – Rector of St Mary-le-Bow, an iconic church in the middle of Cheapside – about how he maintains a positive and healthy state of mind.
What activities, habits or rituals have you found to be the most conducive to maintaining good mental health through challenging times?
You would be surprised if I didn’t mention the Church’s discipline of regular prayer and stillness. This is, of course, of huge personal benefit and sets my own concerns within the rich context of 2,000 years of Christian practice and culture. But it has been a privilege to include in prayer others who have asked to be remembered.
How important is a sense of community to you and what/where is yours?
I live and breathe for community and believe that shared time, space and context are very important for personal and communal colour and flourishing. Although very few people live in Bow Lane and Cheapside it has a real sense of belonging and high levels of respect, networking and friendship.
Who is your go-to person when you need to talk about a problem or challenge you are facing?
I am very fortunate to have a wide web of colleagues and friends, together with the local people and congregation, with whom wisdom and experience is the traffic of conversation.
Would you agree that a problem shared is a problem halved?
I should say more than halved! As parish priest, I am also custodian of a Grade 1 listed building – its problems and demands are constant, but I share them with my churchwarden, Antoine, and the horror dissolves!
When you feel low, what activities help you to feel better?
I am extremely fortunate to have a very sunny disposition (apart from gnashes when things don’t go as they should!) and my mental equilibrium is usually restored by a good night’s sleep (perhaps preceded by a glass or two of sherry). It’s also important to make amends if I have offended anyone.
I guess that, like most people, the opportunity [during lockdown] to conduct a spring clean and have a jolly good clear out has acted as a kind of personal audit. My roof garden has had exceptional levels of attention and shows it!
Are there any particular things you’ve identified that can trigger a low mood, or anxiety, for you? And have you discovered any ways to combat them, which help you to feel more positive again?
I am not especially adept at unexpected things in my own life – although I hope I rise to it in other people’s lives. I am always nervous before services and anxious if speaking in public. I remind myself that nothing (absolutely nothing) has ever been as bad as I feared – not even root canal treatment.
Is there anything you started doing during lockdown that has now become a permanent part of your life?
Lockdown has surely taught us that we plan too much for the future and live too little for the present. Physicists tell us that neither exist as we think they do in sequence. But practically, institutionally and personally we need to live more in the present; pensions providers are an exception, of course. In lockdown, I learned to craft a day full of ordinary things and contentments – but I am very fortunate of where and how I can live; it hasn’t been easy for many people.
Did you learn any new skills, or take up any new hobbies, that you’ve continued to embrace?
Somewhat – I tried to take apart, clean and reconstitute a U-bend. Never again. But there are all sorts of IT and copier skills that I was told I could not – and must not – attempt and which have proved very serviceable, including Zoom, Mailchimp and live streaming.
How would you define the new normal and what does it look like for you?
For me, the Covid crisis has meant that I have had no evening events, demands and engagements whereas generally I would have had three or four a week. Having supper and watching the telly have been real pleasures. I suspect it may be a while before the evenings fill up again.
What thought always puts you in a good mood?
My little flat in Jerez de la Frontera in the south of Spain and Carmen Miranda singing, The South American Way.
What is your daily mantra for maintaining a healthy mind?
I am not going to pretend that I am not a Christian priest. So, regular (however brief) prayer and self-examination of one’s failings.
The Reverend George R Bush is rector of St Mary-le-Bow. He is responsible for the worship and pastoral care of this iconic church in the middle of Cheapside, which offers a place of peace in the midst of the City; stmarylebow.org.uk
The Royal Exchange’s local Mind network – Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest – offers a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery. Click here for further information about how to access this local service, make a donation or find out how you could help with campaigning, volunteering and fundraising
Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time
Visit The Royal Exchange this autumn to celebrate the vitality of community and rediscover the joy of sensory experiences within our welcoming boutiques and eateries. Read more about our Reconnect campaign here and let us know how you are reconnecting with the world on Instagram @theroyalexchange and Twitter @rexshopper