Well what a year this has been, and yet it is important at this stage to remember which year we are gathering up at this APCM, it is of course 2019. Now that seems an awful long time ago.

If you look at the minutes you’ll remember that at last year’s APCM Alison Battye our then curate led the meeting. She of course was licensed to her new role as Rector of Adel in September.

At the time of the APCM I was on holiday, sorry sabbatical and that does seem a very very long time ago.

I wistfully remember it every time I turn on my computer and see my lock screen which is of Iona Abbey looking across to Bishop’s House where I stayed and beyond across the channel to the Island of Mull – I shall return. 

And so it is in effect 2019 that this Annual Meeting is concerned with, and yet it all seems such a long time ago, and rather like BC and AD, I cannot help think that in our memories there will be BC – before Covid and AC – after Covid – for it is this pandemic that has dominated the life of the church here for this year, and we are not finished yet.

Hope is on the horizon – but we still have a way to go.

So rather than use this time to look way back to 2019 (the paperwork for 2019 has been published for sometime and do ask any other questions you have about that year) it seems wise to spend a few minutes reflecting on what has been this year, hopefully to use this time to give a brief sense of where we have come from, where are up to now and where we are heading and then have a time for questions and answers if that will be helpful at the end.

When I convened to Coronavirus Management Team in February or March, I forget which month I didn’t think that we would still be needing to meet in November.

I suppose then we thought it might last a few months but here we are many months on. At the beginning we had to adapt quickly, and go from being a busy parish with lots going on to really just focusing, at least at first on our primary vocation as a church – to worship.

And we had to do this online. Some I know have found that difficult and maybe even resented it a bit – for some it has felt like too much too soon as it were but we have really had no choice. And it has been a lifeline for many, a valuable means for holding us together as Christ’s body here. 

Of course I’d be the first to say we could have done some things better or quicker – we got things wrong and as we go forward I suspect we will still not make the right choices for some but we have genuinely done our best.

What I hope we have done is to be an inclusive as we possibly can (knowing that the internet is not for everyone) and carried people with us as best we can and hoping that a good dollop of good will and understanding would see us through, and by and large it has.

I want to give thanks to the members of that team to Dave Scholey and James Black, Janet Blenkinsop, Sue and Glenn Middleditch, Lesley Hughes, Giles Taylor, Alistair Hezel and Nick Jackson who have been an invaluable resource for over the year and worked to keep things going when our footing seems so insecure, communicating with the wider PCC and the whole parish to help keep people informed about what we have been up to.

In particular I want to pay tribute to Nick Jackson who has been the key person in enabling us to first get online when it all began and then has refined and refined the process until we are where we are.

I am immensely proud of what we have managed to do over the last few months and how primarily through our worship online we have managed to keep our community worshipping week by week, and to mark those significant moments and events that give rhythm to the year

Who will forget the birds singing at the outdoor Eucharist for Easter, or the Marc Chagall inspired stained glass window in the Vicarage but those were the early days- we managed to do Holy Week and Easter.

We still managed to sing our hymns, albeit without a choir at first though of course more recently we have been able to sing along with our church choir.

I know it has been strange and for weeks and months we have felt deprived of the physical, the sacrament yes but also passing the peace, shaking hands and having a hug.

And though things opened up for a time and it was a joy to be back in church, though of course adapting again to new circumstances – my thanks is extended this evening to all who have contributed online we have had a wide range of readers and intercessors even had Bishops and Archdeacons and colleagues preaching.

Yet beyond our worshipping life we have we have through the pandemic tried to make sure that people are supported, we set up a caller network to supplement all the good work that was already happening to make sure members of our church family and beyond were not isolated and I’m grateful to all those who have so faithfully cared for others over the year.

We set up online coffee mornings, which were appreciated for a time though not the most spontaneous forum and gradually we cautiously opened for private prayer and likewise live worship.

As you know that has now ceased but we hope it will not be too long before we can gather again – but whatever else happens we know that our online presence will remain. Aside from keeping us all in touch, it has enabled folk to see something of our life all around the world, albeit it in a limited way.

It is amazing how quickly things can move if we want them to.None of us would have chosen what we have been through but rather like life we look for the blessings and give thanks.

Of course the last year has been painful we have not been able to say farewell to beloved members of our families both in church and beyond as we would wish, that has been really hard – we have had a wedding and baptisms with facemasks – yet despite the challenges we have continued to be the community that we all so value and cherish.

Phone calls have been made, conversations had, help offered, friendships made.

I am also immensely proud that we have managed to offer our diocese, facing a huge challenge at this time our best financial support and this really matters and has helped the deficit in the diocese which is considerable be less than it might have been.

The long term consequences of the pandemic will take some time to work through, some things have changed. For example though the PCC needs to meet in person, small groupings can meet online much more easily and efficiently.

And beyond our own parish questions about the viability and future of small congregations, and buildings which are beyond our means to maintain will have to be considered.

Yet we do so no matter what the challenges as people of hope, indeed I have held close some words from the first letter of John ‘we are children of God and it is not yet revealed what will be’. ‘It is not yet revealed what will be.’ In the meantime we are faithful as God is faithful to us.

And so though the famous Whitkirk blanket that which describes something of the care and love felt within our community has been stretched a bit these days perhaps it’s grown thicker and warmer too, holding us close as we navigate these days until we meet again in the fullness of relationship with a handshake and a hug that will be such a relief.

And lets have a party, lets have a party – heralded perhaps by the newly and fully restored bells!

Throughout this time I am conscious of being held, held by you in prayer and supported. Of course we have all been frustrated at times, wished things had been different but then look at the bible and see how many people in their may have had those feelings only for something greater to emerge.

When we emerge we shall have to take our time, we shall have pay attention to each other and make sure we don’t run before we can walk, think perhaps of the image of a flower opening in slow motion as being a guide for us.

Next year we hope for things to change so that when our annual meeting takes place then, hopefully in April or May things will be different and the flower can be opening more fully.

Thank you all for the part you have played large or small in this extraordinary year, one that we will try and document, at least a little in the commemorative Landmark that we are working on due to be published soon.

And let us pray for grace and understanding and patience as we go forward and online and in-person continue to be a place where ‘all find a welcome and are nurtured in their journey with Christ’.