FOR many, 2020 has been a time of terrible loss and pain.

Christmas has been bittersweet for the families and friends of those mentioned in the pages of this feature edition. Festivities went hand-in-hand with feelings of sadness and loss.

That first Christmas was not as Mary and Joseph would have planned it. But God still came to us in Jesus, and there was still comfort and joy. We will see lost loved ones in the smiles of their children, grand and great-grandchildren.

The arch of an eyebrow, a certain smile or a sideways glance will remind us of someone gone, but somehow still with us. A stranger’s walk will remind us of dad, a woman in a passing car will look just like mum and a rasping chuckle will sound just like Bob from the bowls club.

And sometimes, we will simply feel an unexplained presence. God will still be present too. Bradford District has been hit hard by Covid-19 and the blows are still coming.

It has been said that the virus does not discriminate; that it applies itself to one and all with equal purpose and vigour. The lack of fairness is not in the shape of the virus itself. It is rather in the shape of a society in which many are more vulnerable to its attack than others. Simply put, the virus has shone a harsh light on what we knew already: that disparities in income, housing and workplace are key factors in determining who lives long and healthily. And who does not. Wealth and health go hand in hand, and perhaps that has always been true – we’ve known for a long time that life expectancy in Keighley is ten years less than in Ilkley – despite the best efforts of all involved in health and social care.

But that unfairness can be changed by human effort, and we in Bradford should know that better than many. 2020 is the 200th anniversary of the Bronte family’s arrival at Haworth Parsonage – a village where thousands died, poisoned by unclean water until an improvement campaign led by Revd Patrick Bronte forced the authorities to put in new water pipes.

Later, huge Victorian reservoirs were built high on Baildon Moor to clean up Shipley’s drinking supply and successfully defeat cholera. And now we have Covid-19 and new vaccines which we hope, and pray, will save millions of lives here and around the world. People are free to choose if they want the vaccines or not, and that is fair and proper.

But nobody in Haworth said: “I’m not drinking out of that new well – I don’t trust it”.

Nobody in Shipley said, “I’m not drinking that Baildon water – I don’t trust it.” They just drank and were saved.

  •  God of love, by whose mercy the world turns safely into darkness and returns again to light:we place in your hands those who we have lost, those who we cannot meet, and those who are suffering in this pandemic.

We thank you for your Christmas promise to be with us, and that nothing can separate us from your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen