Pastoral Letter - 2nd July
Read below for Jeff’s last Pastoral Letter of the Pandemic, before the sequence of three, based on your contributions.....
My dear Friends,
And so it’s official: Lockdown Restrictions will end on 19th July 2021, as confirmed by our new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid on Monday 28th June, having taken over from Matt Hancock on Saturday 26th June. 19th July 2021 will be our Freedom Day, unless of course the date is changed..... A lady in my last parish had a brother who had been captured during the Second World War and imprisoned in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. He had been there for just over three years. On the day when those who had been liberated from such camps were due to arrive at Victoria Railway Station, she and thousands more flocked there to welcome them home. There was bunting, there was a band, there were shining faces of men, women and children, eager to see their loved ones again. She and many others had got there hours in advance so as to secure as good a place in the crowd as possible and be in the best vantage points to spot their returning friends and loved ones. The excitement level grew to crescendo pitch long before the train drew in. There was laughter, there was chatter, there was music, there were announcements and eventually a white puff of smoke and a train’s hoot was heard from the designated track and a hush descended on the crowd. This was the moment for which they had longed with all their hearts.
Then, excitement grew, chatter grew, the band started playing as they saw the train pull in to the platform. The crowd went mad. "WELCOME HOME! WELCOME HOME!" everyone cried and the glass cavern of the station reverberated with the sound. People were singing, people were shouting, some were laughing, others were crying and smiles spread across the whole crowd as the doors began to open. Then slowly, the first of the men emerged from the train, limping, led, bandaged, on stretchers, crippled, emaciated, maimed, skeletal, diminished, unrecognizable. The crowd became completely still, silenced, in shock by what they were witnessing. The Band Master lowered his baton and looked to the ground. Instruments were held, redundant, in musicians’ hands, then just quiet sobbing was to be heard throughout the concourse.
Those in the crowd without family to meet turned and quietly went home. Families faced with needing to recognize and engage with those they had come to greet floundered in their sense of responsibility for so doing. Never, this lady, this parishioner of mine, told me, had she witnessed such merriment become so instantly muted, sound become silence, excitement become bewilderment, so suddenly, so completely. The whole crowd had been affected by the trauma, horror, haunted pain and lasting, irreparable damage radiating from these shadows who were walking toward them, into what future?
My father, though not having suffered as those in Japanese Prison Camps, spoke of his homecoming from the German Prisoner of War camp in which he had been interned. He just wanted to slip, without fuss, into the family home, go to his room and be left alone. This, he thought, would be the best way for him to begin to come to terms with the freedom that had been granted him beyond the grasp of war. This would give him the opportunity he needed to come to terms with what had happened, what he had witnessed, what he had experienced, what he had feared, what he had endured. This would allow him to come to terms with what would be forever part of him and help him find a new way of being himself, a new way of living, a new way of relating, a new way of trusting.
However, some well-meaning friend of the family, seeing him on the train heading homeward, quietly, discreetly, without warning his family that he was on his way, ‘phoned through to one of his sisters so that by the time that he had arrived at Llanelli railway station, they were all there to greet him, the whole family and friends of the family as well. "I wish he hadn’t ‘phoned," my father sighed, "I just wanted to be by myself and try to recover. I wanted to walk home on my own, walk in the orchard, wander around the rooms I had imagined so many times over so many years of absence and sleep in my own bed again, in clean sheets."
Our "freedom day" which we had hoped would come on 21st June and which we are now promised on 19th July, will not be anything like as dramatic as the sudden shift from war to peace, from imprisonment to liberation. Like some of you, I am deeply and lastingly grateful that what so many experienced in 1914-1919 and again in 1939-1945 has not been repeated in our lifetimes. Ours over these past months has been a battle with a virus and not with each other. The number of casualties falling victim to the virus, though horrendous, does not compare in number to those killed in the two World Wars. And thankfully, again, ours has not been five years of trauma, but 18 months and the hope is that, thanks to the vaccines which have been developed, we are moving toward better days. And yet, and yet, we have been changed, we are emerging different from before, none of us has been unaffected by the experience, collectively or individually.
I have been so impressed by the resilience of our children, having accepted, adapted, though frustrated by the curtailing of their childhood freedoms; not being able to meet with their friends to play for months; not being able to learn in the classroom, but in the sitting rooms, kitchens and bedrooms of their homes; not profiting from the exchange of ideas with their peers in the intellectual competitiveness and stimulation of a school environment.
I have been worried for those in unsympathetic marriages or relationships, forced to spend unlimited hours with each other without respite or other relationships to offer support.
I have been so heartened by stories of how people have experienced the encouragement of the friendship of others in the community; the WhatsApp groups on certain streets and in certain communities; the communities of friends created from seeing the same people each day on the same walks at the same times who have then watched out for each other and contacted each other if any of them has been missing for a few days.
I have grown in my appreciation of those who serve us in our shops, a cheerful look, despite the facemask, the sense of being remembered and therefore valued. The eye contact, the friendly word, like an embrace or a helping hand that allows us to negotiate the next steps in our lives a little more confidently and surely. Such moments offer far more than the opportunity for commerce, something of ourselves is also exchanged, and both are the richer for the interaction.
I have been amused by messages from friends, silly, inconsequential jokes forwarded that have made me smile or even at times laugh out loud. Just to know that, despite not seeing people, my life still connects with others has given much needed strength and stimulation.
I have been so moved by the fortitude of those living on their own, some having built up resources over the years to deal with the isolation, others resigned, hardly daring to hope that one day the shadow of loneliness caused by Covid would pass and the sun shine on their life’s landscape once again.
I wrote of the experience of war at the beginning of this letter, another time in the history of our land when some relationships deepened, communities came together, there was a re-evaluation of what really, lastingly matters. Then freedom was won for us at a price which still scars our collective soul, the cost of so many lives was so great. There was too much pain, too much heartache, too much grief. But what of the peace that was won, how have we used the freedom that was granted to us, entrusted to us? And how will you and I use the liberation from the restrictions when they come? Will we just return to our old ways, old values, old preoccupations, or will we have taken advantage of the opportunity to change for the better? Will we value, or even remember, the things we say we now recognise for what they shiningly are? Will we honour the lessons these last months have wrought in us of our responsibility for, interconnectedness with, all others in the human family, regardless of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, age, social status, intellectual achievement? Even the virus was blind to such discrimination, affecting people regardless of any social difference, why shouldn’t we be too?
I fear that some will return to a self-promoting, self-satisfying existence, seeking personal pleasure regardless of other people’s needs. But I also sense a shift in conscience, from the more individualistic endeavours to a more cohesive and collegiate sense of wanting to belong to a more compassionate society. Of course, I may be wrong, but I dearly hope not. It will be so good to see each other freely once again, sing with each other once again, smile and share a joke with each other once again, touch and hug each other in an uninhibited way once again and I pray that what has held us close, what has sustained us, what has inspired us, what has helped us to cope and live another day, will continue to be a strong and recognisable part of who we are. I can’t believe that any of us will catch a train, a plane, a bus, go to a restaurant, a theatre, a gallery, the cinema, or invite friends for dinner, hug or kiss a friend, in quite the same way ever again. These things, withheld from us for so long, are now the things which we truly value and see for the life-enhancing joys they unquestionably are.
Let us value, honour, treasure the things we realise now really, lastingly matter and give meaning and fullness to our lives. Let us invest our lives in them anew. Let us remember who has been kind to us, who has kept in touch with us, who has kept faith with us and allowed us to be stronger than we would otherwise have been. Let us remember to offer the hand of friendship to those who continue to struggle and have been left weakened and diminished by the experience of the last year, who will continue to need our support long after we ourselves may have recovered.
Freedom, relative freedom, awaits us. I hope that each one of us will use it more consciously and creatively as we emerge from this experience, hopefully wiser, deeper, more compassionate, more empathetic, more connected human beings, the better to reshape our community in the image of what we have discovered matters; the better to rebuild a world which is not short-term in its agenda of priorities but seeks to ensure a more sustainable world for generations to come. And may the God who has accompanied us through these months of anguish continue to breathe His Spirit into us and inspire us to not merely use the creation He has entrusted to us, but love it, respect it, delight in it, draw strength from it and protect it, that it may be here for children yet unborn in the marvellous unfolding story of human life, sustained and inspired by our Creator.
With blessings and best wishes
ZOOM AND MORE
Please 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, by booking on: email@example.com
Please join us for the opportunity for Private Prayer 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings for this Sunday are: 2 Corinthians Chapter 12 verses 2-10 and Mark Chapter 6 verses 1-13. The Collect: Almighty and eternal God, By whose body the whole Body of the Church Is governed and sanctified: Hear our prayer which we offer For all your faithful people, That each, in their vocation and ministry May serve you in holiness and truth, To the glory of your holy name. 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.
Post Government Announcement announcement! Following the Prime Minister`s decision to extend lockdown for a further month, we shall be continuing to worship on Zoom at 9.30am each Sunday until such time as unrestricted numbers are allowed back into church for the Parish Eucharist. This will mean that we expect Zoom to conclude on Sunday 18th July and as many of us who are able to, to congregate in church at 9.30am from July 25th. As this means that we will not be back by 4th July, when we have arranged for 20 of our young people to receive Communion for the first time, there will be a special service for them and for their families at 11.30am on Sunday. The 6pm Eucharists continue until 18th July, after which they will be suspended. All this is of course subject to further announcements by the Government and indeed the directives from the Diocese. With blessings and best wishes. Jeff