As the certainty of Christmas approaches in ever-changing times, the Dean of Wakefield, Simon Cowling reflects on Christianity’s proven endurance in this recently published opinion piece:
"Let me introduce you to Ea. She is our catering manager at Wakefield Cathedral and is in charge of the Cathedral Kitchen, our friendly café at the very heart of the city.
Ea’s cinnamon whirls, a nod to her native Denmark, are normally a major attraction for her customers at this time of year.
This year, though, the continuing Covid-19 restrictions mean that things are different and Ea’s cinnamon whirls are, sadly, unavailable (though, knowing Ea, I am sure she’d be happy to give you the recipe).
Along with the rest of West Yorkshire, Wakefield was placed in Tier 3 on December 2 at the end of the late-autumn lockdown and Ea and her colleagues (like so many employees in Wakefield) are on furlough, uncertain about when they will be able to welcome people back to enjoy their warm hospitality and home baking.
Along with ‘unprecedented’, the word ‘uncertainty’ is surely a candidate for Word of the Year 2020. Will I be able to visit my loved one in her care home this Christmas? How long will I be on furlough? Will I be able to have my long-awaited hip replacement at the local hospital?
More grimly, for some people who work in retail including many in Wakefield, the discomfort of living with these many different sorts of uncertainty has been compounded by the likelihood of redundancy.
Over the past eight months places of worship have not been immune to uncertainty. Churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples – all have had to learn how to navigate the legal requirements of the various Covid- 19 restrictions on opening for individual prayer and public worship.
At Wakefield Cathedral we changed our Christmas service schedule no fewer than four times in late November in order to ensure that the arrangements for our services over the festive period would be not only safe, but also compliant with the emerging regulations.
Nor have we been unaffected by the digital turn our society is taking, as evidenced by our shopping habits. Like many of our colleagues in churches across the country, the clergy at the cathedral have become used to our building doubling up as a kind of grand TV studio as our services are streamed directly into people’s homes.
And after over 30 years in ministry I even had the novel experience of having one of my sermons applauded by the small congregation that had been invited for the recording of a special Christmas service a few weeks ago! It’s certainly been a strange year.
But if I am sure of one thing it is that Wakefield Cathedral will continue to watch protectively and confidently over our city and surrounding district well beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, and that our ministry will adapt, evolve and expand as we embrace the digital age and respond to the changes in people’s needs and expectations.
I know that Ea and her colleagues will miss welcoming people to the Cathedral Kitchen this December, just as I know that people will miss sampling Ea’s cinnamon whirls.
But although these Danish delights and all our other customary Christmas fare may have temporarily disappeared from the menu at Wakefield Cathedral this year, Christmas certainly hasn’t.
We won’t be able to sing our favourite carols, but we will still be able to listen to those familiar readings from the Bible and be reminded once again of the same good news that the angels first brought to the shepherds outside Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
And this year, perhaps more than ever, we can take heart from the fact that uncertainty surrounded the birth of Jesus that first Christmas: it was uncertain until the very last moment whether there would be a place for Mary to give birth to her child; there was uncertainty about where Mary might lie him down to sleep until a manger, an animal trough, was found; there was uncertainty about whether Jesus would even survive King Herod’s anger at the news of his birth, or the subsequent journey Mary and Joseph had to make with him into temporary exile in Egypt.
Christianity was, quite literally, born in uncertainty and yet has survived to sustain and give meaning to the lives of millions of people over the centuries.
Amidst all our uncertainty this year, that is surely worth remembering
The Very Reverend Simon Cowling, Dean of Wakefield.