Dear Friends,

As this magazine goes to print we have got news of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 that has been announced this week. Clinical trials indicate that the vaccine seems to have a high success rate and the fact that this news has reached the public domain is a real cause for hope and joy.

It seems significant that the news reaches us as we prepare to celebrate the season of Advent. Advent is the season in the church’s year when we await the birth of Jesus. It’s a season when we think of themes like light entering the darkness and waiting and the triumph of hope. It’s a season when we look with expectation to God as we open our hearts and lives
to Him afresh.

One of the things about waiting is that it is a discipline without a definite timeline. The prophets like Isaiah who foretold the birth of Jesus had no idea of how long it would be before the hope materialised into reality.
In the waiting time they kept proclaiming and announcing what they had received as revelation. It was this expectation and hope that kept them going through difficult times, through misunderstandings and scepticism. When people doubted the truth of their words or even their sanity at times, it was hard to stay faithful and keep proclaiming that Jesus was coming.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” announced the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9 verse 2. The effects of the virus are still being felt around us with very high levels of infection, with enormous strain on our health service and intensive care units in particular. Where businesses have had to remain closed and uncertainty continues about when and how they should reopen, we continue to pray for our Executive in Stormont and the scientific advisors and medical officers making such weighty decisions on a daily basis that affect the safety of us all.

We are conscious that this Advent and Christmas will be unlike any other in our memories. Our numbers at church services will be greatly reduced because of social distancing. It is quite unlikely we will be permitted to sing those greatly loved carols in church other than experience them through a socially distanced choir. While we have planned a schedule of services and events which should be circulated to every household on our parish lists and will be publicised on our website and social media channels, we are also mindful that these plans may have to change at very short notice as regulations are reviewed.

In some ways this uncertainty touches into the experience of the first Christmas. We journey in hope towards Bethlehem. We long for the Saviour of the world to make Himself better known to us and indeed to so many who are searching for hope and meaning after the devastation of illness or bereavement, after periods of lockdown and isolation and as we try to recover from financial catastrophes or the loss of our livelihood.

We are still hoping to have three midweek Advent services on Thursday 3rd, Thursday 10th and Thursday 17th December. These short services will offer an opportunity for three interesting people to share why faith and Christmas is important to them.

With the necessity of cleaning the church between services if they are held less than 72 hours after a previous service, we hope to pre-record our First Communion of Christmas which will be available on Christmas Eve to watch but recorded on 23rd December.

We hope to have two services of lessons and carols on the the morning and evening of 20th December and a service for all the family on Christmas
morning at 10am.

We are conscious that some may be unable to travel at Christmas this year or have all their families gathered in the normal way, so all of these services have an added significance or poignancy for us all.

We also wanted to highlight a the fact that not everyone will be celebrating this Christmas. Some have already been through the painful experience of loss during the pandemic with reduced numbers at funeral services, some of which took place away from the church building because of restrictions. Some will be suffering with mental health struggles or financial worries or feeling isolated for all sorts of reasons. We hope to have a special service on Sunday 6th December called “Blue Christmas” which will engage with those realities. In the pain of darkness and struggle we hold onto hope and we look forward to welcoming the Prince of Peace.

With very best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Pierce (Rector)

Telephone 02890 793822