Saint Margaret's Hornby
Saint Michael the Archangel Whittington
Saint John the Baptist Arkholme
Saint John the Evangelist Gressingham
in the Lune Valley in north Lancashire

Vicar’s report for Annual Parish Meetings in 2021

As 2020 began, the Whittington and Arkholme congregations were worshipping together as a single congregation, travelling faithfully between the two buildings on alternate Sundays, with an average combined attendance of 16; Gressingham was hosting an 8am service once a month as well as two 9.30am services, with an average attendance of 6; the Hornby 8am service twice each month had an average attendance of 9; and the Hornby Parish Communion at 10.45am each Sunday had an average attendance of 42. The average total attendance across the benefice each Sunday was 63.

Public worship was suspended nationwide on 17 March 2020, on account of the Covid-19 global pandemic. We managed our first live online broadcast from Saint Margaret’s on Wednesday 18 March. On Monday 23 March, the full national lockdown was announced, including the closure of all church buildings, and for the next three months, services were broadcast live from Station House Arkholme, variously from a newly-created chapel-studio, and from the garden.

From the very beginning, people chose to come together for the live broadcast, gathering as one united congregation, at the appointed time, united across the valley and beyond, despite the distance between us. On Sunday 29 March, 50 households were watching live; on Palm Sunday 5 April, 52 households; on Easter Day 12 April, 84 households. For the remainder of the first full lockdown, an average of 54 households gathered for the live broadcast each Sunday morning, with half a dozen more watching the recording later in the day, or the next day.

Everyone rallied round to take part. People were able to preach or do the readings from home. Flower arrangements were offered and delivered. Musical contributions arrived spontaneously from pianists, keyboard players, guitarists, and flortists. Multi-member households offered hymns, and within a month we had a Lockdown Choir of people recording themselves at home, with the recordings then mixed together for broadcast.

The benefice also worked to ensure that information was distributed, and volunteer teams were in place and available, in all four parishes, with information put through every door.

A special service for Saint John the Baptist’s Day, at midsummer, included material recorded by the Lune, and live material from both Arkholme and Tunstall parish churches; it was followed live by 70 households.

A month later, we were allowed to resume services in church, with ‘covid-safe’ precautions including social distancing, one-way circulation, no refreshments or singing, and special arrangements around holy communion - but many preferred to remain cautiously at home. The number in church rose slowly over the next three months from 13 to 26, with an average of 37 households following live online, before public worship was suspended again in November, resumed again briefly during December, and suspended again in January.

There was a live broadcast from both Whittington and Hornby for the Patronal Festival of Saint Michael, and a live broadcast from both Hornby and Llandecwyn in North Wales during a brief window in September when travel was permitted. We were able to broadcast from multiple locations simultaneously, ‘split screen’, for the 11am Act of Remembrance on Remembrance Sunday, with 71 households following live online. The Joint Churches Carol Service went ahead in Saint Margaret’s with Peter at the organ, and multiple items from the Lockdown Choir; there were 37 people in church and 34 households following live online. And to lead some of the services in the January lockdown, Steven Evans set up a chapel-studio at home in Farleton.

As I write, we have just celebrated a second lockdown Easter, with the Maundy Thursday and Easter Day services broadcast live from Saint Margaret’s, and the Good Friday service broadcast live from Arkholme. We joined Saint Mary’s, at the invitation of Fr Michael Docherty, for an open-air ‘Stations of the Cross’ in Saint Mary’s garden later on Good Friday. And we held our own lockdown special – an open-air, Holy Saturday ‘Blessing of the Easter Eggs’, in Whittington’s lower churchyard, with Good Friday and Easter Day readings, and a blessing of the eggs similar to the blessing of the palms a week earlier; the weather was kind, and it was a joyful occasion, with 35 people of all ages in attendance.

It has also been my privilege during this year of lockdown to conduct two weddings, for couples who ‘just wanted to be married’ - the first with just seven adults present, the second with ten adults and seven children. There has also been one baptism, in Gressingham, with a dozen following live on Zoom in addition to those in the building.

Sadly, many of our members have suffered with Covid-19, and some continue to do battle with the complex post‑viral symptoms known as Long Covid; and the four parishes, in common with parishes across the world, have also lost people to this new disease, including former Hornby churchwarden, sacristan, and sexton, Graham Dixon; and there were many more funerals conducted with attendance severely limited by the Covid regulations, including those of Gerald Hodgson, Marian Fairclough, Elvira Thompson, former Gressingham churchwarden Nigel Cottam, and Elisabeth Tinker. May they rest in peace, and rise in glory.

A third national lockdown began in January 2021, with churches closed once again. The average number of households following live online during this third lockdown was 42. Services in church resumed on Sunday 14 March. At the time of writing, there have been four Sundays since then, with an average attendance of 18 individuals in church, 34 households online, and 6 people watching the recording later; plus Easter Day, when 42 gathered in church, and 30 households followed online.

Now, in April 2021, we begin to look cautiously, at last, towards life beyond Covid. All the indications are that all four parishes are ready to move forward, resuming and developing the wider life of each parish church, as lockdown continues to ease.

Gressingham’s investigation of the possibility of re-ordering Gressingham church for wider community use has been delayed, perhaps for two years or more, specifically by the diversion of most available grant-funding to covid-relief and post-covid-recovery efforts. Hornby is hugely disappointed by the glacially-slow process of obtaining listed-building permission for roof repairs, with a new, professionally-produced application to the DAC expected this month (as I write), based on a computer model of the building created using computer-processed imagery from a drone which flew around and over the building in December. PCCs and the DAC have not met during the pandemic, although there have been consultations with wardens and PCC members throughout, and the delayed 2020 Annual Parochial Church Meetings took place in October. Sister Judith finished her three-year placement as our curate, and Robin retired from his role as Lay Reader, but we are delighted that Steven Evans is once again leading some services in the benefice, and that he, Judith Greenwood, Anthony Smith, and Derek Seber, have been joined in the preaching schedule for the first time this year by Richard Haworth, Tony Jones, Outi Rudd, and David Rawsthorn. I am of course enormously grateful to all those churchwardens, parish officers, and other volunteers, who have continued to contribute, in so many different, often difficult, and often creative ways, to the life of the four parishes, in this extraordinary year.

- Michael Hampson (vicar) for the Annual Parish Meetings 2021

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