(A most unusual) Christmas in the Benefice
It was a very different journey through Advent to Christmas in 2020, as our two churches adapted to the changing rules around social distancing, whilst still taking us on the journey of watching and waiting throughout Advent, and on to the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.
Many traditions were upheld, some faced necessary change and some new, exciting activities were added. Here is a snapshot of the season in South Newbury and Wash Common.
A series of three reflective services starting on Advent Sunday both via Zoom, and socially-distanced in church. The theme was that of “Waiting” with Taize style worship, making use of silences and repetitive meditative songs to deepen our awareness of God.
There were also small group meetings held via Zoom, continuing the theme of waiting and focusing on hope, faith and joy through the annunciation and birth of Jesus.
The Benefice website hosted an online Advent calendar, created by Fr Gary. Each day explored Advent with meditations, poems, music and an encouragement for families to spend a brief time of togetherness in this busy time. You can still access the Advent calendar here.
This year, around 100 Christingle kits were made up in bags, with all the elements needed to create a Christingle (you just needed to add the orange). Almost all of these were collected from outside St George’s and we imagined Christingles being created all over area. A Zoomed workshop was held on Saturday, 5th December where the story behind the Christingle was explained and there was then an opportunity to gather in church during the Sunday All Age service to light the candles. During this time, well over £500 was donated for The Children’s Society’s vital work.
The work by the young people of St George’s for the crib service began back in October, when Revd Terry and Kathy held a mini Holiday Club during half term where the children had an early start to their Christmas festivities, making crafts and starting to prepare for the service. The service was then recorded and there were nearly 300 views online with people watching them tell the Christmas story in traditional fashion, with singing and musical pieces performed by the children themselves. You can still see this on our YouTube Channel.
St John’s were pleased to offer ‘a reflective gift’ to some of the more isolated member’s of our community. Three Tulips, (a symbol of the Trinity) given in pots with some encouraging words and prayers about the ‘slow-pace’ of hope and prayer. Quite literally a day-by-day process of growth, persistence and following the rhythm of the seasons.
St George’s also made Tulip deliveries to more isolated members of the community. They were first blessed during the service then delivered by our ‘Tulip Elves’, in full PPE.
School assemblies and toddler groups
Revd Becky held school assemblies online and hosted Christmas sessions for the Toddler Group, to keep Christmas as normal as possible for the children.
Santa visited St John’s Preschool just before Christmas, and Fr Gary allowed him into St John’s to warm up again and read a heartwarming Christmas Eve story to the children. You can see it here.
Justacross Christmas Meal
14 of St George’s teenagers who usually enjoy a full Christmas meal in a home were treated instead to a socially-distanced MacDonald’s takeaway in the Church Hall. Apart from the difference in location and meal, they still enjoyed games and Secret Santas.
As we headed into Tier 4, it became necessary to change plans and most services were recorded and delivered online, whilst still capturing the joy of Christmas. Many people tuned into both Midnight Mass and the Eucharist on Christmas morning online, whilst a small number of people chose to attend the services that were held under strict social distancing rules at St George’s on Christmas morning.
St John’s – a light in the darkness
On Christmas Eve for a few hours St John’s Church was lit up as a beacon of light and hope in these dark times. Seen by many as they drove or walked around, making last minutes preparations for Christmas, it reminded us all that good takes place even in the chaos.
Fr Gary’s Back made the Front Page!
Our Benefice activities were picked up by Newbury Weekly News in the Christmas week, and they ran a very encouraging piece about our ‘ever-improvising’ response to Christmas. There has been an encouraging and encouraged response from many people in the area.
Wash Common Nativity Trail
St George’s set up a safe, family fun activity around the streets of Wash Common during Advent. Panels depicting all those involved in the story of the Nativity could be spotted outside houses and some featured stars to spot, spelling out a Christmas word which could enter into a prize draw for a family hamper of Christmas goodies.
The panels all returned to St George’s and by Christmas Eve they were displayed outside the church, forming a Nativity scene. 27 winning entries all correctly uncovered the word EMMANUEL and the winning Brautigan family were presented with their hamper.
West Berkshire Foodbank
The churches were delighted to support our local Foodbank’s Reverse Advent Calendar appeal and the collection point outside St George’s Church was very well used throughout December.
Sadly, the need for Foodbank support is ever-growing, so please continue to support by adding a few items to your weekly shop and either leave in the supermarket drop offs, or at the collection point outside St George’s which is open during the day every day except Monday. the up-to-date list of items needed can be found here or via the Foodbank app.
Christmas Meal Delivery
The usual Christmas Day Meals organised by CTNA and held at St George’s Hall had be changed to a delivery service for 2020. A huge team effort saw the delivery of a total of 102 meals to the elderly, those living alone or who were otherwise in need, including a piece of homemade Christmas cake. Well done to all the volunteers who gave up their time to make this happen.
Newbury Soup Kitchen was also very busy supporting those in need in our town. Details are here. Can you spot Fr Gary?