Message from The Vice-Dean of Wincheser Cathedral, Canon Roly Riem, Tuesday 3 November 2020
I thought you might find this interesting, and find the prayer at the end helpful for your own use. Canon Gary.
Back to square one. That’s the fear we all have as a new lockdown looms.
Covid has taken us into a game of Snakes and Ladders where the progress we seemed to be making over the summer now seems to be just a moment’s advantage in a long slog around the board. Suddenly we face the longest snake, from near the finish right back to the beginning.
But we are not back to where we started. More than 47 000 are already dead as a direct result of the disease. We are fed up and frustrated; mental illness is increasing; businesses are on their last legs; those who can make the most difference to our health and wellbeing are the most exhausted; the most vulnerable will once again become isolated; and all this is happening as flu and dark nights return.
I don’t want to deny hope, rather to be realistic about the weeks ahead, and to acknowledge the scale of the problem. We cannot honestly say that that we are ‘rounding the curve’ or that the figures we face have been exaggerated. Those for excess deaths tell an even bleaker story.
The historic prayer book of the Church of England was completed in the plague-ridden 17th century. One of its prayers entitled, ‘In the time of any common Plague or Sickness’, emphasises just how ‘normal’ looked to them. It begins, ‘Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness.’
I admire the frankness of this opening. It acknowledges that no favoured group can expect exception from sickness, and that one bad thing can, and often will, happen on top of another – the wilderness and the plague must have been a terrible combination.
After naming another heaven-sent disaster which dispatched 10 060 souls, the prayer continues: ‘have pity upon us miserable sinners … may it now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness.’
21st century people, who know about viruses, tend not to imagine God turning the tap of sickness on and off to punish us, but there is something here to appreciate. When we face a crisis beyond our resources and feel ourselves punished and picked upon, then only God can finally save us: God working through those researching treatments for the illness and a vaccine; God sustaining those who feel at the end of their tether; God prompting us to help our neighbour.
This is more than a fancy way of talking about our own initiatives and actions, because God is super-natural energy, available to people who require pity and whose best efforts constantly fall short – ‘miserable sinners’ in the Prayer Book’s language.
The times of ‘pestilence’ we are facing aren’t historically unusual, and we must relearn the lesson that in the bleakest of times we are not on our own: there is an Almighty God to call upon, who can deliver us from our afflictions. He is there to help us in our struggles.
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As I have said, the coming lockdown will return us roughly to our state at the start of July. This is going to hard for us all and we will do our best to support each other as the restrictions bite. One way the Cathedral will support you is by reinstating our Daily Reflections, from Thursday 5th November.
From Thursday also volunteers will not be allowed to undertake their duties in the cathedral. I write this with great sadness and in full appreciation of the extraordinary service volunteers have given in the past months. The human contact has been good for us all, as well as for our visitors and worshippers online and in the cathedral. We hope that in December things will change quickly for the better.
May I remind you that there is a way of keeping in touch with others after Evening Prayer/Evensong, via Zoom? This happens every day apart from Tuesdays and Thursdays. The easiest way to reach this is via the link on our livestreaming site: https://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/service-live-stream/. It is a friendly group, with which members of the clergy join in. Those wanting to speak to a priest please phone the pastoral number 01962 857701 or contact us directly be email. Those wishing to ask for prayers please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please check our website for updates, but those who cannot access email will be sent the Dean’s letter by post during the lockdown.
The cathedral nave only will be open between 11noon and 3pm, should you wish to come in for prayer and reflection. We hope to livestream all services, with special attention to Sundays, though we do not yet know what musical forces will be possible. As during the lockdown there is no public worship, Remembrance and Advent Sunday services will be livestreamed at the address given above. Tickets for services in December will be suspended until we know what we can offer.
Let me finish by quoting from a prayer sometimes falsely attributed to Francis Drake, rather mellower than the one in the Book of Common Prayer, which may give us the courage to press on:
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Vice-Dean and Canon Chancellor