Fr Christopher’s Report to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 16th May 2021
The word of 2020 must surely be ‘unprecedented’. No one could have foreseen the impact the covid 19 virus would have on our daily lives. And in particular no one could have foreseen that at a time when there was such a need for prayer and mutual support churches would be closed down, first of all by the Archbishops and then by government order. I’ve tried to find out what happened during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and although the situation is not totally clear it seems that though some churches may have closed then because of local circumstances there was no national closure of churches in the UK. And not even during the darkest days of the war were churches made to close. Unprecedented is not too strong a word for the months of closure forced upon us during 2020. Yet perhaps we might note that it was not in fact the first-time churches had been ordered to close. In 1208 Pope Innocent III laid a general interdict on the whole of England and Wales. Services were suspended, no-one was allowed to attend Mass other than clergy, the deceased could not be buried in consecrated ground. All of this because King John would not accept the Pope’s nomination of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The interdict lasted for six years.
I don’t need to rehearse all the effects the pandemic had on All Saints during 2020. You can read in the reports of the secretary and the treasurer about some of its impact on our lives together and on our church finances and I referred to some of it in my last report which was made only about six months ago. We didn’t know then that churches would be forced to close again from 5th November to 2nd December. Fortunately we were able to celebrate Christmas in church, though inevitably perhaps numbers at the carol service, Midnight Mass and Christmas Mass of the Day were considerably lower than in previous years. Sadly we thought it necessary to cancel the crib and Christingle service. Teddy Bear church was also unable to meet after the first lockdown began for the rest of the year. Other casualties of lockdown included our Lent study group which could meet for only a few weeks and our annual pilgrimage to Walsingham which had to be cancelled.
Though we could not celebrate Mass in church for several months we did manage to set up a Facebook page for the church on which I streamed Mass on behalf of the parish from my home on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Numbers of viewers fluctuated quite a lot – and not all of them were regular church members – but it was a way of maintaining public worship during the church closure even though of course you were all sadly unable to receive Holy Communion. After churches reopened, it was decided to continue to stream Mass from the St Michael’s chapel on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings, though technology – or my use of it- occasionally fails. For some of the lockdown we were able to open the church for private prayer and I know that many of you found that very comforting. I was also able to prerecord some Zoom sessions for the carol service and end of term service at our school. Together with other places of worship in Merton we recently received a certificate from the Mayor of Merton recording our commitment and dedication to faith communities and others during the pandemic.
There were moments of sadness during 2020, including the funerals of Pauline Brooking and Jackie Ramsay and also of Jonathan Reeve, though, sad as these were, we were also able to celebrate all that was good in their lives.
The annual meeting is traditionally a time for thanking all those who have contributed so much to ur lives at All Saints. And I’m doing that by thanking all of you. You are all essential to our family life here and I’m immensely grateful for your loyal support of All Saints. Once more I’m not going to give a long list of names of those I wish to thank, but I must give enormous thanks to Chris and Roger our churchwardens. As if wardens did not have enough to do in normal times, the need to keep an eye on the church building while it was closed, and undertaking and implementing regular risk assessments which had to be carried out before we could resume worship, added to their workload. They also took it upon themselves to open the church for private prayer twice a week before communal worship was allowed. And I must thank Jenny our parish administrator, in particular for her work in continuing to prepare and deliver the parish magazine throughout lockdown. I’ve already thanked Linda and Allison for their reports, but of course those reports don’t show the work that lies behind them. Forgive me if I don’t mention others by name, but I do want each one of you to accept my thanks for you are each essential to our life and witness. I’m privileged to serve in such a wonderful church.
It would be easy to make this report just a message of gloom. But despite everything we have much to be thankful for. In particular for the support we gave each other during lockdown. I know from phoning or emailing you that you were all caring for each other. Though it would be easy for people to drift away from church during a long lockdown, this hasn’t happened. And of course we must be thankful for the skills of scientists who have developed vaccines against the virus. I hope that very soon we will all have been fully vaccinated and that we will be able to offer our worship in our traditional ways. And we are thankful for our faith in troubled times, for as St Paul tells us, ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Thank you all very much.