2020 was not the year we asked for and not the year we expected. A lot of people had focused on the big number year and its association with vision as a significant milestone to aim for. We all had 2020 visions. Others also because of the symmetry of the year had planned big wedding celebrations.
Our expectations for this year were that it would be another year of Gospel work in Bearwood, continuing to build relationships, do outreach, disciple people. We came here in 2010 looking forward to spending the rest of, at least, our working lives here. There were going to be some milestone celebrations along the way, a colleague’s wedding and two family milestones rolled into one with my mum’s 80th coinciding with her and my dad celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary. We had also booked in for the Keswick Convention for the first time in a few years and were looking forward to gathering with crowds at the new site for refreshing worship and te4aching.
Well, 2020 hasn’t panned out that way has it? For me, it started with a slow return to work after being hit hard with depression. And we also had a growing awareness that rather than settled continuity, we might be about to experience some disruption, that God was moving us on. Except even that didn’t turn out to be so straight forward. I had an interview and some potential conversations lined up and then, bang, the pandemic hit. We found ourselves in the middle of a lockdown that was meant to be a couple of weeks long to smooth out the bump and protect the NHS. We still looked forward to Easter or at least summer celebrations when we would gather again. But the pandemic and the lockdown dragged on and rather than bouncing out of it we stuttered. Socially distanced services with face masks and no singing were allowed. We were able to meet with neighbours but only in bubbles of six and outdoors and soon even those permissions were snuffed out for a second lockdown.
Vicars that had planned to do lots of weddings found themselves instead doing lots of difficult stripped back funerals. Businesses that planned to launch new ventures found themselves furloughing staff. Ambitions, dreams and projects were put on hold and some were shut down permanently.
It wasn’t the year we expected, wanted or asked for. Indeed, for many it wasn’t the year that they had been promised by politicians and prosperity preachers but it was the year we were given. I believe in a good and sovereign God. So, although I find much of the last year or so bewildering, I firmly believe that God has been with us this year. So I want to look back and see what he has given us.
I think for many of us, God gave us a time to pause, stop and rest. He slowed us down where we have been busy. This was the equivalent of the Israelite Sabbath year. Ground was left fallow. Incredibly, one of the beautiful things in the midst of that was that creation came back to our cities. Reduced traffic and noise meant we saw more and more birds, foxes, squirrels etc than normal. We learnt to enjoy the goodness of creation again.
We learnt to stop taking things for granted. Whether it was panic buying or a break down in supply chains, we found that we could not guarantee that the luxuries and even the basics would be in our weekly shop. It was a treat when we got those things.
We were able to build closer relationships even as our social interactions were restricted. People took time to make phone and zoom calls. We had time with our families as lockdown meant we worked from home. We started going on long walks to get exercise or just to have a change of scenery and we began to spot and say hello to people on our routes. We looked out for our neighbours. We stood on our doorsteps and applauded together. We had BBQs in the garden, conversation and laughter late into the evening.
Many of us found that we had time to pray and to engage with God’s Word in a new and meaningful way. We realised that the authorities we trust in are in fact powerless. We learnt to hold less tightly to the things of this world and more tightly to Christ.