As a new year dawns, few of us are likely to forget 2020 in a hurry. It was the year a global pandemic brought much of life as we know it to a standstill. Back in March when the first lockdown was announced it was hard to believe the footage we saw of busy bustling cities like New York, London, Paris and Madrid deserted of people as airports, businesses and shops closed their doors. It was hard to fathom that, as we collected the children from school one Friday in March, that would be their last day for that particular academic year. Some of us had to learn really fast to stay one step ahead with the home schooling programme as our teachers went online with their learning platforms. People had to deal with challenging restrictions as they planned and cancelled and replanned weddings. Holidays had to be cancelled and reorganised as people became familiar with phrases like quarantine and self-isolation. Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions were advised to cocoon or shield themselves from contact with others.
Some have still not been able to see parents or grandparents as nursing homes and hospitals introduced very strict visiting policies and in some cases had to close all contact with the wider population because of the deadly outbreaks of coronavirus.
Perhaps the saddest experience of all has been the severe restrictions around funerals. Very limited numbers have had to gather at funeral homes, in cemeteries, and thankfully in more recent times, in churches to say farewell to loved ones. People haven’t been able to come into each other’s houses and hug and hold one another or shake hands to express their sympathies. Ceremonies have been reduced in length to minimise contact with others and it has left a vale of sadness throughout the world as so many people have lost their lives to this virus.
The church, too, has had to learn to do things in a whole new way. Everything is measured in risk and so we sit two metres apart from each other unless people are part of our “bubble”. Singing isn’t permitted apart from the occasional use of a socially distanced choir which is currently prohibited again. Books had to be taken out of the church as the liturgy and hymns appear on screens in front of us if we are in the building or we watch or listen to services from the safety of our homes. Church buildings have been closed for months on end, organisations have not been permitted to gather and clergy not allowed to visit in people’s homes unless there are special circumstances. We have had to conduct vestry meetings over Zoom. We have gathered our Sunday School over Zoom. The Messy Church team also has produced events online to introduce children to the life of faith. The technology team have worked unstintingly to make services available online, to broadcast and livestream services that couldn’t otherwise have taken place. Devotional materials have been made available on the church’s website and Facebook page and through the parish magazine that is posted rather than delivered to those who are unable to download it over the
internet. Parishioners have tried to support each other through phoning people they maybe never knew before and this pastoral support has been a real lifeline to those who have had much to contend with in this difficult year.
As January approaches and we welcome 2021 my overwhelming sense is one of thankfulness. I’m thankful of course for the news today as this magazine goes to print that the first vaccinations are taking place across the province. I’m thankful for the incredible support I have had from my family and parishioners as together we have tried to navigate these new and challenging situations. I’m encouraged to see people taking hold of the gifts God has given them and using them to make a real difference for good in the lives of others. I’m grateful for the way God has provided for and met our needs in terms of financial resources. It has been such a blessing that the Vestry had the resources and the vision to invest in equipment that has been such a lifeline to many who feel very isolated and to enable us to reach a global audience.
We are blessed to have those with the technical skills to operate this equipment and help to make it happen so willingly. I’m grateful for the massive efforts that go in each week to oversee the upkeep of the church’s property and buildings. I’m grateful to the hardworking teams who act as stewards and cleaners and take those important records for contact tracing in the event of anyone getting ill. There are people who are counting our Free Will Offering, teaching in Sunday School, staying in touch with our organisations, organising flowers and collecting groceries and prescriptions for those unable to go out. Did you know there are people who gather each week to pray for the life and witness of our church and for situations around the world? There is an individual who has made himself available to pray for any situation people want prayer for simply by lifting the phone and asking him to pray for us? There are singers and musicians who have recorded hymns and songs and made them available to enhance our worship. People are maintaining our accounts and finances, ensuring our governance is in order and ordering supplies of sanitiser and oil and other commodities we need to keep functioning. Linda in the parish office has kept working throughout this pandemic producing this magazine, gathering devotional material and overseeing all our administration.
At our midweek Advent service last week, which had to be live streamed to an empty church because of the latest lockdown, the speaker, Dr David Varney, left us with a powerful challenge for 2021. He asked the question “what are you as an individual and you as a church going to do in 2021 to make much of Jesus in Belfast?” He spoke of his experience of running the Alpha course through his church and in the hospital where he works and we are glad to say a new Alpha course is due to begin on 6th January over Zoom for 12 weeks. If you would like to explore more about faith and the meaning of life in these one hour sessions from 8-9pm please email
email@example.com or email the rector at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be sent a link to the Zoom call and the relevant video for that week.
Can we make much of Jesus by gathering to worship Him either in person or online? Can we spend more time with Him or start to spend time with Him through beginning to read our Bible with the help of Bible reading notes or online resources from our website? Can we make much of Jesus by resolving in 2021 to do whatever we do for Him in terms of our daily work or our home life or through how we reach out to our neighbours and fellow parishioners? Can we share blog posts or articles or services we have found helpful or inspiring with others by clicking like and share? Can we honour him through generous giving to organisations and agencies that seek to make Him known and make a practical difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable?
As we look back on an unforgettable year can I say thank you for all you have done and encourage you to make much of Jesus in any way you can in 2021.
With very best wishes.
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)
Telephone 028 90793822