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“In the midst of hardship, of grief, of illness – hope finds a way”

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Published on 17 December 2021

Reverend Chris Howson
Reverend Chris Howson

Here the Reverend Chris Howson, Chaplain to the University of Sunderland and Anglican Priest at Sunderland Minster, gives staff and students his annual Christmas message.


Will Christmas 2021 manage to ‘out Scrooge’ 2020? I do hope not – but if so, it will certainly be an appropriately rubbish end to an already difficult year.

This year has been tough on staff and students in equal measure, with disruption to normal services, then a cyber-attack, followed by the impact of Storm Arwen on the campus.

And yet – in the eye of all those storms something remarkable has happened.

In the same way that the response to Covid brought out a remarkable pride in our NHS, seeing communities working together to care for the most vulnerable people in society, so too, these challenges we faced brought out the best in our university.

The IT department did a remarkable job turning our systems around after the cyber-attack. Our teaching staff did an outstanding job continually adapting to a tough and ever-changing situation. The wellbeing team, Team Sunderland and our Housing Support were at the top of their game, supporting students who were struggling.

Perhaps most importantly, our students have shown remarkable resilience in the face of so many obstacles. The whole chaplaincy team is so proud of our staff and students, giving us great hope for the future.

Our Christmas story also shows how God gives hope in the face of adversity. Jesus is born into one of the most difficult situations you can imagine, born in a country occupied by a brutal Roman military dictatorship. Mary, a young pregnant woman, is forced to travel the length of country as an internally displaced person.

There is no room in the guest quarters in Bethlehem, a town already filled with refugees, and yet one family are able to share a simply hay manger, probably inside a simple family home, as animals were often kept in the main room of houses at the time.

In such difficult situation, hope is born, and people come together to give thanks – even shepherds come in from the fields.

This is how God works. In the midst of hardship, of grief, of illness, the storms of this world – hope finds a way.

Hope is not an isolated, individual experience – it is not abstract or theoretical. Hope happens when people come together in the most extraordinarily difficult times. It’s why, even with the uncertainties of of climate change and cyber-attacks, the birth of Jesus still means so much – showing there is always hope even in the hardest of times.

I hope this Christmas is not too disrupted for you, but if it is, that it brings out a spirit of solidarity and compassion with all those who are struggling. Let’s face all this with the mindset of offering the little we have, even a bit of hay in a manger, to those who are most vulnerable. Who knows the difference it will make!