After a year of living with COVID-19, St Edmund’s re-opened for Public Worship on Easter Day. We intentionally kept the church building closed until the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, in order to stand alongside the local community in its lockdown and to make public health our priority. But the church itself remained active and open throughout with online worship, prayer and pastoral support, doing our bit for the E4 Churches’ Food Bank, as well as keeping the Animal Food Bank going that runs from St Edmund’s serving local needs. Easter was great celebration, with people coming together again in person (socially distanced), but also remembering all we have gone through and those we have lost.
We are proud to be hosting one of Waltham Forest’s COVID Vaccination Centres. First opened on 8 January, we have seen the hard work that has gone into setting it up and running it, and received many positive and thankful messages from those who have received their vaccination so far. Our centre covers 50,000 patients in the local area, including 5 GP Practices and 6 Care Homes, with the aim of getting through 500 vaccinations a day. Since opening, the centre has been featured on news bulletins: first on the London ITV News on 8 January when Dr Asad Ashraf (Clinical Director for the E4 Primary Care Network) spoke of challenges from the uncertainties in the delivery of vaccines and lack of funding to hire dedicated staff; and secondly, on 2 February, when the BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg interviewed army medics administering the vaccine for the lead story on its national bulletins.
This year’s Animal Blessing Service was a smaller event, but was perhaps more intimate and personal for that. Five dogs brought their owners and friends with them, and after some initial barking settled down for their special service. They listened carefully to see how well their human carers knew them, as each were asked what the dogs enjoyed most. They must have approved of James commending the humans to learn from dogs’ exuberance and positive nature, and were reassured that by his comment that a blessing in church would make a dog no more immune from misbehaving as soon as they leave the church than any human.
The church celebrated today (in a socially-distanced, non-party way) with James, as he presided for the first time among us following his ordination as priest. Joined by his friend Julia Sheffield (from his sending church) who preached, and his parents, church members came together in person and online to thank James for all he had brought to the life of our church. He was presented with a card and present from his friends and folk at St Edmund’s. James acknowledged that it had been a lovely yet strange year, but highlighted that his ordination as priest wasn’t an ending – nor even a beginning – but rather a day of moving along, as we recover from these days of lockdown and find new ways of being with Christ.
On 18 March, St Edmund’s in line with all other churches across England suspended all services and activities in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our main act of worship transferred online using Zoom conferencing, with most of the congregation continuing to come together on video and by phone with an average attendance of 56. Our online worship and fellowship was included by the Diocese of Chelmsford, when it reported on good news stories of how churches were finding new ways to bless their communities. Now five months later, on 23 August, our main act of worship will resume in church, as we move towards finding a ‘new normal’. We are intentionally keeping to our ‘Eucharistic Fast’ for another month, with our first Communion since lockdown on 27 September. This will be the day after James our curate is priested and the service will be a celebration of new beginnings and new ministry, with James presiding.