Letter from the Rector
A Curate writes…..
This time of the year always provides a strange intermezzo in the Church's liturgical cycle.
The long forty days of Christmas seem out
of sync with the secular world, perhaps starting to drag a little at the point when they are rescued by the season’s culminating exclamation point of Candlemas. Then we have the briefest of spells of Ordinary Time, its only appearance between December and June, before the privations of Lent begin. In the cycle of the natural seasons, the days are mercifully starting to stretch but are often viciously cold. It is a time of being neither one thing nor the other.
So it is with the pandemic. Having not always managed Covid-19
well, as I write the UK has made a bright start to the vaccination process. At this point, it has vaccinated the fourth highest proportion of its population in the world, behind only three Middle Eastern countries: Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain. I have no idea whether that will remain the case by the time you read this, but the local vaccine rollout in Wiltshire seems to have been extremely impressive, with many of you in the highest priority bands having told me that you have had one or even two jabs already. If the scientists are right, the appalling death rate should start to come down quite rapidly as people are being vaccinated, quite rightly, in order of risk to life, along with our frontline heath and social care workers.
The rest of us will have to wait, and so the pandemic is far from over, and healthy people in their thirties and forties, who rarely die of
Covid-19 but can end up desperately ill in hospital before fighting it off, are probably still many, many, months from vaccination. The UK is unlikely to reach the fabled herd immunity threshold until late summer or even autumn. We will still be living with the tedious restrictions of distancing and isolation for at least the first half of 2021, although probably in an increasingly attenuated form as time goes on.
There were moments like this during the Second World War, when victory seemed inevitable but only at the other side of an ocean of human misery. At one of those moments, when the Battle of Stalingrad was raging high and Rommel and Montgomery were facing off in North Africa, the then Archbishop of Canterbury,
William Temple, wrote Christianity and Social Order. It is hard to imagine now that a book about social policy from an archbishop might be a bestseller, but demand for Temple’s work regularly outstripped the limited wartime supply of paper.
No work of Anglican social theology has ever had more impact than this work. It was a crucial part of building a national consensus on how Britain should develop after victory, as a country fit for heroes, including an expansion of the welfare state, the building of millions of new homes, and perhaps most significantly the NHS whose value we now see underscored.
Between the long-term impact of the pandemic and Brexit, the Britain of the 2020s will inevitably be very different from that of the last generation. How can the Church help people imagine a new future, sharing a vision that learns lessons from the plague year and transcends boundaries of political ideology and class? How can we put into practice what we have learned about how vital those who are least rewarded financially are to the smooth running of the country? How can we make this country fit for NHS heroes today as it was for wartime heroes then?