It’s now just over a year since I wrote in the Herald that St Mary’s would soon be likely to close for public worship. And that a mysterious disease that was so new it was hard to agree on a name for it, would limit our ability to mix together freely in worship for a short time – or to enjoy a chocolate egg hunt in the churchyard on Easter morning.
Covid-19, for that now seems to be the consensus on how to name it, has had a much longer limiting effect on our community life than anyone could have predicted last April. Many, many people have died. People have been bereaved. People have been profoundly ill. And people have been separated from one another, and from the spaces that normally allow them to be together and acknowledge the importance of their physicality and of community support for their wellbeing, at the most important moments of their lives.
People have also found new and innovative ways of maintaining and forming community, via phone chains, or online, and in person yet at a distance in the periods between lockdowns. For the church, many of our services, social and learning events have become punctuated by previously unfamiliar phrases like “I hope I remember to cut that out in the edit” and “you’re on mute!”
Physical, material ways of interacting with the world and each other, and of worshipping God, have had to be limited for important public health reasons. Yet they are a way of bringing people together, and together in God’s presence, that has been profoundly missed.
This became very obvious when St Mary’s broadcast a Christingle service on our YouTube channel in January. To accompany the service, we arranged for bags to be delivered to all the children connected to the church congregation, containing everything needed to make your own Christingle: from oranges to jelly tots. And as I made a Christingle, talked about the value of wisdom, and then almost set myself on fire on a screen in their living room, the children much more carefully put together their own Christingle. The response to that service was incredibly enthusiastic, and I believe that was because it had a physical, interactive reality that has been very limited within our lives for a year.
Near this anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, St Mary’s is launching a new community art project. This aims to collect and display images of our local community’s experience of the past year. And, so that our human need for tactile living can be satisfied, it is going to take the form of a fabric quilt-style wall hanging.
Anyone and everyone – all ages and genders included – is invited to take part in the project, and if you would like to contribute to this way of drawing together the threads of our community, all you need to do is create a fabric square that can be sewn into the quilt-style wall hanging. You can paint it; embroider it; glue on material or use mixed media.
Each square needs to be cut from a medium weight cotton fabric, and measure 25cm, including a 2.5cm hem by which it can be joined with its neighbours. More details are available by emailing email@example.com, for the attention of Debbie Windeler.
I found creating a couple of squares for this wall hanging, and working on them with my son, very moving – and not only because I am a very clumsy sewer, and kept pricking myself with a needle. My son wanted to paint a picture of the vicarage, in which we have all been confined for most of the past year because I was ordered to shield for medical reasons, showing his face looking out of the bedroom window at everything going on outside. Showing what he was missing. Contact, and community, and also – for a period when we couldn’t get supermarket deliveries – bananas.
And when the quilt-style hanging has been drawn together, displaying all those things from East Barnet that have challenged us and kept us going over the last year, it will be displayed at St Mary’s. When our community can be drawn back together too, physically, it will be a reminder of how important many individual things have been over the past year; and how they gain a deeper significance, as our lives do, by being connected.