(given to the Annual General Meeting on 3rd February 2021)
This last year has been a strange and often frightening time for many people. The Pandemic has thrown all our normal certainties upside down and many of us have had to prioritise our lives in a quite a different way. Many people we know and love have caught the virus, and some have died. It has been a difficult time for us all. Looking back, it is very strange to think that we in CTiF have not seen each other together face to face for a whole year. And yet, although we have not had this precious much more personal communication, we have all kept in touch, and life has gone on. Although I am sure for many of us, the attractions of meeting and working over the internet have long since worn off; nevertheless, it has been a lifeline for ensuring that both in our personal and work lives, we can continue to keep some things going.
Christians Together is no exception, and we managed the transfer to Zoom meetings very well. My first meeting as Chair last year in May was on Zoom and I suspect that we will still be meeting like this until the autumn of this year due to our meeting schedule.
We managed one last face to face meeting just before we all got put into lockdown last March, when many of us met up for the World Day of Prayer service held in the Community Church on the 6th March. This was an excellent service with some powerful personal testimony from Chris Lubee, a former bodyguard to Nelson Mandela. Little did we know, as we enjoyed the worship, prayer and fellowship, that this was to be the last time we would be meeting like this – Oh happy days!!
The first casualties to our normal programme of events last year were the Lent Groups and everything we normally do on Good Friday – our Walk of Witness, service around the podium and fellowship catch up afterwards. It was too soon after the announcement of the national lock down for us to have thought about how we might do things differently. We will not be caught out this year! And so, our Lent groups for 2021 are all on Zoom; and although we are crossing our fingers and praying that we might be able to do something “live” on Good Friday, if we are not able to then we will revert to our well-oiled online possibilities. More of that later.
As the year progressed, so did our ability to keep in touch with each other and ensure that we were all aware of what was going on in our different churches. Many activities were “paused” as people worked out what they could and could not do on the internet. The good news was that as time went on more churches started to find ways of communicating with their congregations, through Zoom, pre-recorded services or live streaming on Facebook. As you will know from the reports we have received during the year, some activities carried out by our churches and groups continued to flourish using Zoom as their way of staying in touch. For others it has been more difficult to maintain the communication, especially for people who had problems with digital connectivity. As summer progressed and the weather got better, some churches cautiously started to open their doors again and hold some services face to face. But the good thing was that most continued to do both online and face to face, which has meant that far more people than ever before have been able to engage with the church of their choice, wherever that may be.
Whilst we did have to cancel our Summer holiday club and CMA Connect was unable to operate, many other activities were continued in a different format. The Christian Aid annual quiz, normally a mainstay of the fund raising effort, could not be held but was made available for people to use in their own homes; and many people did, sending donations in afterwards. Fareham Good Neighbours transferred their personal visiting to telephone calls, and Love and Cherish provided marriage preparation over Zoom. The Community Church and the Catholic church both held Alpha courses online. We wrote to all the Care Homes in Fareham on behalf of us all, expressing support for what they do and saying how much we wished to be of use to them if this were possible. Overall, churches and groups have been really innovative in their efforts to keep in touch, and this must surely be seen as the silver lining to the dark cloud of the Pandemic.
As the year progressed, we began to hope that things might be better by Christmas, only to have all our hopes dashed by the “second wave” that descended on us all from October/November onwards. So more plans were put on hold, particularly the events that we would normally have organised around Christmas such as the community Christingles. People became immensely inventive when it came to ways of trying to keep some things going. I am thinking of the annual Christmas Day Lunch, which morphed into a personal doorstep visit to all those who would have attended, and the presentation of a Christmas hamper to them containing lots of Christmas goodies as well as a lunch! All our churches offered a variety of different types of service over Christmas and worked very hard to ensure that the churches were safe to visit.
The third national lockdown started on Boxing Day and is still going on. It has been a dark and difficult few weeks for so many people. The awful statistic of 100,000 deaths from the virus has been difficult to bear and our prayers are very much for those who have suffered so much. A bright light in the gloom of January for us in Fareham was our first online Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service, which was attended by well over 100 people and was a great success. Huge thanks to all those responsible for organising it, it is something that we will definitely do again.
And so here we are again for our AGM; and I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for the creativity and commitment you have shown, as we have tried to keep the Christ light burning and the flame of Christian unity alive in Fareham through this last year. AGMs are normally a time of ‘thank you’s, and this time I want to pay a special tribute to Jeremy who is standing down after completing his term of 3 years as our Secretary. I am sure you will all agree that he has been highly efficient and effective in the role, assiduous in forwarding email communications from all and sundry and a very accurate note taker of meetings. We are going to miss him hugely, but I am pleased to say he is still staying on as our webmaster and I hope we will continue to see him at meetings.
Thank you also to Liz Dunning who continues in her role as our Treasurer for one more year. Liz does so much more for Christians Together than just the Treasurer role and we owe her our thanks for all she has done this year.
Finally, thank you to all the representatives from Churches and groups who attend our meetings and support us in many ways. Christians Together in Fareham is a lively and energetic group of committed Christians who through their work try to show God’s love to our community and to live out these words from St Paul –
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit, we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one spirit.
God bless you all and keep you safe in these difficult times.