How our team harmony has helped us through

By Father Simon Gore

The 2019-20 year ended prematurely for the Animate team yet their sense of togetherness endures. 

I guess an unexpected, and probably unwanted, side-effect of the disruption to our normal way of life has been that the Animate page has had to come from me rather than one of our team members. This month Pic readers must again endure my slightly florid writing style but it does seem appropriate to write this latest article as the summer term winds to a close and the Animate chapter for 2019-20 reaches an official end.

As you might remember, the year unofficially ended in late March when the team all made their way home. It is sad that the year could have no real conclusion but, nevertheless, it would be a mistake to write it off simply because it did not go as planned and missed that final full stop at the end of our last chapter as a group.

In many ways, the lockdown highlighted that Animate exists beyond a functionary role of offering retreats. I have always said to the team when they arrive in September that they should not lose sight of the fact the work we do has to flow from the community of which they are a part. If the community functions effectively and we can live in some form of harmony, learning from each other and sharing our lives with each other, then the work we offer will flow naturally from that and be an authentic Christian witness. If the community collapses then no matter how good the resources, the work will, sadly, simply be inauthentic.

With our work with schools drying, the community aspect of Animate came to prominence. We could still meet up virtually on the now ubiquitous Zoom (and endure the awkward silences as we all wait for each other to speak, then all speak at once). We would probably all agree that the year has not been as we foresaw back in September but the time we did spend together certainly affected how we lived those months of lockdown. To know there was a group of people you could meet for a regular Zoom chat was a way to overcome any feeling of isolation. And our WhatsApp group was never busier as messages and photos flew through the ether.

Of course, I hope this theory of Animate existing beyond retreat work does not extend too far into the new academic year as we are all looking forward to working with young people again. As schools return, I hope the opportunity of a retreat programme for pupils will be taken up. They have missed so much education that there will, obviously, be a need for catching up. But there is also the personal and spiritual growth that they may have missed out on. We will be thinking over the summer about how our retreats can take the joys and sorrows of the last few months and put them into context.

Fortunately, the community will not be changing too much. As the year was so disturbed our two gap year team members, Ellie and Jonno, are returning for another year. Tom is staying as team co-ordinator and Lauren endured a Zoom interview over lockdown to be promoted to the new team leader. She has acquired her new role as, after many years of loyal service and hard work, Sarah has decided to move on to pastures new. Sarah was actually part of the team before I arrived and it will be odd, to say the least, to come back in September and not find her sitting having her cups of tea and regular snacks through the day!

Sarah has quietly gone about her various roles with no expectation of public thanks or acknowledgment, and she would not want it any other way. But her time here, living with 43 different team members over the years and working with tens of thousands of young people across the diocese and beyond, will have had a profound impact on the Church and the Body of Christ of which we are all a part. Sometimes even public thanks fade into insignificance when you think about all those individual encounters that have affected lives all around us in schools and parishes, in Lourdes and at World Youth Days.

And so, my thanks for this year go to Sarah, Lauren, Tom, Jonno and Ellie. I look forward to seeing you in September when we will welcome Kelsea to our little group and her first job will be to write the Pic article so you can have a break from me!

Have a good summer and God bless.