Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You will remember the Queen’s broadcast to the nation in April when she finished with the words of Vera Lynn’s wartime song ‘we’ll meet again’. This was taken up again on VE Day in May when many in the country waved Union Jacks and sang Dame Vera’s trademark song. Like most of us I was not around in wartime, but I remember watching Vera Lynn in a series of television shows at the beginning of the 1960’s and got to know all her songs as though I had been there twenty years earlier. Like so many people I came to admire her after learning of her work entertaining the troops during the war. And not just the troops but the nation as a whole. But she was more than an entertainer. It is clear that during the war she stood as a symbol of optimism and fortitude, symbolising also the way the nation came together in the face of adversity.
Dame Vera’s death in June therefore seems all the more poignant. Although Covid19 can hardly be compared with the Second World War, it has had the effect for the past few months of bringing the nation together once more in fighting the threat. There has been a number of well publicised cases of people breaking – or at least stretching – the rules, and at the start there was the experience of empty shelves as people panicked and bought more than they needed, but on the whole people have come together to overcome the enemy, looking out for each other as well as themselves.
There has been one other recent event that has brought together right-thinking people throughout the world, the senseless and barbaric killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is a pity that some of the peaceful protests against racism and police brutality were undermined by a few people intent on violence, looting and arson but sadly that is often the case, whatever the cause being protested. But since George Floyd’s death the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fore issues which have often been simmering below the surface, particularly the racism which many firmly believe to be entrenched in some institutions. Even the Church of England has not been exempt from accusations of racial discrimination. I hope and believe that here at All Saints racism does not exist; we are a multi-racial, multi-cultural family. But if I am wrong please let me know. Any form of racism or discrimination must be challenged.
The past few months of lockdown will certainly go down in history, much as we still talk of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. But even among those who have been spared the virus the lockdown has affected people in different ways. Some of you have been able to join in spirit with me and with each other at our usual Mass times in the live streaming of Mass from my home. Some have enjoyed the opportunity it has given to catch up on their reading or clear out the cupboards. Some have had to learn new ways of working from home, while others have had to get to grips with home schooling and ways of learning very different from when they were at school. But for some people in the country it has been a very difficult time especially those having to shield, those living alone, those with poor health, those with a reduced income and uncertain future employment prospects. As we slowly start to come out of lockdown we must continue to look after each other and pray for each other.
As I write, the government has announced the reopening of churches for services but we await further guidance from the government and from the bishops about how this is to take place. One thing that is certain is that initially at least our Masses will be different from what we are used to; in particular there will be social distancing and it is likely that there will be no singing, no Mass books. But it will be good for us to have the opportunity to be together again. I appreciate that after three months of lockdown, and while there is still the possibility of a recurrence of the virus, some of you may feel that you are not ready to start coming to collective worship again; it may take time to adjust. But please come and join us when you feel able to do so. I look forward to seeing you all once more.