In his Christmas message for Bailiwick Express this year, the Dean opens up about his childhood obsession with the Apollo space programme and asks what the vastness of the cosmos can tell us about what's important down here on Earth.
The Very Reverend Mike Keirle, the Head of the Church of England in Jersey, had this to say...
As a child growing up in the 60s and 70s I, like many others of my generation, was obsessed with the Apollo space program. I knew all the names of the astronauts and indeed, was fortunate enough to meet the lunar module pilot from Apollo 15, James Irwin, some years later.
It led me to a lifelong love of all things space related and so, it was with a mounting sense of excitement, that I heard that NASA was sending the new Artemis 1 unmanned rocket to orbit the moon in preparation for a manned moon landing in 2025. Not only that, but the capsule, codenamed Orion, would return to earth on the exact date that the final Apollo Mission, Apollo 17, landed on the moon at Taurus-Littrow in 1972. I just love the symmetry of that.
Pictured: The iconic image taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in 1968.
What completely blew my mind however, was a series of photos taken by the Orion capsule, which had 16 remote cameras on board, looking back from beyond the orbit of the moon, to the earth. In one extraordinary image, Orion captures earthrise from beyond the moon, much like the famous image captured by Bill Anders on Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968 when humans orbited the moon for the first time.
But in this image captured by Orion, every single human being is included in the photo. There are no astronauts on board because it was unmanned. The globe sits there in the picture, looking beautiful and vulnerable all at the same time, with all of us on board.
It made me realise, with a renewed sense of perspective, just how important belonging and community is at every level and for that community to learn to work together. We often say that Christmas is the ‘season of goodwill’ but the implication of that is that, once Christmas is over, we can slip back into being the same old self-centred and greedy beings again, as if that is the expected norm.
Pictured: "It made me realise, with a renewed sense of perspective, just how important belonging and community is at every level."
It was poignant and slightly ironic that, during Covid, we were all going out once a week to clap essential workers outside our homes and there was a great sense of community spirit then and yet, we were physically isolated from one other. The moment we came back together again after the easing of the pandemic, we reverted to type again and applause was soon forgotten, as were the people we were applauding!
What that demonstrates to me is that creating and sustaining community takes effort, sacrifice and resolve. It doesn’t just happen and we all have a part to play and we all need a renewed perspective of belonging if we are to flourish together.
For anyone who was involved in the terrible recent tragedies in Jersey, where 12 people lost their lives on land and at sea, you will know that the community response was absolutely incredible. Everyone rallied round, offering accommodation, assistance, gifts, hospitality, care and compassion.
Pictured: "It was poignant and slightly ironic that, during covid, we were all going out once a week to clap essential workers outside our homes and there was a great sense of community spirit then and yet, we were physically isolated from one other. "
It truly was Jersey at its very best in the most desperate of circumstances and it was a privilege to be a small part of that and see the community in action as our collective perspective was challenged and people came together. It gave me hope as I pondered that photo from the space capsule.
A more challenging question before us though is: Why don’t we respond like this all the time to the lost, the lonely, the bereaved the poor, the imprisoned? We are just about to celebrate Christmas where God chose to be part of the global community by coming into our midst as a vulnerable human baby in the person of Jesus to help humans flourish and to be the people God always meant us to be.
When he grew up, Jesus’ first words, as he began his ministry were: “The spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to those who are held captive, to recover the sight of the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Pictured: "Can we really just sustain goodwill for a season before we revert back to type?"
What a vision for this earth and global community – to be a people who transform the injustices of society, who tend the earth and the people who are in it; who work together with a renewed perspective of God’s love for his world. Imagine how that would speak into a world where people’s homes are cold, where the cost of living leaves people anguished and uncertain, where climate change is galloping towards us, where war and tragedy are part of the daily truth of many people’s lives in places like Ukraine.
Imagine if we had the resolve and were willing to make the effort and the sacrifices necessary to make this earth a place where everyone belongs and where community truly flourishes. Is it all too much to ask? Is that just a bit subversive? Do our vested interests just get in the way? Can we really just sustain goodwill for a season before we revert back to type?
Those are difficult questions and I’m not sure I have the answers but if we can put an unmanned ship up into space, send it around the moon, make it take photos of planet earth and then bring that ship back through the atmosphere safely back to earth, then anything is possible.
May I wish you a blessed Christmas as we celebrate God with us.
Click to read the Dean's annual greeting for 2021, 2020 and 2019.
Pictured top, right: The Very Reverend Mike Keirle. (Rob Currie)
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