*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Diary: Lucy Winkett

20 May 2022

ISTOCK

Eyewitness accounts

THIS time of year holds together an odd paradox in parish life. On the one hand, we are approaching Ascension Day: the moment Christianity goes mystical. On the other, annual accounts are being audited, APCMs are being held — and, in our case, the church itself was used for the local elections: pulpit and polling booth quite literally alongside each other in the sanctuary.

There is a great story about Ascension Day, in which Jesus arrives in heaven after the agonising events of Holy Week, and his resurrection appearances. At the gates, Michael (Peter hasn’t arrived yet) asks Jesus how it went, and Jesus says all was as it should have been: “I’ve left Peter and Mary, John, James, and another Mary to carry on.”

“Sounds good,” Michael says, “but obviously you’ve left them with the programme, the strategy, the timelines, and budgets to make sure what you did is rolled out and not wasted?”

Jesus looks at Michael and says simply, “I have made no other plans.”

 

Strange bedfellows

ASCENSION DAY is both a maturing moment (the disciples are blessed by the departing Jesus and are left to get on with it) and a mystical one, given that the physical appearances of Jesus cease. It’s a time for the disciples to develop a degree of independence, make some decisions themselves, start to organise.

And the faster the group grows, the more necessary the organisational element becomes: in Acts, it’s clear that — if organisation hadn’t happened — the ones who were in danger of suffering from this were the most vulnerable in the group. So perhaps it’s not such an odd juxtaposition that the mysticism intrinsic to prayer in the context of the unseen God goes hand in hand with a requirement for the disciples to grow up and make some plans of their own.

The turnout for the local election in this part of London was about 30 per cent. The polling station on the day was peaceful, and the Returning Officer’s team said that they’d had a lovely day in the Wren building, largely untroubled by voters.

Those who did vote, however, effected real change, returning a Labour majority for the first time ever in this borough. Perhaps that’s also a learning point: that seismic change happens sometimes in the peace of a sanctuary, heralded not by trumpets and fanfares, but by the one-by-one actions of a population taking decisions for themselves.

 

Self-determination

THIS year, our in-person APCM was on the feast of Julian of Norwich. We celebrated this mystic of mystics by adopting our annual accounts. I was mystified to see on Anglican Twitter a robust (competitive) exchange between clergy, boasting that — trying to beat their own records — they had got through their APCMs in ten or 12 minutes.

I had to suppress my possibly far too sanctimonious judgement that behind this idolising of efficiency was a “Father/Mother knows best” tendency, which I really (really) don’t like. But my mildly appalled reaction was also informed by knowing that — brilliantly and impressively — this congregation simply wouldn’t allow that to happen. They will have their say and give their reports themselves. So I couldn’t try it, even if I wanted to.

 

Screen saver

ONE of the great reliefs in our latest accounts was that last year’s extremely challenging financial situation was hugely helped by a fee from the Netflix juggernaut that is Bridgerton. Back in September, St James’s was used for the filming of the wedding scene that is central to series two.

Now the secret is out, one of the great delights of this spring is to hear groups of teenagers (mostly girls) run down Piccadilly, screaming as they rush into the church to see where (spoiler alert) Kate dropped her bangle and Anthony realised that he was marrying the wrong sister. It’s been great fun, as well as obviously helpful amid our current challenges. Next stop: Spider-Man?

 

Joy in the morning

ENOUGH of the screen-time: I hadn’t realised quite how much I had missed getting together in person until the weekend before the APCM. The cabaret made a triumphant return, hosted by the resident drag queen of St James’s, and featuring some brilliant young people (as well as some of us who are not quite so young). The pews were once again rocking with laughter — near-the-knuckle humour at times, held within an immense gratitude, after the isolation of the pandemic, that life is lived in community.

It was an evening full of kindness and pathos, which took Saturday night into Sunday morning as our International Group re-formed to cook up a storm of jollof rice and chicken, tables full of delicious Ugandan, Nigerian, and Ghanaian dishes. We danced in the aisles, to hits ranging from Bollywood to ABBA.

Joy had returned in person, led by brave and impressive congregation members who have made it through the system of claiming asylum on the grounds of their sexuality. Both tender and fierce, they spoke of the isolation that the hostile-environment policies have created, and also of the determination needed to retain your humanity in such a frightening and confrontational situation.

At this time of year, I’m reminded once again — if I needed it — that at the altar there is a place for dancing and feeding, a place for drag queens and jerk chicken, a place for the intense and heartfelt prayer of a community never far from destitution, but held, always, in the love of the God whom we trust but cannot see. “I have made no other plans,” he said. Amen to that.

 

The Revd Lucy Winkett is Rector of St James’s, Piccadilly in the diocese of London.

@churchtimes

Sun 03 Jul @ 21:48
A parish priest reflects on a moving encounter with a confirmand https://t.co/GYT34So7jz

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)

*Until the end of June: we’re doubling the number of free articles to eight, to celebrate the publication of our Platinum Jubilee double issue.