“The Mayor’s Service”

Address given at a celebration of Wilton’s Volunteers,

with Cllr Phil Matthews, Mayor of Wilton.

19 September 2021

I can’t pretend that what we are celebrating today is a simple, straight-forward – “good news story”:
none of us would have wished Covid 19 on our enemies, (I hope!), let alone on our families, friends and neighbours.
And yet – without doubt –
out of the hardship and confusion of 2020 –
good things have come, here and elsewhere.

Back at the beginning of the pandemic,
as uncertainty and fear took hold,
an impressive number of people here stepped forward –
to help those who were most vulnerable in our community.

And, just as some of those who would normally have got stuck in to any community venture were forced to stay at home, others came along and along and filled the void.

It’s been particularly good to see different generations working together – especially in the case of this year’s vaccinations.
Our church has relied heavily on our young people to get us through – not least in the area of Social media and online presence. And those of us who are older have learned that we can and must learn from the young.

At the same time, I think we have begun to realise just how much we rely on some of those whose jobs may not seem particularly glamorous.

I dread to think what would have happened, during those warm and sunny days of the first lockdown, if our refuse collectors had all stayed at home too.
Perhaps the air would NOT have seemed quite so pure!

Back then, many of us started to notice some of those people who always seemed pretty “invisible”.
Perhaps, now, we can continue to value people for the contributions they make to our communities,
rather than their social or celebrity status,
or the salaries they command.

You may also remember, in the early days – as communities across the land rediscovered a sense of determination to pull together – that there were rosy predictions of a society remade, and civic pride renewed.
Sadly that has NOT proved the case – with more and more instances of anti-social and selfish behaviour hitting the headlines. And it would be all too easy to forget the signs of hope that flourished here, so impressively.
I really hope that we will NOT lose sight of what has been achieved,
or of the vision of a strong and flourishing community:
where we don’t leave the isolated to struggle alone;
where we understand that our own freedoms have consequences for other people;
where the sense of belonging extends to everyone in our town.

In the passage that Adam just read for us,
St Paul is giving his advice for harmonious living.

And he argues that we should use our different gifts – the unique skills and perspectives that God has given us – for the good of the whole community.
And perhaps in doing so, to value those whose lives and perspectives we struggle to understand,
but who can therefore see things and do things that we probably can’t.

That variety of gifts makes for a richness of life that no individual, and no single group, can provide.

“Let love be genuine” he writes.

Whatever we can contribute to our communities,
let it be for the right reasons –
not just because it makes us feel good about ourselves,
not because we want to LOOK good in our neighbours’ eyes, but because we really do feel their pain and share their joy.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep:
IF we can feel that degree of simple human empathy across any social divisions that wider society may construct,
then our community HAS to be stronger as a result.

And that strength matters when we come to Paul’s final plea: “Do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good.”

It’s hard always to “do the right thing” on your own.
it’s even harder to stand alone against evil.

The local pages of Facebook and others media comments have been peppered over the last year with complaints – from dog mess, to fly-tipping, to damaged cars and racing motorbikes.
It’s difficult, and sometimes risky, for any one of us to speak up and challenge anyone we see up to no good.
A group of us, on the other hand, might just be able to intervene effectively.

IF we can feel that we are part of a strong community, where we DO genuinely care for our neighbours,
and where we CAN call on those neighbours to help us,
then it becomes more possible to look after the surroundings we share, and gradually to overcome those things which threaten to spoil it.

I’ve gone on long enough now!
And I just want to end with a thank you – to all of you who have volunteered in any way to help this community –
and a plea, that we don’t let the legacy of what you have achieved evaporate into nothing.

Whether it be with Wilton Help, as volunteers with some other group, or simply by being good neighbours – let’s pledge ourselves to keep working for a stronger,
inclusive community here in Wilton –
so that ALL of us can enjoy the brighter future
that we hope and pray is just around the corner.