Some reflections on 2020

As this blog has been up and running for about 9 months now, I wanted to share a few personal reflections on 2020 for the ‘Church Without Walls’. We started the blog to be a vehicle for communication at a time when we couldn’t physically meet together and we wanted to try to explore a bit what went on behind the walls to those outside who might be curious!

The first important takeaway for me from 2020 has been the importance of team. This blog wouldn’t have ever happened without the help of Gillian, who often sources photos and posts it on the website, making it available to Alison, who posts it on the Facebook page.

During this past year we have needed to mobilise a large team of somewhere between 70-80 people who have undertaken to phone others in the parish and, in that way, to provide a pastoral network of support to those who may be going through difficult things from sickness and bereavement to isolation in this very challenging time.

There are all sorts of teams operating at present – technology teams looking after the preparation and livestreaming of services in church, teams of people who have been cleaning the church and stewarding, teams delivering Sunday school and messy church online. There are teams of people who oversee the count and lodge money, who change flowers and prepare the church for different seasons.

There is the Select Vestry, who have been overseeing the governance of the church and making important decisions, like disbursing funds to organisations and charities. The choir and organist have been making themselves available whenever we are permitted to sing in a socially distanced way. The glebe wardens have been overseeing the maintenance of the church properties, and the list could go on.

There’s a very crystallised realisation that we need each other like never before and, when our teams are functioning well and individuals and organisations are taking that responsibility to care for one another, it makes such a difference.

The second thing that I see as being very important to our wellbeing in this past year is routines. When so many of the gatherings that were so important in our lives have been taken away from us, we appreciate the structure of routines. In my case, it’s preparing services and sermons, writing this blog, making regular phone calls to those who are going through difficult things that I am aware of. During various lockdowns, I wrote about things like Joe Wicks’ PE lessons, which were an important part of our day, or a meal, or time when we could gather as a family to eat or do something together. What are the routines that have been important to you during this year? Are there good spiritual routines and practices that can help you, like reading the Bible regularly, or spending time in prayer, or tuning in to a service if you can’t go in person? I think having those things in place can be a huge help to us in uncertain times.

The third lesson of 2020 for me has been not to underestimate the power of the small thing. People seem to be genuinely touched by a card or a phone call and I know that I, myself, have been very encouraged to receive such messages. Maybe you are struggling on a particular day or worried about something outside your control and someone makes contact unexpectedly and it’s a real blessing. Even when numbers are restricted in church, people seem to value being able to come into the building when restrictions allow and to worship together. The parish prayer meeting over Zoom started as a small thing, but it has been such a powerful thing to gather week by week and to have people praying for church services and events and to pray for our government and world events and to remember individuals going through difficult things. Robin, our prayer warrior, is always glad to pray for people and simply knowing people are praying is such a powerful thing. Sometimes you think it doesn’t really matter whether you make contact or you don’t but, in these times, people really appreciate the small things.

The fourth lesson of 2020 for me came from a conversation with a friend. She is a young widow with 2 small children and, while she suggested we are all in the same boat in this pandemic, the reality is that we are in different cabins. Some of us have not experienced much change in the past year. We continue to go to work, we are maybe fortunate enough to have family living with us, and we are well enough to go out and do our shopping and any other messages we require. For others, they are navigating the pandemic in very different circumstances. Some have lost employment or been furloughed since last March. Some have been shielding and haven’t seen family in person or had visitors across the door in many months. Some have lost a life partner and have been grieving alone without the usual network or support and callers they might normally have. Some have been living this past year trying to deal with addiction or illness and it causes huge strain on the home environment. Can we be sensitive to those different realities people are experiencing and offer practical support in whatever way we can to those who may be in a very different cabin to ourselves?

The last thing I observe about 2020, is that things take a lot longer to achieve than normal and we need to learn to be ok with that. Sometimes things that ought to be routine take much longer. Supplies may not be in stock and progress gets halted. As so many people are working remotely, you don’t get to speak to the people you need to in order to resolve a query. Technology sometimes fails us and lets us down during important gatherings and meetings. We can only prepare as thoroughly and effectively as we can but, sometimes, despite our best efforts, the thing doesn’t go according to plan. It doesn’t make us bad people or suggest that we shouldn’t prepare as thoroughly as we can.

In the midst of all these challenges and life lessons, I think 2020 has been a very significant and important year in the life of our church and, as we look to the future, our goal is not just to survive but to thrive and grow as a church. 

I leave my closing thought to the poet Minnie Louise Haskins and her poem ‘The Gate of the Year’ .

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And He replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Happy New Year and look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.