Lessons from a year of living differently

By Father Simon Gore

Father Simon Gore reflects on the 2020/21 academic year with the Animate Youth Ministries team.

The end of the year here at Animate is upon us. The team have all left for home and, as in much of these past 18 months, I am back on my own in the house. As I sit back and think about the year, it is a difficult one to review: where has the time gone and what did we actually do?

My first recollections are not entirely positive – as I am sure they wouldn’t be for many others when looking back at 2020 and the first six months of 2021. They are probably not going to be months of our lives that we remember fondly.

And yet, as I think about what I can put down on paper, there are some silver linings that seep through the dark clouds of my memories. I remember going for a morning run in early September as the team had just started back here and parents were taking their children to school, and you could hear laughter and noise on the street once again. It seemed as though a corner had been turned in how we lived life; as if we were back on the road to something approaching normality.

We planned our year here accordingly and took the usual bookings for retreats through 2020/21. We made a few changes to how we were going to work and brought in what seemed like all the available sanitiser in the world. We erected a marquee in the garden to allow for some small group work outside. But by the time we got to October half-term, you could see the way things were heading with another lockdown on the cards. And so it came to be.

That pretty much brought an end to any normal retreat programme we could offer until Easter. Although we might have odd days scattered across a year when we don’t have a group to work with, we are used to working on retreats or missions every day. To have such a big gap is unsettling. And amid all that, as lockdowns continued, so too did talk of ‘key workers’ and ‘essential work’.

Such a change in lifestyle and how we work and what we can do – while being told we are not ‘essential’ – is interesting. While a retreat day is not as important as making sure we can buy food from the supermarket, it does leave some questions echoing around your head: ‘What am I?’ and ‘Is there any value to what I am doing?’.

And yet from that, I was reacquainted with the sometimes lost concept of ‘living as a community’. I have written enough times in these pages that ‘community’ is important to me at Animate. I wonder, though, if I had been paying more lip service to the concept than I had realised. Unlike with the first lockdown, this time the team stayed in the house with me and with no face-to-face work with young people, we had to think about what our lives would be like.

The answer lay in the community aspect of life. There is the obvious side of prayer with each other. But also allowing more time to cook for each other rather than a rapid chucking together of Chicken Kiev and chips after a day’s work. And some more social time together. I even made abortive attempts to get the group interested in joining me for a run – which did not end well!

We also continued to try to offer some meaningful work in the virtual realm with the videos we produced on YouTube. But above all, there was the reminder than when things are removed from you, what you have left can be the thing that ends up defining you: without our work, it was community life which came to define the year.

It is not always sunshine and birdsong living with a handful of other people with no opportunities for escape. Yet I suppose it is these occasions that can help the individual develop as well. And as 12 April hit and we could start to plan for retreat days once more, the time we had spent together meant that we could look at those days ahead in a different light – a community offering a glimpse of a relationship with God rather than co-workers doing some work together.