It’s the time of year, isn’t it, when many of us have become a bit fed up with the short days: dark mornings coupled with early nights. We long for the onset of warmer weather and the new growth of Spring.
But what I do love, living in this part of the world, is gazing at the dark silhouettes of the trees set against the big skies and, in the evenings, appreciating the beauty of the sun as it sets, with its warm rays shining through the skeleton branches.
As you receive this magazine we will be concluding the season of Epiphany, when we remember the Magi visiting Jesus, representing the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and the revelation of his light to the world. Christ came for all; he came as light to shine in the darkness just as the sun shines through the bare branches, and that is good news for each of us.
I don’t watch much television but one thing I have seen this new year is the two episodes of ‘The Choir,’ when Gareth Malone went into Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution.
The statistics for Aylesbury are that the 400 inmates, aged between 18 and 21, are doing time for various offences, including drug crimes, robbery, GBH, manslaughter and murder. About a sixth are serving life sentences and forty per cent are struggling with mental health problems. Three months before Gareth Malone arrived in June 2019, Aylesbury was placed under special measures owing to high levels of self-harm and violence. Half the prisoners were moved out, and three wings were shut down.
The BBC introduces this programme with the following words.
Gareth Malone faces a challenge which will test him like no other – to form a choir in one of the toughest prisons for young offenders. What he learns takes him by surprise.
Gareth, however, is determined to produce a concert at the end of his nine weeks at Aylesbury. By building positive relationships with the individuals, engaging with their stories and giving them encouragement, he succeeds in enabling a group of inmates to write songs, and perform with and to staff and fellow inmates, and members of their families are invited to come and listen.
The performance, itself, was moving, but, more so, was the reaction of many of the parents, for whom the concert had provided an opportunity to embrace their sons and declare how proud they were of them. Perhaps these were words, because of the circumstances, those young people hadn’t heard from their parents for a long time.
It was also good to see the sense of achievement on the faces of the young offenders as they rapped and sang and were applauded by others. I viewed this as something of a metaphor of Christ’s light shining in the darkness. My prayer for each of those young people was that they would know that they are deeply loved and affirmed by God and that they would continue to recognise and realise their potential.
As a minister, it is my prayer that each one of us recognise and realise our God given potential.
This year, in 2020, let’s invite Christ’s light to shine in our lives, especially in any areas of personal struggle and darkness we might face and allow God to transform us.