Stanwick Group of Churches

November 2020 Letter

As I write I am listening to the ‘The Touch Test: The Results’ with Claudia Hamond on Radio 4. The first result shows that people with a positive attitude towards touch have greater well-being and lower loneliness. Touch is good for anxiety, depression, and our general health, including our immune system. When the Touch Test was launched back in January we had no idea that we would soon find ourselves in something of a crisis of touch. We no longer embrace; we no longer shake hands or hold hands; we no longer reassure with a gentle touch on the arm or shoulder. Our hands have instead become accustomed  to the cold stickiness of regular dollops of sanitiser gel.

Hands are an important part of communication and in their expressive beauty they can also be an art form in themselves. Many artists paint, draw, carve or sculpt hands. In 1887 the photographer Eadweard Muybridge made a series of hands with dramatic gestures, silhouetted against a dark background and his work inspired others, including the sculptor François Auguste René Rodin who began with several studies of hands in the late 1880s .

One of Rodin’s wonderful sculptures in the Rodin Museum in Paris is a stone carving of two, intertwined hands; there is a strange inner space between them. This piece of art is titled ‘The Cathedral’, leading to much speculation among art historians about the relationship between inner space and gothic architecture. What is more striking than anything is that the sculpture is of two right hands, and this is perhaps a reminder that it is impossible to build a cathedral alone and cooperation is essential.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of singing in many cathedrals, and one of my favourites has been the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Construction of this still unfinished cathedral began in 1882, and it was hoped that the work would be completed by the centenary of architect Antoni Gaudí’s death in 2026. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the construction and it is now very unlikely that it will be finished in time.

The Sagrada Família is not the only church building project to have been delayed by Covid – we now eagerly await the immanent completion of the building work at Melsonby. Any big building project takes time; it’s striking to think that many of the master masons who created our cathedrals and great medieval churches had to have faith in the future and their scheme as they wouldn’t live to see their work completed.

Even at Melsonby the whole scheme has taken several years, from the time of first beginning the vision, through to planning and getting all the necessary permissions, through to months and months of fundraising, and now the work finally being done. Some who worked so hard, including our dear Churchwarden Dinah, are no longer with us in the flesh to see the fruits of their labour. Though, just as we sense that the stones of our churches hold the prayers of generations, we sense that Dinah and others are with us now in spirit, cheering us on.

Dinah would have wanted a big celebration and a big welcome to the community with cakes and tea and maybe even something stronger.  But like so many other things in life, our celebrations and use of the new kitchen, meeting room and loo will be limited until we are the other side of this Covid crisis. This is when the real work will be complete – when the church is being used and enjoyed by the whole community.

As a community and wider society, and as a world we know that we face unprecedented challenges. In the months and years to come we will need acts of cooperation on a community, national and international scale to build hope and peace in what has become an increasingly uncertain world. We will need to join our hands together, across our communities, across our globe.

November is a month when we remember times when international cooperation broke down and when we give thanks for those who sacrificed so much for us. At the heart of the Christian faith is a great message of hope – the message that love drives out fear, that in following Jesus Christ, we may know life in all its fullness. How we get there may not always be obvious, but like those great cathedral builders, we must work together and have faith that the project will one day be completed.

With every blessing,



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