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Diary: Lucy Winkett

05 January 2024


Spirit of Christmas

IT WAS an incident that the Revd Geraldine Granger of Dibley would have been proud to recount. The supermarket delivery arrived at the church offices on Christmas Eve, for the lunch that is served to all comers on Christmas Day. Food for 130 people was checked off. It was all there: the bags of carrots, potatoes, the nut roast, the turkey crowns, the pigs in their blankets. And the nine-and-a-half kilos of sprouts — but wait. . .

The van had delivered not nine-and-a-half kilos of sprouts, but nine sprouts. Costing 27p. Actually, not even that, because — the original order having been for nine-and-a-half — at some point in the chain, the decision had clearly been taken that it was more trouble than it was worth to halve a single sprout; so the number had been rounded up to a magnificent ten. Ten actual sprouts, in a bag.

As you would expect from an experienced and resolute parish lunch team, they refused to panic or abandon the possibility of sprouts when even the aforementioned pigs were throwing down their blankets in disgust. More were sourced (other supermarkets are available), and, reader, there were enough sprouts for everyone, with more to spare.

Seeing is believing

ONE of the most important and moving aspects of this annual lunch, held in the church’s sanctuary, straight after the strains of “Yea, Lord, we greet thee” have died away, is that the teams of volunteers who come for the “chopathon” (not quite as alarming as it sounds) on Christmas Eve, and then to serve on Christmas Day, are drawn from neighbours and friends, from other organisations and faith communities — notably, our friends at the synagogue.

At a time when anti-Semitic attacks in London are rising, this longstanding arrangement was especially important this year, and one for which we were particularly grateful. We have a lot of fun together, and lasting friendships are made.

It also gives us licence (if we needed it) to widen the singalong repertoire as soon as the Christmas pudding is served: of course, we start off with the expected “Hark! the Silent Flocks”, but move swiftly on to a playlist that is more Spice Girls than Christina Rossetti. Bing, Mariah, George, Eartha. . . and, this year, in honour of the late, great Shane MacGowan, the assembled voices raised the 1684 roof with “The boys from the NYPD choir were singing ‘Galway Bay’ And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day”.

One of our more mischievous guests explained to three young tourists (as it happened, from Mexico — “We’ve come to London to see how you celebrate Christmas”) that in Europe the song of the angels was believed to be the Abba classic “Dancing Queen”, which was in full swing as they wandered into the pews at 2pm on Christmas afternoon. And that it was traditional to sing this together for the season.

Mobile-phone footage was being posted on social media before any corrections could be made.

Litany of lament

THEN, those searing church days, straight after the dancing in the aisles: St Stephen the deacon, murdered while coats were laid at the feet of a young man named Saul; followed, just a couple of days later, by the Holy Innocents. Standing at the altar, wearing blood-red vestments, reading about Jesus and his family fleeing to Egypt, I found it impossible not to feel agonised for all the thousands of children in Gaza whose families would have given anything, in these past weeks, to be able to use the Rafah crossing south into Egypt, but found the border shut.

Literal read-across is dangerous — listening to the power of the Gospel has to be done with great care — but the fear described in Matthew’s Gospel as the Holy Family fled persecution, and the sight, this year, of Bethlehem’s Christmas cancellations; the estimated 1200 children killed in the past five weeks in war-torn Sudan; the murder or kidnap by Hamas of 40 Israeli children; the death of an estimated 500 children in Ukraine; and the violent deaths of an estimated 8000 children in Gaza, today give Matthew’s Gospel truth about the unconsoled mothers and fathers an unbearable poignancy.

Signs and portents

SYMBOLISM isn’t enough, I thought, as I stood at the altar, once more resolving to trust the sacrament to express the agony of every single one of these losses. Grief is grief, no matter whose child has died. And, while human pain isolates and separates us from one another, at the altar I understand that God’s pain, suffered in Christ, does the opposite. Christ’s death connects, unifies, saves, comforts. Sometimes, I think it’s the only way I can remain standing there: presiding at that broken-hearted celebration of the eucharist in a world so full of violence and shame.

Just as Epiphany itself is an annual revelation, so the myrrh, frankincense, and gold carry their meaning today just as powerfully as they did that first time. And particular appreciation, this year, for the myrrh: as pungent, as prescient, as needed, now — for the children in the rubble of this New Year — as then, while he was asleep on the hay.

The Revd Lucy Winkett is Rector of St James’s, Piccadilly, and Priest-in-Charge of St Pancras Church, Euston Road, in the diocese of London.

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Thu 20 Apr @ 16:08
The Archbishop of Canterbury has received the specially commissioned King James Bible that will be presented to Kin… https://t.co/u8LMnSFcfV

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