St Barts Winter Solstice Memorial Service
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Holding out
the light of hope...

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Saskia Scott, Lay Chaplain

June 21 was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Sleeping rough on long winter nights is the reality for many people experiencing homelessness, and so St Bart’s together with St George’s Cathedral chose this time to remember those who have lost their lives while, or shortly after, experiencing homelessness. In a memorial service the bell was tolled a total of 107 times – once for each person who has passed away over the last year. It was a solemn moment and one which brought home the harsh reality for those sleeping rough.

As St Bart’s new chaplain, I was privileged to be able to attend this meaningful ceremony. I find myself reflecting on the spiritual symbolism of the solstice – of darkness giving way to light, and hope arising out of times of great grief, distress and hardship.

Although the solstice is the longest night of the year, it is also the point at which the light begins to return. The days will begin to lengthen, and the time of cold and darkness will give way to refreshment, life and warmth. It brings to mind for me Isaiah 9 verse 2:

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.”

Hope is a tricky concept. Some think of hope as a Pollyanna-ish propensity to turn a blind eye to suffering and hold onto unrealistic expectations for the future. However, the vision of hope given in Isaiah is borne out of an acknowledgement of suffering – of looking suffering full in the face and choosing to keep walking forward rather than giving in to despair.

At St Bart’s we know we cannot erase suffering nor bring back the lives of those who have been lost. But we can treat people with dignity and give them the basic security of a roof over their heads. We can hold out the light of hope and unconditional love even in times of darkness.

Published in Messenger July 2023

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