This Has Been A Sorrowful Year, But Hope Can Spring Out Of It
New Year’s Day 2020 and the bells of St Paul’s Cathedral were sounding a celebratory four-hour continuous peal. Offering a silent wry prayer for anyone within earshot still feeling the effects of an enthusiastic New Year’s Eve, I, like most, had no inkling of what the year would hold.
I did know that it would be my last New Year at St Paul’s and was looking ahead with excitement to serving as The Speaker’s Chaplain. Within weeks though the first lockdown came and like others, we’ve had to adapt. Weekly services in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and other commemorations, such as the memorial for PC Palmer, have been carefully managed.
We’ve begun holding regular additional services online and the monthly Parliamentary service in St Margaret’s for Members and Peers has resumed. The rollercoaster of this pandemic has affected all of us and I’m committed to praying for you as you bear the significant responsibilities which are yours. Pastoral support for MPs, their staff and others has continued in person but is also being offered by phone, email and online. This has included providing care for bereaved family members and colleagues. One joy has been getting to know those who planned to be married or to hold a baptism in the Chapel. Very sadly, most of these couldn’t go ahead this year but the few which did were bright signs of hope.
Hope during uncertainty is precious. I have a small second-hand book, ‘A Christmas Anthology’, which with its poor grey dust jacket and cheap, thin paper is easily overlooked. The cover carries a black and white print of two weary figures being led, by way of forest and field, to a non-descript outbuilding illuminated by one hopeful star. Remarkably this volume was published just ahead of Christmas 1944. The world was still at war with itself. It would be another month before the survivors of Auschwitz would be freed, five more months before the war in Europe would come to an end, and eight months before the guns in Asia and the Pacific would fall silent. The anonymous compiler, ‘F.E. Christmas’, wrote in the preface:
“Perhaps friends were never so widely scattered, and for untold millions there will be no kindly gathering at the family hearth this Christmas. Oceans and continents divide them from those they love; unlovely duties will prove effective barriers to the family circle. None the less the associations which Christmas-time awakens will be as powerfully stirred – perhaps more powerfully than in those easier days when they could find their natural outlet. The final outcome of the struggle now raging will hinge upon many things, but not a little upon whether we can come through it with our feelings unhardened and responsive still to the simple and tender graces of home life”.
Many people have been and are separated from those they love in our present time; weddings, funerals, sickbeds and even deathbeds included. People of every faith have observed their most sacred festivals in markedly different ways. Many have made sacrifices.
Much has been revealed this year; our connectedness, the inequalities in our experiences of life and our available resources, our personal and community resilience, our need for hope and more. Revelations by which to steer our future course. With this in mind, and looking now to another New Year I’m taken to Tennyson’s ‘Ring out Wild Bells’, his yearend response to grief and determined hope that out of sorrow a new way of being can be born:
‘Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky…’
Ring out the false, grief, strife, want, civic slander and pride, Tennyson implores, concluding
‘Ring in the valiant man and free
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.’
As this year ends and a new one nears, may comfort and joy, peace and hope, marks of the child of Christmas, be yours.