How will you be spending New Year’s Eve? Perhaps snuggled under the duvet, trying to avoid the thought that another year has passed by, and who knows what will happen in 2020?
I shall be in London, staying at Westminster Abbey, where I shall be Duty Chaplain for a week.
Before my retirement in 2018 as Vicar of the Alham Vale Benefice, I noticed an advert in the Church Times for Duty Chaplains at Westminster Abbey. One of the churches in my benefice,
surrounded by cows, was known as ‘the church in the farmyard’ so I thought Westminster would make an interesting contrast with rural Somerset. I applied, and was accepted – and it has been a fascinating and enriching experience.
My first two visits (staying in a small flat just off the main cloister, overlooking the ruined chapel where Hugh of Lincoln was consecrated bishop) were in the height of the summer season, when thousands of visitors from all over the world stream through the Abbey, locked into their headphones which speak to them in their own languages. Each day begins with Morning Prayer at 7.30, and then my job throughout the day is to welcome people and offer a prayer from the main pulpit on the hour (precisely!) and invite them, if they wish, to come to a quiet side chapel to receive prayer for healing, or the sacrament of reconciliation. Once or twice during the week I celebrate the Eucharist at the altar in the nave (in front of that familiar ornate Gothic archway that leads into the Choir). Also, twice a day, I’m there to offer prayers in the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, the ‘Holy of holies’ of the Abbey, where there is certainly a sense of something special. I never know who I’m going to meet, or where conversations will lead; all kinds of people, with so many needs, find their way to this wonderful House of Prayer, and bring with them the stories of their lives.
I offered to cover the week over New Year, because I think for many people it’s a significant time, as they look back over the past year with relief or gratitude, and look ahead to what the future might bring. In my old parish of Evercreech, where there were wonderful bells, we used to gather in church at 11.30 on New Year’s Eve for ‘Blessings, Bells and Bubbly’, and prayed that God would bless and guide us into the New Year. I hope that those who come to the Abbey, wherever in the world they are from, will find there a sense of hope and purpose and peace as a new decade begins.
As the old Methodist hymn puts it:
‘We’ll thank him for all that is past; and trust him for all that’s to come.’
Rosey Lunn Palace Pastor