1st February 2021 (The Feast of St. Brigid)
I know how much so many of you are looking forward to coming back to church in person. I am, too. Lockdown in January — a sufficiently bleak month even in normal times — has been a long and difficult experience for us all. Although the vaccine gives us some sense of a light at the end of the tunnel, it does sometimes feel as if we are travelling through that tunnel at a snail’s pace!
Having discussed the ongoing situation with the other Newport clergy, we are all of a mind that, as much as it pains us, worship services should remain online-only for the month of February. You’ve seen enough of these notices by now that I’m sure we’re past the point of me needing to rehearse the reasons yet again. But do let me say that I share your disappointment well and truly.
Our YouTube channel is still very much active, and you can find it on: https://saintjohns.stream .
We are approaching Lent — a time for reflection and turning — and, as we do, I am minded to encourage us all not to be too hard on ourselves. There is a time and a place; and I am not sure that Lent this year is it. The Christian Church, and the Jewish faith in which we find our roots, has a long tradition of lamentation in its literature; how many Psalms of lamentation do we hear each year, for example? This, too, is a valid expression in Lent, and perhaps more appropriate for the times in which we find ourselves. Lamentation allows us to give voice, perhaps even loud voice, to our sense of sorrow, fear, loneliness, and struggle. It allows us to grieve for our losses and those of our loved ones. It allows us to ask God, “why?” And it does so without requiring us to point fingers quite so explicitly at ourselves as we might if “sin” were our watchword. None of this is to say that we shouldn’t turn from sin, especially where it concerns the matters we are currently lamenting. But perhaps this year’s Lenten fast becomes an especially potent act of solidarity when we acknowledge plainly and simple the mess we’re in (no matter whose fault it is) and our turning to God becomes a deep, honest, heart-felt, unified cry for salvation — for darkness to become light.
It is also worth remembering, as I’ve often said to you before, that Lent never comes without the hope of Easter. It is never an aimless trip through the darkness, but always a journey through to the dawn of the resurrection and life eternal. In practical terms, I’m going to stick my neck out and say I’m genuinely hoping and planning for a return to in-person church on Easter, if not perhaps much before. (We’ll have to see.) And in spiritual terms, my hope and prayer is that our collective lamentation can lead to a constructive, hopeful conversation about what we have learned during the lockdowns: what, by its very absence, have we discovered to be important about Church? What new things have sprung up and worked? What dead things are better off staying dead? How, when we’ve come through it all, do we at answer the needs of a wider world that needs both to heal and then thrive? This is my goal for a Lenten journey in 2021, and it is my prayer that we all can join in taking that journey together.