A message from Fr. Chris as we enter this unusual Advent season...
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Advent is the season of looking forward, of expectation. The word “advent” comes to us from the Latin for “arrival,” and its meaning is plain: we look forward both to the arrival of the Messiah promised in scripture and given to us in the nativity, and to His glorious return. But in this time of Advent, looking forward is also about looking backwards: we are looking towards the fulfillment of a promise made in the deep past by God to Israel.
Even Christmastide’s close secular holiday, New Year’s Day, acknowledges the connection of looking forward and backward with its ritual combination of “resolutions”, or promises to ourselves to reform or repair deficiencies in our lives from the prior year: we make forward looking promises to be different this year, this time. A promise binds the future to the past.
As we look back over this church year, we are aware that so much of it has been overshadowed by the pandemic. Whilst 1992 might well have been an ‘Annus Horribilis’ for the Queen, 2020 has been a horrible year for the world. Some very promising coronavirus vaccine results mean that there is finally "light at the end of the tunnel", and we can allow ourselves to be at least cautiously optimistic as we begin our new church year.
I am immensely proud of how St Cross has risen to the challenges thrown up by the coronavirus. Some remarkable things in the life of our church have happened over the past few months. Like many other churches we have embraced technology to hold our services and communicate with the faithful. In many ways this was made easier for us, as we were already fortunate enough to have a fantastically dedicated webteam in the form of Rachel and Jill. Without their know-how and the recent addition of our very cool and unflappable videographer, Alex, I suspect we would have struggled to translate the weekly worship into an easily accessible digital experience. My hope is that we will go on live streaming our services well beyond lockdown and the pandemic as there will always be those among us who cannot get to church.
Our Food Bank remained open through both the first and second lockdowns despite rocketing demand. At the height of demand we were distributing up to 170 bags of food a week to local residents. We are now bracing ourselves for another spike in demand as a result of the economic fallout from the current lockdown. The Food Bank team is also excited to be spawning a small satellite Food Bank for the residents of Olivia Lodge.
The work we are doing towards the reopening of Barrington Street Community Centre continues to make headway. We are in the process of securing the funds needed to repair the building (£188,000) as well as to cover running costs for years 2 and 3 (£30,000). We have managed to secure funds to meet the running costs for Year 1. In addition to these costs, our Business Plan prioritises the employment of a Centre Manager for three years and so we are also in the process of applying for funding for this post too. The pandemic has made it even clearer to us the vital role that a community hub could play for the most vulnerable in our parish.
Equally encouraging has been the growth in vocations we have seen at St Cross over the past year. Jill Files, Carole Upton, Sam Buami, Ebenezer Oke and Michael Ajidgbo all completed the Foundations For Ministry Course and all five of them have decided to go on to further training with the intention of developing specific ministries within the parish of St Cross.
As we look forward to the start of a new church year I am sure that, like me, you are longing for a return to some form of normality and are greatly encouraged by the confirmation that places of worship will be able to reopen for public worship in all tiers and in all parts of the country from December 2nd. Whilst this means we can now approach Advent and Christmas with more certainty, we hold in our prayers those who have lost loved ones or livelihoods, or who are potentially still not able to be together with loved ones.
This Christmas St Cross Church will need, in the words of St Paul in Romans 12.15, to ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep’. In this time of Advent, looking forward to the great joy that is to be found in the fulfillment of a promise made in the past by God to Israel means also looking backwards and embracing a wider community that wants to join in the celebration but may not yet be physically able – or emotionally ready – to do so.