They’re after money again! Latest bright idea?—Tax the whole world. How? Conduct a census, order everyone back to their own town. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, and you’ll get more than a fine if you ignore the Romans. Mary is expecting her first child at any time, and now they will be cut off from family and friends when the child is born. What sort of ‘Christmas’ is that going to be for Mary and Joseph? They have no idea.
What will Christmas 2020 be like for us? We have no idea. Well, it turned out OK for Mary and Joseph, we can but hope and pray that it will turn out OK for us. (Spoiler: If you want to know what happened next to Mary and Joseph, take a look at the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel)
The quiet A428 outside the Abbey, caused by the road closure by Priory Farm, sent my mind back to our first Christmas at Turvey—not that the road was that quiet then, but it was quieter than it normally is now. Our first Christmas here was in 1981. We hadn’t all moved to the Abbey from Cockfosters, London, on the same day, but by September we were all at Turvey, and first big thing on the horizon was Christmas, what would it be like?
First surprise was the weather, one of the coldest UK winters on record. The Abbey was very damp after all the building work, so it didn’t feel very warm—and the new central heating system wasn’t functioning correctly as a wrong-sized gas pipe had been installed and it took a lot of arguing to get it changed. There was also some anxiety about how much it was going to cost to heat the Abbey, it was all an unknown, and having a water meter was a new experience—our then-prioress M Lucia literally didn’t believe how much water a community used.
A regular Christmas event was Rev Peter Jefferies and the All Saints carol group coming and singing for us, to be ‘rewarded’ with sweets, then going to look at the crib on the verge—in later years they had to stop doing that because of the increase in traffic on the road.
At Cockfosters we had gone to the parish church for the big services like Christmas, now we were free to create our own Christmas Vigil—it was a big job for those involved in creating it, to strike a balance between creativity run riot and the practical. To be honest, I’m not sure what I remember of the very first Christmas, but in the 1980’s, when we no longer fitted into the small chapel near the gate, we were using the big room in the Abbey with its red flock wallpaper and dark wooden ceiling as chapel. I remember the Christmas Vigil starting with community members creating a sort of tableaux (liturgical dance was in fashion then) of shepherds asleep, someone then dancing around poking them to wake them up to join in the dance. At the end of it they were all dancing, and it was my job to get past the congregation to the light switches at the right moment and switch all the lights on together—I used the edge of my psalm book to do so. One year the chef from the Laws Hotel joined us for a short while, dressed in his chef’s uniform. We had a very small fire lit in the fireplace, but that was discontinued on safety grounds, more smoke came into the room than went up the chimney. The big room served as our chapel until our new chapel was completed in 1991, the view from the window was magnificent, but the lighting was a bit on the dim side.
We are now approaching our thirty-ninth Christmas at Turvey Abbey. Over the years many people have joined us in our chapel for the Christmas services, sadly this year we are unable to open our chapel to the public. Currently we are sharing our evening service, Vespers, on YouTube, details can be found on the Turvey Abbey website.
Along with many people we believe that prayer makes a difference, and we continue to pray for our village, and for our world, in the current crisis, and especially for all who already feel lonely and who will find Christmas very difficult. We don’t know what Christmas will be like, but we believe that Jesus, the child born at Christmas, is close to all who turn to him for help, unseen, but real.