Christmas Messages from Henley Mayor and Father Jeremy

I seem to be spending a lot of time lately looking nervously at Lateral Flow Tests.  We’ve been close enough to Christmas for some time now that a positive test for me will not only blow the Christmas plans of my family and friends out of the water, but would also threaten Christmas services likely to be attended by some hundreds of people.  I am not particularly fearful of the virus in a general way, especially after three vaccinations, but I really don’t want to get it now!  But I also need to remember that, as frustrating as a positive test at this stage would be, Christmas does not depend on me.

We’ve also read the headlines in the papers.  “Thirty/twenty/ten days to save Christmas”, they shout.  What does Christmas need to be saved from?  Supply chain issues, and possible Covid restrictions.  But does Christmas need saving?  Does Christmas depend on the supply of toys and turkeys?

Our Christmas traditions are dear to us, and rightly so.  We want to be able to spend time with the people we love, we want to be able to be generous with presents and to enjoy a good meal, and there is nothing wrong with any of that.  We might want to go to church to enjoy a carol service or Midnight Mass, and of course that is something I would heartily encourage!  But ultimately, Christmas is still Christmas whether or not we get to visit Aunty Molly, whether or not we get to eat Turkey, whether or not we wake to a stocking stuffed with toys.  Christmas is still Christmas even if I don’t get to celebrate Midnight Mass.  Christmas doesn’t depend on us, and Christmas doesn’t need saving: Christmas is about what God has done and is doing through the birth of Jesus.  We don’t need to save Christmas; Christmas is rather about God saving us.

That said, of course I will keep being nervous about those lateral flow tests!  No-one wants to have their plans up-ended.  But if it should come to pass that I do manage to catch Covid in the next few days, I hope that I will be able to let go, to lay it all at Jesus’ feet, and to rejoice in His birth nonetheless.  Recognising that it does not all depend on us; recognising that we, and not Christmas, are the ones who need saving; believing that through the birth of Jesus, God has saved and is saving us: these things bring profound comfort and liberation.

A very Happy Christmas to you all!

Father Jeremy

Christmas is upon us and I just cannot believe how quickly the last 6 months have flown by since I had the honour to be elected Mayor.

After a rather slimmed down Mayor Making its been all systems go. My Mayor’s Cadet was chosen, Corporal Grace Iveson, who has been by my side on numerous occasions and has become a firm fixture in the many events I’ve attended in the last 6 months.  She’s been wonderful and is a credit to the Army Cadets and to Henley.

After losing many events in 2020, I have been delighted to see local organisations working hard to restore many of our distinctive and colourful events to the 2021 calendar. The Henley summer events kicked off in July with the Henley Royal Regatta, we had perfect rowing conditions, super weather and many a glass of Pimms.

Next I was lucky enough to attend the Traditional Boat Festival which was delightful.  I was also delighted to welcome back and attend the Henley music Festival, the Youth Festival, and Literary Festival in October.

Greener Henley hosted its first Eco Business Fair which was well attended and I hope will be repeated.

Sadly we lost Cliff Austin in September, former Town Sergeant Cliff worked for Henley Town Council for 17 years and retired in 2017.  A golfer and Reading FC supporter, I was shocked and saddened to hear of his passing.  He continues to be missed by many.

We welcomed back our athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics in mid September and Henley once again didn’t hold back with the celebrations.  As Mayor I was lucky enough to ride in the bus with our Olympians and take part in the day.  It was so inspiring to be surrounded by athletes who had achieved so much in their field, it was a day I will always remember.

In November I held my Civic Service at St Mary’s Church.  I invited the Reading Gospel Choir who sang from the heart.  I had wanted a service with uplifting music, they performed beautifully and had everyone toe tapping and clapping.

Before I could say “Can I have another Mince Pie” Christmas was upon us and Henley hosted the annual Christmas Festival which was so much fun.  Attended by thousands who enjoyed the stalls and entertainment I even tapped my tambourine on stage with the band Hot Stuff.

It may seem like my year has been filled with attending festivals, which is not quite true. Henley has a multitude of doers, Henley folk who run charities, raise money, act as carers, working hard behind the scenes year after year, helping to make Henley the great place we are lucky enough to live in. COVID-19 has meant many have stepped up to help those who have been affected by the consequences of this awful pandemic. I thank those too, and we all hope for better times in 2022.

I have attended many charity meetings, including  Henley Municipal Charity, Henley Educational Trust, Lions,  Over 60s, Nomad, to name but a few.  Henley has nearly 200 charities, all of these wonderful organisations full of ‘doers’ – people who give up their time to help others.  They do not seek publicity, they do not seek payment, they just want to help others.  And I applaud you all – it’s been a real honour to meet you and thank you for all the work you do.

I’ve learnt many things since my Civic year kicked off in May, one of the most important has been time management as I juggle my RIBA work duties, family duties, council duties, and of course Mayoral duties. This is still very much a work in progress but I do get to where I should be eventually.

For the remainder of my Mayoral year I would like to be as  accessible as I possibly can for all of the Henley charities, not just my chosen ones.

But more importantly I would like us as a Town to continue to look after each other, especially as we see Omicron rearing its ugly head.  Look out for the elderly; look out for your neighbours and please continue to support our retailers.  Shop local.

It has been an honour to be your Mayor in this past year. I look forward to continuing my service in the community in 2022.

I couldn’t have done all this without the help and support of my fellow councillors, the Town Clerk and all the officers, but especially the support of my partner Carolyn and our children Vivien and Ruby. My thanks to them and everyone in Henley together with my wishes to all for a Happy Christmas.

Please stay safe.  Be Kind.  Happy New Year.