What are your most valued memories of 2020?
In a strange year, little things stand out: a leisurely meal in beautiful surroundings, a holiday on the Isle of Wight, Zoom quizzes with family and friends, and long walks on the South Downs with my grandson.
At the beginning of 2020 it was the attempt to finish well as Pastor of Lancing Tab and preaching on Paul’s letter to the Philippians as my last series at the Tab. In 1982 I started my pastoral ministry in Lowestoft with that letter. What a lot of memories were made during those years.
The letter reminds me again that the church is God’s brilliant idea. It is a beautiful place, where sometimes we can act ugly.
It is people that provide our most precious memories and some of the worst.
A full church at the end of February celebrating 22 years in Lancing, a lovely tea, many kind words and lots of hugs. One of the gifts we were given by the congregation was a book of photos from throughout the time we had been at Lancing Tab. The front cover had a picture of me pouring tea from a huge teapot at the serving hatch at the church. It reminded me of 1,000s of moments over a cuppa, snatches of conversation and arrow prayers.
Enforced lockdowns, social distancing and limited numbers for gatherings made me appreciate those moments when people could meet in person.
n March I started to work full-time for The School of Preachers Trust. We managed to have our final School of Preachers event of a two-year course in March but by the end of my trip Latvia was in lockdown. My final meeting there involved preaching to a camera for the live feed of the International Church in Riga. I didn’t really have time to think about how different an experience this was. I stood in front of the camera, looked squarely at the lens and poured out my message for all I was worth.
Some of my recording experiences after this were a little more stressful. It is very easy to overthink the process of recording a sermon online. All of the technical things do need to be in place, but these are not the most important components of the sermon.
Winston Churchill said that a good sandwich needs bread cut thin enough to taste the filling but thick enough to carry the contents to the mouth. We need to give careful attention to the technology and process of delivering a sermon digitally but not forget what we are saying and why we are saying it.
At Christmas this year our time together was brief. Yet 2020 has taught us to savour every unexpected moment.
One of my favourite verses in the Christmas story is Luke 2:19:
"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
We are not told what these memories were, but I guess that many of them were collected by Luke and scattered throughout his retelling of the story of Jesus in his gospel. Luke didn’t waste any of these memories; he savoured each one of them as something precious. The treasured memories of Mary and all the other eyewitnesses of this story are woven into a message that informs our understanding, feeds our imagination, and prompts our response to Jesus.
What will we do with the memories we have of 2020?
Will we allow these memories to shape our understanding, imaginations and our response to Jesus?