At 6:31 a.m. on Dec. 8, 2020, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan received the first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, just one week before she turned 91. To news reporters gathered around to watch the historic event, she said, “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for, because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”
At the tender age of 91, Margaret Keenan turns to the future with a sense of newfound hope. She looks to re-connect. With the turn of a page of the calendar, we bid adieu to 2020. It was a year like no other. It was a year shaped by pandemic and our response to it. We learned quickly how to live on our own. We learned to adapt, to physical distance, to Zoom and livestream. We closed the doors of our churches, opened them and closed them again. We grappled with what it means to gather and commune remotely. We observed a eucharistic fast and dwelled in the Word. We learned to receive Communion spiritually. We tried to flatten the curve in the attempt to keep each other safe. We made it through one wave and braced ourselves for the second.
We learned to wear masks, everywhere. We leaned on curb-side pickup, Amazon and Netflix. We lived at home, worked from home, went to school at home. We mixed business attire with pajama bottoms. Some of us grew beards and let our hair grow (well some of us, anyway). And we reached out to neighbouring parishes and pooled our resources to support one another in these unprecedented times.
At the same time, issues of concern, need and alarm surfaced. We were confronted once again by the sin of racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. We were awakened to the reality that so many in our society live in poverty, struggle with precarious housing and food insecurity. We were roused by the needs of so many who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. And we grappled with how to respond to the rising incidents of domestic abuse.
As we step into 2021, we welcome the possibility of putting COVID-19 to the side with the advent of a vaccine. We share in Margaret Keenan’s hope for a return to a life that we miss. At the same time, I hope that we will not squander the lessons that we learned together in 2020. I pray that we will not lose our 2020 vision, the sharpness or clarity of seeing at a distance. We learned in 2020 how to be vulnerable, resilient and tenacious. We made promises together. We pledged to serve our elders more carefully. We promised to put down racism in all its forms in our churches and communities. We told ourselves that we would raise up the poor and seal the cracks in our social structures through which so many have fallen. And we have to do our part in healing creation and lowering our carbon footprint.
With the turn of the calendar, I am conscious that almost half of my episcopacy thus far has been served in pandemic. This time is shaping me deeply. To this time, we are each called to bear witness to the faith that is in us. Like the Magi, we find our bearings from the heavens; like the Shepherds, we are guided by angels and wend our way back to the fields from Bethlehem.
Just like Margaret Keenan, or Sarah and Abraham, we do not allow age or fatigue to diminish the hope that we are called to live into every day. For a Child has been born for us, who is Christ the Lord.