Diocese of Chichester

A privilege and a joy

Andrew Blackman is a member of the PCC at St Mary and St Peter, Pett. He made history when he was sworn in as the High Sheriff of East Sussex in March 2020 because, due to the virus lockdown, the ceremony had to be carried out virtually. A year on, he tells us about the positive things that emerged during what proved to be an extraordinary year in office.

On 25 mar 2021

In Diocese of Chichester

By communications

THREE days after the first national lockdown began, I made my declaration as High Sheriff of East Sussex via Zoom on March 27, 2020. It was immediately apparent that this was to be no ordinary shrieval year.

As my time in office now draws to a close 12 months on, I pray that the pandemic is in its final stages too. The extraordinary national vaccination effort certainly gives great cause for hope and thankfulness.

As for many of us over the last 12 months, adaptability has been key in finding ways to keep this ancient role relevant in such challenging times. Zoom, Teams, Skype and all the other online platforms have proved a godsend while meetings in person haven't been possible.

But like most others, I have found the lack of face-to-face contact at times exhausting and discouraging. We all need proper human interaction and talking through a screen can never be a replacement for that.

I am thankful that last summer I was able to make a number of deeply rewarding, informal visits to charities, community groups and emergency services while infection rates were low. Those visits and the people I met on them have been the highlight of my year.

It had always been my intention to focus less on the social side of the High Sheriff's calendar and more on the core objectives of supporting, encouraging and thanking those doing their utmost to serve the communities of East Sussex.

Covid rather hijacked my plans, which meant the emphasis shifted more than had perhaps been my original aim. But this year of all years, it has been the greatest joy and privilege to listen to the many extraordinary stories of empathy, compassion, generosity and hope across the county.

We hear and read so much that is negative and divisive, but of course there is far more good in our neighbours than bad and it is the happy task of a High Sheriff to shine a spotlight on that whenever and wherever possible.

I am a member of the PCC at St Mary and St Peter, Pett, a poor rural parish in the far east of the county near Hastings.

Our year as a church has in many ways been a microcosm of the wider picture. We have had our struggles - a constant need to adapt to new regulations, a congregation nervous about the virus, all fund-raising activities cancelled.

At the same time we have found a renewed sense of common purpose, a determination to pull through, a clearer vision of our place in our community.

Outdoor services last summer were filled with joy and tangible proof to the village that we remain active, hopeful and perhaps not quite such a funny, unapproachable bunch as they might have thought.

Ride and Stride was more appreciated than ever in Pett as a rare chance to come together as a body with friends from neighbouring churches to appreciate our beautiful surroundings, fresh air and exercise, and each other.

The overwhelming positives of this year for me have been to see communities work together, locally, across the county and nationally; to see neighbour find time to listen to and appreciate neighbour; to see individuals reconnect with what is most fundamental and important in life.

It has been an undeniably tough 12 months for so many of us but if we can hold on to some of those recalibrations in our lives, a great deal of good will have come out of an immensely challenging year.