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Diary: Chine McDonald

06 January 2023

ISTOCK

Living stones

AFTER years of work, and negotiations, and fund-raising efforts, and disappointments, and miraculous giving, our church has finally embarked upon an ambitious building project. Where the old building once stood, in the heart of bustling Deptford in south-east London, there is now a hole. As well as a church, café, and community space, our new centre will include 33 homes for young, homeless people. It’s an ambitious project and — call me biased — is exactly what the Church should be doing: becoming a place of welcome for those who have no home.

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed the irony that we as a church have become homeless ourselves. We’re currently meeting in a Church of England building that has stood on its site in south-east London since 1695. For a congregation like ours — a raggle-taggle bunch of Nonconformists, with roots in the house-church movement, who pride ourselves on our independence — it has been wonderful to be in this place. At first, I sensed some uncertainty among my fellow congregants. This was not like our modern, if decidedly “lived-in”, church hall; this place came with history, and acoustics in which you could almost hear the voices of those who, over the centuries, had sat in its pews.

It has changed our posture somewhat. I, for one, notice the comfort that comes with tradition, and the increasing freedom that our children have found to run through the aisles. As a temporary home, this will do.

 

Midnight clear

MIDNIGHT MASS always moves me, but this year I was overwhelmed with emotion. Perhaps it was the flicker of the candlelight illuminating the darkness that felt like an image of the desperate hope that the world needs right now. Perhaps it was the relief of a few minutes of respite away from two noisy children, who were safely tucked up in bed at my parents’ house. I know that, every year, I am struck by the words of different carols as if I had never heard them before — that words seem to strike the heart differently, depending on the circumstances in which they’re heard. Now, with such political and economic unrest, from the Covid pandemic to the war in Ukraine, it feels as if the world is groaning; many of us longing for something more, something better. So it was that, as I sang the words to “It came upon the midnight clear”, I was overcome with grief: “Yet with the woes of sin and strife/The world has suffered long;/Beneath the angel-strain have rolled/Two thousand years of wrong.”

And yet the flame of the candle still flickered. The light in the darkness still blazed. Such was the hope that I took away this Christmas — stopping for a moment, to hush the noise, and hear the angels sing.

 

Simple wonders

I CAN hardly believe that my youngest is eight months old. After the early days of sleepless nights and relentless feeding, the blurry-eyed days have morphed into much more manageable sleep deprivation, and the moments of joy outnumber those moments when child-rearing feels like the most difficult job in the world. Christmas is, of course, a time when joyous moments are frequent, as we watch our children surrounded by grandparents and aunts and cousins, and the delight they bring. My eldest regaled family members at Christmas with simple, and yet seemingly hilarious tales, while his grandfather was unbelievably proud that his five-year-old grandson could count up to 1000 — with a little help. Meanwhile, every turn and roll and attempt to crawl by the baby was met with a cheering cloud of witnesses urging him on.

These are the moments of wonder that now make Christmas for us, the simple pleasures almost a defiance of the bleakness that meets us when we leave the warmth of the family home.

 

New beginnings

MY FAVOURITE new-year ritual is to buy a notebook which, each year, is my main source of info: to-do lists, family tasks, gratitude journals, Bible verses, deadlines, dreams, visions, and hopes. I would be lost without it. I am a fully paid-up member of the Bullet Journalling club — a system used by millions around the world to try to manage their home lives and work lives; to conquer that ubiquitous sense of being overwhelmed. As January begins, I take great pleasure in opening up the first page, folding it down, taking in the smell of newness, feeling the crispness. By the end of the year, I know it will be dog-eared and, having been my constant companion for 12 months, it will have picked up dust and dirt, and the odd coffee stain.

I always choose a notebook that has a beautiful cover — one that will bring joy every time I look at it. Doing this is my attempt to bring beauty where there is bleakness; to pierce the darkness with colour, anticipating the fact that I will need this at times when life gets a little too much. I had this epiphany some years ago, when I realised that I needed some practical way of managing it all. While not everything will go to plan this year, though disruption and sadness will inevitably punctuate the months ahead, I will choose beauty.

 

Chine McDonald is a writer and broadcaster, and the Director of Theos.

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