June newsletter

Dear Friends,

I expect that you all know that we’re about to have an extra bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The origin of the word ‘holiday’ is Holy Day, as days of religious celebration were the first holidays that working people had. This was to enable them to go to church for important feast days like Christmas Day and Easter Day.

The bank holiday that generally lands on the last Monday of May celebrates Whitsuntide. Although this coincides (more or less) with Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the early church, it probably subsumed earlier pagan festivals which celebrated the coming of summer. The jury appears to be out as to whether the ‘whit’ is derived from white, relating to summer, or wit, relating to the wisdom brought by the Spirit.

Down the ages, there have been different attitudes to these Holy Days. In 1972 Whitsun was renamed as the ‘Spring Bank Holiday’ and there is talk of the Good Friday and Easter bank holidays being ‘standardised’ to the same time each year. Many folk no longer realise the significance of the Holy Days that are being celebrated and take no part in the celebrations beyond sharing in traditions such as gift giving at Christmas and eating Easter eggs.

Nevertheless, the existence of these official holidays allows us, as Christians, the opportunity to tell their stories and even those of the accompanying traditions. For example, do you know the story of hot cross buns and how many raisins they should each contain? Telling the story is a good way to remind folk what Easter is about and eating hot cross buns might then remind them year on year.

However, Pentecost seems to be a feast with few traditions that have migrated outside the church. This may well be because it has long been confused with celebrations of the summer season, which has plenty of potential of its own. Nevertheless, many churches did get involved in Whit walks, which were a big part of community life.

Congregations have generally been growing smaller and many church members are not as able to walk as in past years, so we need to think about what we could substitute for these, that might allow us an opportunity to tell the story of Pentecost. This year has been overtaken by the Jubilee, but it would be good to start thinking now about next year.

The Whitsun bank holiday also coincides with half term. Many families often go away, but many more will be unable to afford to go further afield and will be looking for ways to entertain both their young members and those who are older. Perhaps we could look to a new sort of Whit walk where the families do the walking and the churches provide maps, photo trails, refreshments and so on with the story of Pentecost woven into the mix.

As you celebrate this year and enjoy the jubilee with those in your church families and the communities around you, let’s also start thinking about what we might do next year, to make more and stronger connections with our communities. If we start now, ingenuity and ideas may compensate where legs and energy are less evident than in the past.

Enjoy your Pentecost and Jubilee celebrations and if you come up with a great idea, you may find that you are rewarded by seeing it duplicated across the partnership or even the North West.

May the Spirit pour ‘wit’ upon you this Pentecost,