Cakes, Cameras, Car Park Shopping, and Community

It’s incredible how quickly we can adapt to new routines. Only a few months ago the world looked very different to what it does today. At the start of the year, Covid-19 was just rumbling in the background. Then it became more serious: ‘stay at home’ became the new mantra, the cafes, pubs and clubs shut, then the shops, and then the schools and churches. All of a sudden, 2020 would be anything but normal for most people.

Like many families, our family has been on a journey to find a new way of living and working and that has been a huge learning curve; there is no text book, no reference point, no similar incident to learn from. Policy analysts often talk of organisations with memory i.e. organisations such as the NHS or governments that can learn lessons from past events. But what if there is no similar past event to learn from?

As individuals, as families, as a church, a parish, and a country, we have all had to adapt to this new world. Some people have embraced that with passion and enthusiasm; others have found the process incredibly challenging. Either way, life looks different for us all and it will probably continue to do for some time to come.

Even though the early signs of an easing of restrictions appear, the world into which we return will look very different to the one we left. Schools may be opening, but only for some children; shops may be opening, but don’t forget to queue; and we can now meet people, but only six at a time and only outside.

This week I’ve been reflecting on the things that now define my life on a day to day and week by week basis. I’ve been surprised at how easily new things have become part of everyday life. And so, as we turn our thoughts to the future, I’ve been asking myself “what do I want to take with me into this new world and what do I want to leave behind?” 

For me, the last few months have been defined by cake, cameras, car park shopping, and community  – and I would like to keep all of these! Each week, Elaine live streams a Messy Church Bake off on Friday, and each Friday afternoon I get a knock at my door and find the fruits of that Bake Off on my door step. Carrot cake, fairy cakes…all have been gratefully received. And that is how most of our ministry is happening at the moment – either filmed or live streamed via the camera on our iPhones. Who would have thought that a phone camera would become such an essential ministry tool!

One thing that has changed significantly has been shopping and after 2 months I finally gave up on the supermarkets and have embraced shopping ‘old style’ – and it is wonderful! Every Thursday morning, we grab our shopping bags and head to the car park at the Jolly Sailor pub where we buy meat from a proper butcher and fruit and vegetables from a proper green grocer. Inevitably, we bump into someone we know (while socially distancing) and there is such a community atmosphere – long may it continue!

While the lockdown has been incredibly challenging, let’s not be in too much of rush to return to what was before. We have a golden opportunity to rethink, reflect, and reimagine our day to day lives.  So, let’s ponder a while, let’s take our time, and let’s take the opportunity to shape the world we return to for the better.

Janine Arnott

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Anniversaries and Inspirations

Peter Hall’s talk during the streamed Communion service on the morning of Sunday 24th May was one with which I was able to identify in a number of respects. Peter noted that it was the two hundred and eighty-second anniversary of what has become known as the famous preacher, John Wesley’s evangelical conversion; an event at which Wesley himself noted he felt his heart strangely warmed. Some of the facts and figures surrounding his ministry are extraordinary. He travelled on horseback some 250,000 miles to preach – at Peter’s mention of this I remarked to Anne that this is slightly greater than the distance of the Moon from the Earth! Peter obviously finds great inspiration from Wesley, as his mention of this anniversary and what it means to him revealed.

Anniversaries have always seemed to me to be important markers and reminders of events in the lives of people who have inspired us. Because of my interest in the organ and its music, one such is the organist and composer Jehan Alain. He was born on 3rd February 1911 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the eldest of four children in a particularly musical family. His father, Albert, was a church organist and composer who had studied with the leading French organists of his day. He was also a keen amateur organ builder who, over decades constructed an instrument in his own home on which his children and pupils learned. Jehan’s younger sister Marie-Claire Alain, the distinguished organist and lifelong champion of her brother’s music, noted that the house was full of music; the older children teaching the younger ones, who in turn stimulated their elder siblings with their enthusiasm. Jehan was not a child prodigy, but soon became an accomplished organist who was able to deputise for his father, playing for services from the age of eleven. He later studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and was awarded prizes for harmony and fugue, but was sometimes frustrated by the rather formal teaching.

Jehan’s strong Christian faith is revealed in a number of his works, the most famous of which is almost certainly the organ piece Litanies, composed in 1937. At the head of the score he wrote, “When the Christian soul in distress can no longer find any new words to implore the mercy of God, it repeats the same invocation over and over again in a blind faith. The limits of reason are reached. Faith alone continues upward.” He also noted about its performance, “It must create the impression of an ardent supplication. Prayer is not a lament, but an overpowering tornado flattening everything in its way. It’s also an obsession: you must fill people’s ears with it – and God’s ears too!” An irrepressible rhythmic drive propels the piece and, unlike many of Alain’s works, which tend to conclude quietly, it finishes on an astonishingly forceful chord.

His most extended work, composed towards the end of his life, is Trois Danses, a sort of poem of life. The three movements, played without a break are, “Joies” (Joy), “Deuils” (Mourning) and “Luttes” (Struggles). It was intended as a symphonic poem for orchestra, but has come down to us only in two manuscripts, one for piano, with a few notes on orchestration, the other, a transcription for organ.

At the outbreak of WWII, Alain enlisted in the French army as a dispatch rider (he was a keen mechanic and motorcyclist). He saw the entire Flanders campaign, joined the evacuation to England from Dunkerque, returned as a volunteer for a mission in the last battle on the Loire and was killed near Saumur five days before the French withdrew from the War. He had been assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on Saumur. While on patrol, nearing a bend in the road, he spotted a troop of German soldiers and, abandoning his motorcycle, opened fire on them, killing sixteen before being shot himself. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery                   

He had been working on the orchestration of Trois Danses at this time and, as Marie-Claire recounts, the sheets of music blew away from his side-car and into the fields. These “strange papers” were played with by Anjou peasant children, until his work completely disappeared, “washed away by the rain and torn to pieces by those innocent hands.” Fortunately, we have the organ transcription, and it is in this form that the work is known and performed. The sub-title of the middle movement “Duils” is “Dance funèbre pour honorer une mémoire héröique” (Funeral dance to honour the memory of a hero), which, as Marie-Claire notes, if not a coincidence, seems to be a curious and almost disturbing premonition.

Even in its organ transcription (and perhaps for that reason – Alain composed unerringly idiomatically for the instrument) the powerfully searing climax of “Duils” is overwhelming. The movement nevertheless ends with a desolate monody, and it is only at the conclusion of the final movement, “Luttes” that there is any sense of release – the struggles end in triumph. 

On June 20th it will be eighty years to the day since Alain’s untimely death at the age of just twenty-nine. I shall listen to Trois Danses, Litanies and some of his other pieces, and ponder the life and work of a man whose last diary entry stated unequivocally “I believe in God and Jesus Christ” – a credo very much affirmed in his music.

Andrew Mayes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TdlamvJQ28        

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Technology

We have a great deal to be thankful for in the ways we are able to use technology to help us at the moment. Even my technophobe husband would agree with that and is an enthusiastic member of the St. George’s choir quiz night each week. It has also meant a massive learning curve in many ways and achieving Morning Prayer this Tuesday without any omissions or technical hitches was a first for me.

The ability to actually see people as well as speak to them is very important as we read facial expressions and body language in conjunction with the spoken word. So for church life there is a weekly meeting of the strategy group, a small group who are working to keep everything in order for the moment life begins to return to normal. The new Bishop of Chester was presented to the Diocese by Zoom and we were able to watch as various people, including our own vicar Elaine, asked him pertinent questions.

I’m sure many of you have managed to keep in touch with family members and friends through technology. However there was a new experience for me on Tuesday and that was an online physiotherapy consultation for a painful knee.

The old injury that has flared up was caused while on a skiing holiday and I’d like to say that it was a spectacular fall while on the slopes but no, I slipped down some granite steps before I got anywhere near the snow. The result was big damage to muscles in my right buttock which has ended up causing problems over the years. So when my knee became very painful over the weekend, the only thing that I could think I’d been doing differently was spending many hours at my sewing machine. Is there such a thing as sewing machine knee?

I sent a tongue in cheek message to my physio, who is also a friend, asking just that question and she replied asking me to phone her via Messenger which I did. She then gave me a thorough consultation via our phones on video settings. My phone was propped up against a vase on the hearth as I obeyed her instructions so she could see the problem. She was then able to send me an exercise programme with video examples.  Amazing!

Hazel Jenkins

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Keep holding on

Can cast your mind back to the evening of 18th November 2011?  Do you know what you were doing? Who you were with? Where you were?

Just in case you can’t remember, Friday 18th 2011 was Children in Need night. I was at home watching the show with my family as I do every year. But this year was different. 

In 2011, Gareth Malone (a creative choir master) choreographed an event that even the most experienced producers at the time would have balked at. Children’s choirs scattered across the country simultaneously sang a song that was synched collectively and broadcast live. The song was Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne.

In our ‘locked down’ world where we are increasingly engaging with rapidly advancing social media and technology, it’s easy to forget the scale of that achievement. To put it in context, this was the year the iPhone 4 was released (we’re now on iPhone 11), nobody had heard of Zoom, and it would be another 4 years before Facebook offered the facility to live stream.

Until that evening, I’d never heard of Avril Lavigne or that song. But something spoke powerfully to me that evening. It wasn’t so much the words of the song (I don’t remember them), instead it was the meeting of the most basic of human needs (connectedness) through the use of advanced technology that had a profound impact on me. Nine years later I still remember that evening vividly 

I wasn’t a Christian at the time but 3 months later I came to faith in a remarkable way (that’s another story). I quickly felt drawn to media ministry. I had no skills or experience in this area and no previous interest. However, I was captivated by the use of images and media in ministry. So, I learnt about photography and how to edit short films, and I developed a media ministry at the church I attended.

The memory of the Children in Need choir in 2011 came back to me over and over again during this time. I became convinced that the church (my local church and the wider church) would be involved in local and national collective acts of online worship. These acts of worship would show the wider public a different side to the church; they would be positive; life giving; an unprecedented opportunity to spread the gospel message in a way never seen before.

Trusting in God

I felt God’s hand in all of that but I didn’t share those thoughts with anybody. At the time (and until very recently) they seemed bizarre and even fanciful. Few churches actively engaged with social media or had an online presence. Many feared the negative potential of social media. The technology seemed out of reach and complicated. Furthermore, if we believed the reports, the public had no appetite for the gospel message and the church was in a rapid and unstoppable state of decline.

Of course, God has bigger ideas and look where we are now! In the midst of a terrible global pandemic the church has adapted and responded in a way that was unimaginable only 3 months ago.  As church buildings closed for the first time in history the church hasn’t just shifted on line, it’s exploded online. And last week we saw churches across the country and the world take part in synchronised online acts of worship such as this:   

and then the children joined in!

Keep holding on

As I wrote this blog, I looked back on that song from Children in Need 2011. I had never really listened to the words until now, they weren’t that important at the time. But, as I listen to them now, I’m taken aback by the lyrics. Here’s the first verse:

You’re not alone
Together we stand
I’ll be by your side
You know I’ll take your hand

You can access the whole lyrics here: 

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/avrillavigne/keepholdingon.html

And watch the full Children in Need Children’s Choir here:

Prophecy

God speaks to us in many ways and all prophecy should be tested. An important test is that prophecy should always edify, exhort and console, and build up the church (1 Cor.14:3-5). Having watched God’s wonderful prophecy being realised within such terrible circumstances I’m sharing this with you now for encouragement and to glorify God. 

So, when you’re having a bad day, when the technology doesn’t work, when you are wondering if anyone is watching your podcast, or when you asking yourself “what’s the point?” please take these words of encouragement:

God is in this and all this is in God’s timing. He goes before us, beside us, and He is behind us (Is.45:2; Psalm 139). 

God equips us individually and collectively for everything He calls us to. (2 Tim.3:16-17)

God did not want this but He will use it to grow His church in wonderful and creative ways beyond anything we could ever imagine (Rm 8:28; Eph. 3:20)

We are not just ‘making do’ here. We are actively part of God moving and working amongst us and in this situation. We all have a role to play in this (2 Peter 1:20-21)

And lastly, when things get tough, please “Keep holding on, you’re not alone”.

Janine Arnott

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Connection is Contagious

How are you doing with the lock down?  It may be that with restrictions being eased a little, life may become easier for you.  On the other hand it may not.  Recently there has been lots of speculation as to what will and will not happen.  But circumstances have not been speculative for these last weeks.  They have been real.  For some, that has meant a tough and stressful time.  For others it has been an opportunity to connect with those they live with, to sort things that have been long neglected, or to pursue a new activity.

My wife and I have largely been able to treat this time as a time of opportunity.  Quietly getting on with our life, our rhythm and our routine, however, has led me to forget that others are having a very different experience.  The radio has given me some timely reminders.  I’d forgotten that the streets had been cleared of homeless people, that they had been re-housed in the empty hotels.

Patrick was being housed in the Holiday Inn in Bristol.  He had been homeless after leaving care at 16.  His parents had died when he was 11.  When he was asked what being housed in the Holiday Inn was like, without hesitation he said, ‘prison!’.  He then explained that he was on his own, confined in one small room for 23 hours a day.  The only people who had been in contact were the Big Issue team to ask how he was.  On the street, selling the Big Issue, he had a chance to encounter people, to be connected.

As human beings we are programmed to connect, to seek and celebrate connection.

Separation is alien to us and that is what we have been asked to do over these past weeks, to separate.  In avoiding a contagious virus, we have been deprived of togetherness and all that this brings.  Like Jesus, at times it is good for us to separate and to reflect, to ‘go into the wilderness to pray’, but, as he showed us, it is also important to connect with those around us.

Chris Dawson

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Masks Galore

As lockdown continues, I’m continuing to stay busy and yes the house has actually been spring cleaned throughout now although with us being here all the time, it gets messy again very quickly. The garden continues to thrive and has needed a lot of watering in the recent hot weather. I’ve learnt more new skills such as doing morning prayers live, albeit on the third attempt last Tuesday. I can summon people to a zoom meeting and I am able to do an online shop. It’s definitely a measure of the current times that the greatest excitement of the day is having reserved a delivery slot with Morrisons or Asda.

I’ve listened carefully to all of the advice coming from official sources and like much of the population, got very confused by some of it. The evidence on mask wearing seems conflicting and somewhat vague, and I do understand that wearing one in public is often of more benefit to everyone else rather than myself, but that’s fine. My husband has a chronic chest condition and so would seem to be more at risk than many and although he hasn’t been in a shop in weeks and I have only been in one or two local shops, I decided to make some masks.

The first prototype would have been a delight to any airborne virus. There were gaping holes on either side of the nose, but then having this pointed protuberance in the middle of your face does make life awkward. Also they could have got in around the chin and the whole thing was generally useless. So off to Google and YouTube and there I found a more effective looking pattern and having found the correct sized dinner plate to draw round I made one and I have to say it’s much more effective, so more have followed.

Then comes the crunch of using them. I’m carrying hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, wipes and the mask in my bag at all times. Well I am a GirlGuide and our motto is Be Prepared, so I am. I’ve just been to the Post Office to post two birthday parcels, one to a small girl who will be 8 this week and the other to a good friend who lives on her own and lost her Mother last week and will be having a very significant birthday on Friday, so needs cheering up. I donned the mask as I entered the shop, but what I hadn’t anticipated is that the combination of mask, hearing aids and glasses is lethal. The aids flipped out as put the loops behind my ears and once everything was in place, my breath through the mask caused my glasses to steam up! Oh well, plenty of time yet to practise!

Hazel Jenkins

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Living with clergy: behind the scenes.

It’s been seven weeks now since the lockdown started and this is what it’s like living in a clergy home.

My mum is at home all the time! Her clergy robes hang in the hallway and also on the washing line after a funeral. Our dog, Holly has got so used to us both being at home that she won’t be away from us for more than a few minutes. I’m not sure how she will cope when the church opens again and my mum goes back to work.

People knock on our door to say hello and leave presents on our door step. Then they move to the bottom of the path and my mum talks to them from the door step. It’s nice to see people. 

We go through so much food because my mum is always home. I wonder how often she ate in the Funky Monkey before the lockdown?

We have a stack of craft equipment in the cellar and every Saturday morning my mum wanders around the house looking for tape or ribbon or some other craft stuff that is probably still boxed up from the house move – or Holly has stolen it!

Them, every Saturday afternoon our dining room gets turned into a Messy Church film studio and sometimes I’m asked to do strange things, like being blindfolded for a game or sticking my face in a plate full of cream! It’s actually quite fun!

Every Sunday evening at 9.00pm we stop what we’re doing and our lounge becomes another makeshift film studio for Compline live streamed.

I’ve become an expert at moving furniture around, balancing an iphone on a music stand and checking lighting! I also have to give feedback after live streamed services. “Was the sound ok?” or “Could you see what I was doing?”

I’ve become the dog sitter. Every Saturday afternoon and every Sunday evening at 9.00pm I take the dog upstairs and make sure she doesn’t escape or make any noise. I’m not sure those watching Compline would appreciate Holly jumping around during prayers. So I watch my mum online from a different room, just like everyone else. As soon as the live stream has finished, I know I can let Holly out.

It has been fun having my mum at home and seeing what goes on to get ready for services. The best thing has been cooking and baking. Having my mum at home all the time means we have time to cook and bake together much more and we do that every day. I also like the cakes that Elaine keeps delivering to our doorstep.

When this is over and my mum goes back out to work I hope we carry on baking and cooking.

Alex (Curates son)

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It’s a dogs’ life

Something has changed over the last couple of months and I’m loving it!

My human mum used to go out of the house and leave me with Alex for an eternity. I’ve been begging my mum to stay at home with me and it’s worked! She has now learnt that her job is to be at home with me all the time so she can feed me, play with me, and rub my tummy.

Sometimes she forgets what her new job is so I have to remind her. She has this square thing called a laptop. I’m not sure what it does but she spends far too much time looking at it instead of playing with me. I’ve found that if I lie across it, she stops looking at it and rubs my tummy instead – so that is what I do.

Every day she disappears into this room at the back of the house. I think she calls it a study. Sometimes I’m allowed in there too but only if I’m good. I was very good the other day and I helped my human mum shred some paper. I know she was pleased!

Every Saturday my human mum gets ready for something called Messy Church and we play a game where we search the house for things like tape or ribbon. I love this game! I find craft things and hide them around the house so we can play together! My human mum spends lots of time looking for the things I’ve hidden – I’m so good at this game!

I’m also really good at clearing up. Yesterday I helped by carrying two cups full of paint into the house from the garden. My human mum’s been teaching me ‘fetch’ so I knew she would be pleased! I only spilt a little bit.

I’m not always allowed to help. Yesterday my human mum and Alex were playing a game and they had squirty cream and it got everywhere. I really wanted to help clear that up but they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me help clear up the cake either, but I am so good at that!

On Sunday evenings I go for a walk and then at 9.00pm I have to hide upstairs with Alex. I’m not sure what my human mum does but me and Alex watch her talking on this little square screen. When Alex stops watching I’m allowed to go and find my human mum and I run downstairs as fast as possible and jump as high as I can to show her how much I have missed her.

I’m so pleased my human mum has learnt that her job is to be at home with me. If I can just teach her to leave the bag of dog treats where I can reach them life will be perfect!

Holly x

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Living life in Lycra Leggings

Every Church of England preacher loves a bit of alliteration; the gospel message using three headings all of the same letter.

However, this is how life in lockdown can be. Living life in Lycra Leggings

Having been used to wearing a uniform as a nurse and then a uniform of sorts as a priest, it becomes second nature to dress for the occasion

Many companies have Dress Down Friday where formal suits are set aside for an open necked shirt and chinos and women in casual trousers and top.

What I am finding is that it is easy to have a dress down Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday …. through to the whole week.

Leggings have become my best friend. Easy to wear and easy to wash. I have a whole wardrobe of suitable attire but I reach for my go to gear which would make Gok Wan keel over in horror.

Am I at the stage and age when cumfy is the watchword or is it just the convenience of not having to think about what to wear?

Is it just me bringing out the old faithfuls which no one will see and no one much cares?

Are we locked down in our closet where the oldest and most threadbare of clothing lives? Clothes that would be more suitable for digging or painting, but never to see the light of day in normal circumstances, are worn with brazen confidence in the sure knowledge that nobody knows…??

You may be reassured that clerical attire is worn when live streaming services and for funerals but the leggings still lurk in the wardrobe and as soon as I am invisible again they are back on. Old friends.

Elaine

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Taizé / Rogation / Compline

It seems quite a while ago since being in discussion about Taizé Services for 2020. The first, held on 16th February, was much enjoyed, but little did we realise then how much our worship was about to be affected. The remaining Taizé services were to be on Monday in Holy Week, Sunday 17th May and Sunday 11th October (Harvest). My diary, rather unusually in these more secular times, identifies each Sunday with its correct place in the liturgical calendar (and all other important feasts and Saints, days). From this I noticed that 17th May is Rogation Sunday, and thus related to the Harvest service we’d scheduled for later in the year, though it hadn’t been particularly planned that way.

Rogation Sunday has always seemed to me to be at the beginning the process that ends with Harvest; a time of prayer and intercession for a satisfactory yield from the crops being, or about to be sown. I had begun to investigate how this theme could be incorporated in our 17th May Taizé Service. But then came the lockdown! Our plans for the Taizé-style Communion service on the evening of Monday in Holy week, had to be radically altered. For a start, it was now going to be streamed live, and the inclusion of any music in such a service would require the permission of the copyright holder. Though it has been possible to obtain the kind permission of David Thorne, the composer of the Mass for St. Thomas for its use in subsequent streamed Communion services, there was little prospect of similar permission for the use of the Taizé chants it had been planned to include.

There are elements within a Taizé type service that provide its essential atmosphere and character: the chants, certainly, but also the meditative nature of the prayers, the inclusion of some none-Biblical texts, especially poetry, the specific period of silence, and to an extent the lighting of candles. Fortunately, the elements we were able to include within the now familiar office for the Distribution of Holy Communion at Home or in Hospital worked satisfactorily when streamed on Monday in Holy Week, but it was clear that a typical Taizé Service was less likely to do so; a live streamed ten-minute silence would certainly present problems! My plans for the 17th May service needed revising.

Then I remembered some thoughts I’d had about the possibility of a Taizé – style Compline service; a meditative, reflective service in which some Taizé elements could be comfortably accommodated. The usual chants couldn’t be sung, but perhaps the Compline Hymn could, and lighting a candle and including a shorter silence might also be practical. I began to work on something along such lines.

In addition, I thought it worth exploring a little more about Rogation itself. The word comes from the Latin “rogare” – “to ask”. Rogation days date back to the 5th century, replacing the Roman “Robigalia”, a sacrificial rite to propitiate the deity Robigus, requesting the protection of crops. Rogation originally involved fasting and abstinence on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday immediately before the celebration of Ascension Day. In addition, farmers had crops blessed by a priest, asking for God’s blessing for a bountiful harvest. Rogation reached the British Isles in the 7th century and began to involve a more elaborate ceremony on the Sunday before Ascension Day. In addition to the blessing of crops, this included a “Beating the Bounds” procession around a parish boundary, often involving banners representing Biblical characters – a dragon (Pontius Pilate) and a lion (Jesus Christ); all very different from the original penitential beginnings.

Our celebrations of harvest have evolved beyond thanksgiving for the successful gathering of crops, important as this may be, and the entire subject of climate change, and our stewardship of the earth and its resources, have become an increasingly important part. Rogation too, as I noted earlier, at the opposite end of the growth cycle, will inevitably also embrace these aspects. The streamed Compline Service on the evening of Sunday 17th May will have a Rogation theme and Taizé elements too. By Harvest time it would be good to think that the present restrictions that prevent us holding services in church will have been mostly lifted, and a more familiar Taizé type service will be possible. We must continue to pray that this will be the case!

Andrew Mayes

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