My dear Friends,
In Morris West’s novel, "The Shoes of the Fisherman", Pope Kiril contemplates the very real possibility of the end of civilisation. The book was written in 1963, in the context of the Cold War and the threat of famine also overshadows the people of China. Nuclear war was a very real possibility. There is a profoundly moving scene in which the Pope speaks passionately to his fellow Cardinals. He says that if the world is coming to an end, not because of any act of God, but because of the inevitable outcome of disputes between countries who then resort to nuclear war, then the role of the Church in that context is clear. I am paraphrasing here, but what he says essentially is this: if we are in the final days, if humanity has not much longer to exist and experience and enjoy the gift of life, then let the Ministers of Word and Sacrament speak of Love; of the unique worth and precious dignity of each and every human person who is sacred and special to their Creator. Let them speak of the wonder of the world, its balance, the way in which it nourishes, refreshes and feeds, the awe with which its beauty moves the onlooker to wonder. Let them speak of the goodness and kindness, generosity and compassion which is intrinsic to men and women and the hope that comes with each new born child, each springtime and each harvest (my words, as I can’t find that place in the book!).
What you and I have experienced over the past 18 months hardly compares to the threat of nuclear annihilation. However, many, far too many, have been taken from us before their time across the face of the earth and their absence is still a haunting presence in our midst.
What you have written to me in relation to what has sustained you, what you regret doing or not doing this past year and what from this experience you wish to take with you into your future, are a similar expression to that of the fictional Pope Kiril, of a remarkably resilient community; a community not afraid of reflecting honestly on the uncomfortable realities which have impacted on our lives; who articulate warmth, compassion and faith in the face of suffering, fear and despair. It is therefore for you and not me to have the last word in this sequence of Pastoral Letters: a record of a community in West London and from elsewhere in the country during the Covid Pandemic which has swept mercilessly over the world, the record of a congregation looking to the things of the Spirit to help us make sense out of what is happening and who are committed to keep worshipping, studying the scriptures and praying faithfully together, no matter what.
Thank you to all of you, those who responded and those who didn’t get around to doing so but who thought about these core questions; thank you for being my prayer partners and pen pals during these agonising and bewildering times; thank you for reading my ramblings and thank you for the honesty and openness you have shown in the emails I have quoted. I believe they will be a lasting source of interest and inspiration to all who will read them, now and in the future which awaits.
With blessings and best wishes.
What I have most enjoyed over the past year is the light of the spirit shining through your face and your words and your laughter. I know this sounds personal but that's how it is. And it's not really personal. I can't bring myself to regret anything over the past year. It has been as it is. In the coming year I hope to see the congregation united in church and experiencing unity in prayer, in singing, and in worship.
The original lock down was good. I enjoyed the garden, the weather was warm and the end of that particular lock down was a glorified party. We had “eat out to help out”, furlough still helping many and hotels functioning. The second lock down from which we are slowly emerging was totally different. It was cold and dark and nothing outside except for walks. My Zoom services on Sunday and Wednesday Lent were my highlight of the week (that is not to disparage other times). So I have learnt over this past year that weather plays an essential part in my wellbeing. I have enjoyed living with my family in a warm home with all mod cons. I bought a new Ipad via my granddaughter as I have a great deal of difficulty with IT. But I can use FaceTime.
So my regret is not having mastered IT, not travelling afield to see my brothers and sisters and abroad to my daughter and sons.
So I look forward to my church, golf socials, library, and travelling. (Australia is still a long way off) This is a record writing for me so I do congratulate you on your weekly missives and your tireless effort to keep all the people of the church in touch.
In terms of things that we've taken up and will continue - it's really home baking (cakes & scones). The local cake shops will definitely see a decline in sales when they re-open. Personally, what I regret most is being so rude to people who dis-regard social distancing.
I am so grateful that I have really grown to delight in God's creation and to enjoy what I see all around me. I am pleased that during the lockdown I began to pray every day, which I had never done before, even though I am rubbish at it. I have been more grateful than I could ever conceive for the wonderous kindness that has been shown to me by friends and neighbours during the lockdown and the illnesses I have had since March last year. I do not know what I could ever have done and I am sure I have not to deserve such care and devotion from people. I thank the Lord that when lockdown started and I found myself with a diagnosis of a very serious disease and no means of having it treated then, that a certain quiet came over me so that I was not consumed by anxiety but the weeks went by without fear and despair. I hope this is the sort of thing you were looking to hear from St Mary's.
Lost some of the normal social skills - almost afraid to meet people face to face. Missed physical contact Had more time but didn't use it well. Should have rung more people. Missed going to the lake in Canada. Covid positive Realised what really matters Thought more about spiritual matters Did face time and zoom a lot and so developed a new skill Post Covid Hope that when vacine has been circulated worldwide a new international cooperative world might develop.
******************** Long time in replying, but have got here in the end.
Drawn strength from these strange times. Without question, Dan & Millie. They have been so caring in every way. My wonderful neighbours. With our own app we have all taken care of each other. The lovely friendship I have with Betty. The superb thought-provoking Pastoral Letters & the Zoom services. I have gained a deeper understanding of the faith I hold dear. Time to slow down. To think about my own strengths & weaknesses. To enjoy the sounds of nature. I could go on & on.....
Regrets. For all these months I regret not seeing my beloved sister. We are about to visit her for 15 days. I regret thinking about old friends & not getting in touch. Why I question? I am only just correcting that.
What will I continue to take forward with me. To take time, not rush from one event to another. ”What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand & stare”. Continuing my understanding of my faith. Being more active in the life of St Mary’s. To be able to gather my sister up, for her usual Oct visit.
1) Something you have enjoyed or drawn strength and inspiration from since March 2020 - I've drawn strength from my surroundings - the wonderful countryside. I've been inspired by how creative some people have been in adapting things to try to make things work for them e.g. restaurants doing home deliveries, well known chefs preparing meals for those in need etc. I am continuously "bowled over" by the creativity of others 2) Something you may have regretted doing or not doing over this past year - regret not keeping a detailed diary 3) Something you have been experiencing during lockdown, which you hope you can continue in the future - more frequent communication with friends and family. I'd also like to keep using Zoom.
I'm really sorry Jeff that it's taken me so long to get back to you - I've been thinking about these things a lot. Now that I've put my thoughts in writing they seem so trivial - apologies and please don't feel that you MUST include them on what you end up writing. I think I'm far better at expressing myself verbally rather than in the written word - having said that I know that I "rabbit on" too! I've just come back from 3 days on the Dorset coast with 2 girlfriends I haven't seen for ages. We did some challenging coastal walking. It was absolutely stunning. During the past few months I have been driving up to my office in Twickenham in a usually frustrating and futile attempt to do about a month’s work in a day. Needless to say, it has been somewhat difficult to ‘get things done’. “Manana” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning! At about 6pm I get in my car for the drive home, only to be stuck in a traffic jam. By this stage, I would find myself at the peak of frustration and no doubt exceeding the acceptable levels of blood pressure.... until I found Classic FM on the radio. It has been a long time since I really appreciated the fulfilment of listening to classical music. I gained a very amateur appreciation for it whilst at school (at the time, this was somewhat strange for someone in the 1st XV Rugby team!) but then lost touch as the fast pace of life took over. I now actually look forward to the drive home and having an hour to myself, allowing the music to overcome the annoyances and frustrations of the day. I am almost human again by the end of the journey! The classical music somehow has a feeling of being far greater than I and therefore significantly greater than any personal issues I may have, thereby overcoming them for a while at least. In a similar way, your Pastoral Letters have allowed us to be taken somewhere far greater than the vagaries of the week and to have a moment to make sense of things.... to put things into perspective and provide inspiration for the week ahead.
1) Something you have enjoyed or drawn strength and inspiration from since March 2020. Being closer to God through prayer, and definitely having the pastoral letters as comfort, and when feeling low in faith, showing that God is always there from the magnificent Sunrise pictures you have sent - definitely believing that God knows what we need and when we need it.. 2) Something you may have regretted doing or not doing over this past year. I wish I used my time for the list of things I needed to do - but work seems to have overtaken, and I regret working longer hours/weekend - work making me feel bad for having to look after my children whilst working during lockdown, so in turn, trying to compensate the time by working longer. I regret not doing more with the children. 3) Something you have been experiencing during lockdown, which you hope you can continue in the future. Making more time for family and friends - being there for when they needed someone.
1) ENJOYED........Time; A leisurely cup of tea and a chat with my husband, without the pressure of having to rush out for appointments etc. Enjoying a degree of peace and quiet. Less traffic noise in general, more bird song, for most of the year. I have really enjoyed the Zoom services and have engaged with them far more than I would have thought possible. I have begun to value the simplicity of life which has been forced upon us. I have valued hearing about the kindness and good things which have been happening and seeing the human spirit of love and caring towards others being restored.
I think it should be mentioned that it has often not been an easy time and for some a complete nightmare and maybe for some there has been no enjoyment.
2) REGRETS.......That many of the things mentioned, as being enjoyed, may inevitably come to an end. I regret that it took a pandemic to fully appreciate what is really important in this life. Regret not realising that it was not obligatory to rush about and fill every minute of the day.
3) HOPES....... Hope that I do not forget too quickly the good things I have discovered and seen about life during lockdown. I hope I will remember that many of the things I did in good faith before the pandemic were not necessarily good for me or the planet. I hope I will continue to live out what is most important in this life and will still make time to pray and think about the plight of others. I want to salvage the good things I have learnt and keep working on them in spite of the distractions which surely will arrive when normality returns. I hope maybe some good will come out of it all. I think most of us have enjoyed and thought more about nature and our concerns for others seem to have developed in a positive way. Certainly it has become more apparent what really matters in life and I really hope that people who have suffered in their different ways will be given help and compassion to get their lives back on track.
ZOOM AND MORE I hope you will have received and read the Pastoral Letter which was sent out earlier this week explaining the pattern of worship for the next month or so, until we see that there has been a drop in the sharp rise in the Covid infection rate. For the time being we will be continuing with Zoom at 9.30am and the Celebration of the Eucharist at 6pm in church. I hope you will join us for at least one of these services and will continue to remember the rest of the church family in your prayers. You can join us this Sunday for our ZOOM SERVICE at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm. You no longer need to book for the 6pm service You can also join us for Private Prayer in the church 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings this Sunday are: Ephesians Chapter 2 verses 11- end and Mark Chapter 6 verses 30-34 & 53- end.
The Collect: Lord of all power and might, The author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your name, Increase in us true religion, Nourish us with all goodness And of your great mercy, keep us in the same. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you, In the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.