The Unseen is Seen
Next month we will welcome Rev. Thomas Sander to St Giles as he takes up his post as our new Rector. In preparation for this happy occasion, Oliver and Wil, our churchwardens, offer this reflection on the past year in the life of our community:
This time last year, we wrote here in the Pelican about stepping into the unknown. Little did we know then that 2020 would turn out to be a year unlike any most of us have known during our lifetimes. It was a year of anxiety, of fear, of loss and mourning. It was also a year of plans broken and schedules delayed, of meetings with loved ones postponed. Most painfully, for some it was a year when they could not be with their loved ones in the hour of their death.
Its hard to imagine any of us will look back at 2020 as a year we would want to repeat. But, just as our faith teaches us that in the darkness there is always a glimmer of light, so the dark year past has offered up reasons for hope and optimism.
In many ways, 2020 was a year when the unseen became seen. This is certainly true of the unseen but ever present virus that has so disrupted our lives – somehow something so small has become an ever present spectre in our minds and our public discourse. But other things have become more visible over this past year as well. The strictures of “lockdown” and “self-isolation” have revealed our own human vulnerabilities and made more obvious our shared responsibility to care for those among us affected by health conditions which, under ordinary circumstances, are invisible, but in this pandemic time have been made obvious. Likewise, it has forced us to think about the needs of those people who society has made great efforts to “tidy” away – the elderly and those living in adult residential care most of all. By now, it is also apparent that the ubiquitous virus maps shown on the news have also revealed the stark social and economic inequalities that exist in this country, which make it more likely that someone living in a poor neighbourhood will get sick than someone living in an affluent area.
For our parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, navigating a year of interregnum during this pandemic has revealed much about what it means to be a church in this place and time. Periods of lockdown have taught us that our community of faith exists beyond the church building and that a meaningful shared spiritual life can survive physical separation with the help of technology. Conversely, we have gained a new appreciation of how precious it is to be able to come together in God’s house for shared worship, even when that service is curtailed and distorted by public health restrictions.
We started 2020 in the spirit of the unbidden journey – like Mary and Joseph fleeing into Egypt, uncertain what the future would hold. As the cycle of the church calendar would have it, we come back around to that theme again at this New Year. But, just maybe, over the time that has elapsed, we have as a church been able to explore a little more deeply what it means to journey in faith and have become less daunted by that step into the unknown. We have certainly experienced adversity, set backs and anxieties, but we have also been reminded of God’s providential purposes time and again.
It is with real joy and anticipation that we can now look forward to welcoming Tom Sander to St Giles to be our next Rector. Having completed the move from Hertfordshire over the Christmas holiday, those of you who are around St Giles can expect to start bumping into Tom in the coming weeks, prior to his licensing and collation on 2 February. This will be a strange time to begin ministry in a new parish, so we hope everyone will make a special effort to extend the welcome for which St Giles is rightly known.
We churchwardens will, of course, be especially happy to welcome Tom and to share with him some of the responsibilities that have fallen to us over the past year. It would have been impossible to keep the church open and operating without the tireless work of our staff – we are immensely grateful to Lesley, Jonathan, Richard, Suzie, Jocelyn and Sarah for their commitment and steadfastness. Likewise, the PCC have been a great source of wisdom and good sense, often going beyond what is required of them. Special thanks must go to our PCC secretary, Robert Throw, and PCC Treasurer, Will Grundy, for all the time and effort they put in. Likewise, thanks to Sanae and Audrey, who keep the choir in good order, and to Zi Ken, whose dedication has meant that we were able to resume observance of weekday Morning Prayer in church in recent months.
We have also benefitted from the ministry and practical support of a large number of clergy during the interregnum. We are especially grateful to Neil Bunker, Liz Russell, Michael Lynch and our former Rector, Bill Jacob, who have carried much of the responsibility of leading worship over the past year, as well as Simon Buckley, Philip Chester, Neil Evans, Paul Gurnham, Alan Gyle, Andrew Keep, David Peebles and Andrew Willson, who have all offered their time so freely. It has been a great blessing to benefit from the variety of their gifts.
The journey ahead remains uncertain. But as a church, we press on in good cheer and as we journey on into 2021, may we wish you the very best for a healthier, less socially-distanced, New Year and look forward to seeing you at St Giles before long.
Wil James & Oliver Flory