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Reflections this Christmas from Rich Blake-Lobb, our CEO

I remember around this time last year, wondering what the effects of Covid were going to be on our plans and traditions for Christmas. I recall a child asking if Father Christmas would be safe travelling around the world delivering presents and also whether he may have to self-isolate. In the way that the question was asked it was clear they were concerned for themselves – would they still be waking up on Christmas morning to discover a stash of gifts in a stocking at the end of their bed. The other aspect of their question was genuine concern for Father Christmas and wanting to make sure he would be safe.

Just like that child many of us were also wondering what our Christmas celebrations would look like. Some were grieving loved ones who had passed away during the year before, others were cancelling plans and wondering when they might see loved ones as we waited to hear if, and when, a national lockdown was going to be implemented.

The national lockdown did come in the New Year and 2021 began like no other. In fact, this year has been unusual, to say the least!. Looking back brings forth many emotions – I hope that as you read this, one of those feeling will be a sense of achievement. We have survived – through lockdowns, virtual gatherings, furloughs, immunisations, mask wearing, sanitising – we have made it.

It was at the Life Project Cream Tea back in the summer that I really got a sense of the joy the Life Project brings to people and the collective sense of excitement at gathering together after so many months apart. Although we were still working with restricted numbers and running things differently the sense of togetherness, unity and community radiated from the grounds of the Old Acorn Barn.

Alongside the elation has also been a weariness, some activities or events have been cancelled or postponed whilst others needed to be restructured. We have asked so much of our staff and volunteers to ensure we have continued to deliver sessions in different ways including virtual, half days with fewer Makers and eventually being back to almost full capacity. Managing all of the changeable risk assessments and protocols to provide the safest sessions we are able whilst maintaining the community and ethos of the Life Project. New skills have been learned along the way, opportunities have arisen, and fresh perspective obtained but with so many uncertainties and changes, it has been tiring.

Last year, when I was answering the child’s question about Father Christmas, I had no idea how the year would unfold nor that I would be answering the same question this year as the omicron variant rapidly spreads. What I said to the child last year was that Christmas is a magical time when things don’t always happen as we plan but we should always be expectant. I reassured them that Father Christmas had been delivering presents to hospitals and hospices all over the world for many years, so he would know what to do to keep himself and others safe. I also mentioned the first Christmas when Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and Jesus was born in a place that animals usually lived. Shepherds were greeted by a host of angels and Magi followed a star. None of these were typical events in the eyes of humanity, they were part of any human plan. They weren’t even typical in God’s eyes, this was a one off first Christmas special, but they were part of God’s plan; Jesus was born.

Jesus is known as Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”. Jesus who is also known as the light of the world (John 8:12). The same Jesus who we remember and celebrate as coming into the world each Christmas has been with us, bringing light into the darkest moments of the past year and who offers us light and hope for the days, weeks and months ahead. Jesus who has been with us by his Spirit through all the joys and sorrows, the excitement and weariness. Jesus who remains with us, as the world around us changes, Jesus remains the same – yesterday, today and forever.

Thank you for being part of our Life Project family, I pray you will know something of the miraculous and magical this Christmas and know the peace, love and joy of God as we look forward to the unknowns and opportunities of the year ahead.