Monday 11 October marked Thanksgiving in Canada and while it’s not a holiday that’s observed in the UK, I was privileged to be invited to and attend a Service of Thanksgiving, Remembrance and Hope at St Paul’s Church in Bedford.
We’ve all got used to seeing stories in the news about the pandemic – doctors and nurses in full PPE, vaccinators administering jabs to smiling and grateful recipients and the Chief Medical Officer showing the latest projections on the epidemiological curve… “next slide please…”,
All very familiar, but there’s more to the story of the pandemic than that. There’s the story of our NHS People, of course, but there’s the care workers who continued to get up and go to work at the height of the pandemic, with only thoughts of their residents in mind – dancing their way through the waves of infection to maintain the spirits of the vulnerable people they care for. There’s the council workers and key workers who kept crucial services like bin collections going. There are the volunteers who delivered parcels to the vulnerable, and the scores of residents who played their part and stayed at home.
There is so much more to this story than meets the eye and the service brought home just how much people in our community went above and beyond for each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a story of hope to remember and be thankful for.
During the first section of the service entitled Thanksgiving, Helen Nellis, Lord-Lieutenant Bedfordshire, thanked those who have given so much during the pandemic and told stories of strength, bravery and kindness – stories from Bedfordshire.
Dr Baz Barhey, a GP from Luton spoke about the impact on GP practices and how services needed to be changed at speed to make sure patients could still be seen and cared for during lockdown.
Professor Vijay Nayer from Bedford spoke about the effort that had gone into the vaccination campaign and how all health service workers, volunteers and partners had rallied together to make it a success.
John, a vaccination site volunteer recalled his time on the front line, and how he was part of the team – all pulling together in our national interest.
A local care home manager shared how their staff adjusted to keep their residents connected to their families and to the outside world, while keeping safe.
Rani, a resident made and delivered food from her own kitchen to support those struggling to make ends meet.
A Squadron Leader representing the uniformed services who told us about mass testing, the setup of Nightingale Hospitals around the country and more recently, the evacuation of people from Afghanistan.
And, then we heard from Caroline, a former teacher from Bedford who caught Covid on Day 1 of lockdown, which then developed into sepsis and led to the amputation of both her arms and legs.
Caroline spent a month in critical care, a total of six months in hospital. What amazed me so much about Caroline’s story was the lasting memory she has of the kindness she received during her care and how, despite the challenges she faces, she believes that life has given her a second chance. Sitting in quiet reflection in the Church, it felt like we’d all been given a second chance at life after lockdown – certainly something to be thankful for.
While many of us have been lucky enough to get a second chance, we cannot and will not forget those who were lost. Many of us have lost loved ones, colleagues, friends and neighbours to Covid.
Faith leaders from seven different religions lit candles of remembrance for those who died during the pandemic, and a choir sang a moving lament.
During his talk, ‘A voice said cry out’, the Bishop of Bedford encouraged us to cry out and mourn the losses we have seen to Covid. The lost people, the lost education, opportunities and connections. A truly moving moment for everyone present.
As the service drew to a close, we were asked to look to the future with hope and we were joined by young cadets who read prayers and brought forward trees for blessing. Trees, which, as the Lord Lieutenant described “will offer shade to our children in fifty, and a hundred years’ time”.
Sunday’s service will stay with me for a long time. These have been dark and difficult days – and we have lost so much in such a short time. The stories from Bedfordshire however filled me with hope. We live and work amongst ordinary people doing extraordinary things for each other and for our communities. I hope this is the legacy of Covid and the story we tell each other long after the virus has passed. This is our legacy and we must continue to look forward to our future and what we will achieve for each other.
If you missed the service and would like to watch it, please click here.