Let’s thank seen and unseen people

The Revd Clare Downing reflects on contrasting experiences in November, highlighting the value of behind-the-scenes people

Along with leading worship, and all sorts of smaller tasks, November brought two contrasting experiences in my Assembly Moderator diary.

Firstly, I had the privilege of representing the United Reformed Church at the Cenotaph. What is always, I imagine, a meticulously organised event, was subject to a new level of precision as stewards ensured social distancing in the well-ordered procession. In an eerily quiet city, I stood alongside leaders of other denominations and faith groups in Whitehall as the ceremony proceeded, uninterrupted even by the voice of the broadcaster David Dimbleby.

Then, there was Mission Council, which met digitally for the second time in its history, at the end of last week. Since July, many of us have learnt far more about how best to facilitate online meetings, so I rather think that Peter and I had an easier job than Nigel and Derek did in the summer. Unlike the Cenotaph, there was plenty of talking – though no audible squawking of parakeets in the background. And I suspect that some folk might have appreciated a David Dimbleby commentary on what was going on.

Despite the differences between the two occasions, there are two similarities that I was very aware of. The first is that both events were held in the context of prayer. Remembering, or looking forward, there was a clear acknowledgement of the presence of God among us.

The second was the way in which the smooth running of both depended so much on a mostly unseen group of people in the background. The gentle shepherding of each group of participants on Remembrance Sunday, by people who remained to a great extent invisible, was vital. And at Mission Council, along with the Clerks and General Secretary, we had a ‘tech’ team’ who worked tirelessly to ensure that the event went without any hitches.

It’s the same in many of our churches. There are the people who are visible – those who take a lead in various ways. Then there are those who might never be noticed, except that if they are missing or things go wrong. Of course, some of those behind-the-scenes people are more than happy to stay in the background. But perhaps we need to recognise their contributions a little more often.

However you are meeting at this time, take a moment to notice, to thank and to encourage a steward, a ‘techie’, the person who deals with the boiler, or who mutes people on Zoom…  Let’s give thanks for the gifts of the whole people of God, seen and unseen.

God bless,


Clare Downing, November 2020

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