08:17PM, Thursday 03 December 2020
"The loss of face-to-face interaction was just heartbreaking."
Those are the emotional words of Burnham’s new female vicar - who in her first 12 months has dealt with a coronavirus pandemic, lockdown, and increased levels of deprivation during one of the hardest years in the village’s history.
Despite that, Reverend Janet Minkkinen has helped rally the community through broadcasting live on YouTube and aiding those most in need by helping to set up a food bank, delivering 460 food bags in just five months.
In a year that has experienced a devastating international pandemic, the county has seen a total of 477 deaths and almost 8,000 confirmed cases from March to December, according to Buckinghamshire Council's COVID-19 dashboard.
Rev Minkkinen was installed as the new vicar of the church in Burnham a few months before the announcement of the pandemic.
Her installation ceremony was watched by about 250 attendees on Wednesday 16 October 2019.
Click below to watch a video showcasing moments from Rev Minkkinen's first year in the post.
Video shot and edited by Jade Kidd
Reflecting on her first year, the 57-year-old said it was a ‘blessing and a revelation’.
But she revealed that it has been ‘very strange’ and ‘very different’ as lockdown had opened up opportunities she didn't envisage and taken away what she would usually be doing.
She said: “What it took away was the normal Sunday worship when you get to meet people.
“I couldn't go around to people's homes, to do pastoral visiting. I suppose the relationship building face-to-face, it took away."
When the traditional way of visiting parishioners was impossible, the vicar embraced technology to remain part of the community.
Rev Minkkinen explained how the situation changed. She said: “It opened up technology, learning Facebook, going onto Facebook to take services from the rectory on my own. I didn't do Facebook, and I didn't do this, so it was like a whole new learning curve for me.”
The new St Peter’s Church YouTube channel was started on Sunday 12 April 2020 and currently has almost 135 subscribers and can have between 50 and 100 viewers each week.
She revealed that the number of people watching services is ‘higher than normal’ and is even attracting those living outside of Burnham in areas such as Somerset.
In a bid to adapt to the changing circumstances of COVID-19 and lockdown, the church set up a YouTube channel to deliver services and used Zoom for meetings, prayer, choir and Bible study.
She added that prior to COVID-19 the 10am church service would normally feature around 80 people, however, due to the current restrictions, it is attracting around 35 to 40.
Rev Minkkinen revealed that around 60 people watch St Peter's YouTube services live, while up to 100 people watch after.
To find out how popular online church activities have been during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maidenhead Advertiser and Slough Express carried out a poll on social media asking religious readers how they have been practising their faith during the pandemic.
The poll found that overall, across the Maidenhead Advertiser and Slough Express Twitter pages, the Maidenhead Advertiser Facebook page and the Maidenhead Advertiser - Burnham News Facebook group, nine of 18 participants were watching online services, eight visited a place of worship for private prayer and one person engaged in private prayer at home.
Prior to arriving at St Peter’s, Rev Minkkinen was vicar at the neighbouring St Andrew’s Church in Cippenham and was planning to retire to the coast with her husband, but was called by God to take up the post in Burnham.
The Windsor native said that she was just getting started in her first four months, conducting activities such as remembrance services, school Christmas carol concerts, and Christmas and New Years’ Day services.
She was also having discussions about an inclusive church project and considering ideas for a church memorial for former Prime Minister 1st Baron Lord William Wyndham Grenville who is buried inside with his family, before the UK announced its national lockdown in March.
Reflecting on her experience of the loss of face-to-face interaction, Rev Minkkinen added: “That for me was just heartbreaking - you're just learning people's names.”
However, Rev Minkkinen continued her work, during the first lockdown, engaging in a range of projects including: becoming a trustee of Burnham Resilience Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), an organisation she was involved with before it received charity status, and setting up a hospital volunteer chaplaincy with Burnham and Slough Deanery for Wexham Park Hospital in Slough to support the ‘full-time paid chaplains’ during the pandemic.
One lockdown project, which Rev Minkkinen called the highlight of her first year, was setting up the Care & Share project, together with Burnham Health Promotion Trust (BHPT), May’s Chocolate House and Maidenhead Foodshare.
The project aims to help families and individuals in need.
Rev Minkkinen with the team at the Care & Share project. Photo by Lisa Pope
Rev Minkkinen, who previously set up Slough Foodbank at St Andrew’s Church in 2014, wanted to set up the Care & Share scheme because while Burnham ‘appears very wealthy’ there is also ‘a lot of poverty’.
She added that her commitment to set up a project like this and possibly turn ‘it into a social hub’, stems from her not being able to obtain the help she needed for her brother, when she cared for him prior to his death from cancer in 2017.
Discussing Rev Minkkinen's work on the food bank project, Lisa Pope, Care & Share coordinator from BHPT said: "Rev Minkkinen was instrumental in helping us to secure funding to set up Care & Share and through the collection of food stock from her congregation at St Peter's Church.
"She is not bothered by postcodes or status - if someone needs food, she wants to help and for as long as it is needed. She clearly understands and supports the needs within our local community."
Since opening, Lisa added: "Care & Share have issued, on average, 20 food vouchers a week to those in need (more during half term).
"These equate to approximately 40-50 people a week being supported, with just under half of those being children.
"That's over 460 bags of food since we opened in July 2020."
Reflecting on her year at St Peter's, Rev Minkkinen said: “It's been a blessing, it's been a revelation.
“I still pinch myself I'm living here. I'm in awe of this community.
“I'm also working alongside some fantastic people.”
To view a map of Rev Minkkinen's first-year achievements please see the timeline below.
Timeline made by Jade Kidd
Discussing gender equality in churches, Rev Minkkinen said it is ‘getting there’ but it has 'still got a way to go’.
Rev Minkkinen is the second female to hold the post of vicar at St Peter’s church.
She is preceded by Olivia Graham who was vicar at the church from 2001 to 2007 and is now the Bishop of Reading.
The first female vicars in the UK were ordained in 1994.
Explaining her thoughts on why females were not allowed to become vicars before 1994, she said: “I think it’s like a lot of roles, women were excluded.”
Rev Minkkinen added that the vicars in the Jubilee River Group of the Burnham and Slough Deanery are currently all female, and there are total of seven female vicars and 10 male vicars in the Deanery itself.
“I think [equality is] getting there. I think there's still a way to go."
She added: “I think male and females can bring different qualities and different things to the table so I think we can complement each other.”
The first church in Burnham dates back to 500 and it has a long and colourful history.
See below for a photo slider of how the church changed in the last 220 years.
Made by Jade Kidd - 1800s photo provided by Burnham Historians and 2020 photo taken by Ian Longthorne
Read the chart below to delve deeper into Burnham's historic past, leading to the construction of St Peter's Church in 1150.
Infographic made by Jade Kidd
Divulging in the church’s future plans, Rev Minkkinen added that the church is set to host a series of socially-distanced Christmas services and New Year’s Day services, including nine lessons and carols, a Christingle service with Puppets4All @ St Peter’s, Midnight Mass, Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Covenant.
All services will also be live streamed on the St Peter’s YouTube channel, except the Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Day and the New Year’s Day Covenant service which will be live in church only.
For more information about the church visit: https://www.stpetersburnham.org
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