From the Rector

Dear friends at Holy Cross,

This is my third magazine editorial in lockdown and, just as my six-month old daughter has spent more time in the womb than in the world, so I have spent more time as Rector of Holy Cross not seeing the congregation than physically being with you.

Even so, there are a lot of positive things going on. Our life of worship is continuing, dispersed, on Zoom, with the aid of video and sharing the worship of our Bishops and other communities online. You have seen the Rector and his wife singing in their kitchen and their daughter blowing a raspberry.

We are keeping in touch by our weekly e-news, emails and phone calls. Fundraising and preparation for our new heating system is advancing, led by a skilled team from the congregation, and is revealing impressive generosity not only from Holy Cross people but from our neighbours who value having our wee church in their midst. Above all there are all the acts of kindness that are going on, I hear of many when I speak with you and read of many others in our city and beyond.

On the other hand there is sadness, fear, pain and death in this crisis – not least because it is caused by a hidden and deadly virus, a new plague or pestilence. I have heard of trouble in families, an increase of abuse and people living with great fear.

Our own Helen Allan died recently – we hold her, Jane and all the family in our prayers – and various members of our congregation have been or are in hospital. In addition to this many, including some at Holy Cross, have their income or job in danger and there is fear of the coming economic recession. Many of us are missing our church and missing Holy Communion with deep pain.

Our personal response to the crisis varies widely. Some are missing family and social interaction whereas others are really enjoying the space and freedom that lockdown brings. These are not right or wrong, they are just the way God and our experiences have made us. Talking with other clergy, it seems that we, along with others who continue to work, are probably busier than usual, working in new ways and trying to hold things together without the usual props.

Whatever our situation, the lockdown is an occasion for grace. Jesus sought time alone to pray and be with his Father. Christians have always followed him in this and I was pleased, looking through old Holy Cross magazines, to see the excitement in the congregation when Joan, Sylvia and others made friends with Mother Mary Agnes of the Society of Our Lady of the Isles when she began her solitary hermit life in Shetland in the 1980s. Many of you will know how Mother Mary Agnes was important in our coming to Holy Cross.

Joining with other local churches in the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ Novena or wave of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost, which is about to begin as I write this, is a way of helping us deepen our connection with God, as is using the daily Bible readings in our weekly e-news. The crisis is helping us learn new skills, compassion, contemplation and deeper prayer, but also the enjoyment of solitude. Another modern hermit, the novelist and writer Sara Maitland recently wrote in the Guardian:

‘What if, instead of a huge disadvantage, being alone were framed as an opportunity for developing the self? Solitude seems to be more or less a necessity for creativity, for instance, whether it is drawing, painting, writing, learning an instrument, cooking or any other kind of creative activity. It is also very useful for anyone wanting to deepen their spirituality – this is why both Christians and Buddhists encourage retreats: periods of chosen isolation and usually silence. I believe that in order to see well, and particularly to see wild nature, you need to be comfortable within your own solitude. Almost all good field naturalists would agree that both the silence and the patience needed are enhanced when you walk or sit by yourself. We know too that practised solitude increases self-knowledge and independence. And this makes us less vulnerable to emotional abuse and more able to remove ourselves from such situations. And this in itself may well make us a better, because less needy, friend when we do engage…

‘Spending time alone is in fact spending time with the person you know best of all and who knows you better than anyone else does. Solitude deepens self-knowledge. Interestingly, the words solitude and loneliness ought to have similar meanings: solo and alone do after all. But faced with courage and determination they do not. Loneliness is a negative, sad feeling. Solitude on the other hand is bliss. And practice makes perfect. So practise.’

So, let us live with Jesus as a community of solitude and communion, thanking him for the strange graces of this time. May God bless you and yours, ask if you need anything, and, as before, I end with Jesus’ words which we used on our last Sunday together at Holy Cross, ‘love your neighbour and do not be afraid’. Keep safe and may we meet again soon!

With love in Christ,


Photograph, the Oratory at the Rectory.

Read Stephen’s ‘thoughts on liturgy, history and religion’ in his blog

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