Isn’t it hard to believe that Christmas is approaching? Due to the ongoing pandemic, some of us struggle to have the hope and belief that things will change and better days are ahead.

I get it – I really do. Advent is about longing, wondering, anticipating and waiting. It’s a time to prepare, pause, reflect and even come to terms with the fact that many of us are not particularly looking forward to this season.

Advent is about hope, light, peace and joy. A few weeks ago, I had the honour of being one of the judges for the Aisling Community Award.

IN FULL FLOW: Rev Karen reads the invocation before dinner at the Aisling Awards.

IN FULL FLOW: Rev Karen reads the invocation before dinner at the Aisling Awards.

We spent an afternoon hearing the inspirational stories of Townsend Presbyterian Church (led by Rev Jack Lamb), LORAG (Up the Lagan in a bubble project), Willowbank Youth Centre and the Lagmore Youth Project. We were completely blown away by them all and even though we could only pick one winner (Lagmore Youth Project as it turned out), we agreed that they are all inspirational champions.

When the evening arrived to celebrate our City Champions, I sat at the Aisling Awards thinking that this is what Advent looks like today through our Belfast heroes. They bring light, hope, peace and joy to our weary city darkened by the pandemic.

Their tireless work reminds us that broken hearts can be mended, what feels empty can be filled, and that light can break into what appears to be dark. The Christmas story lives on today… in our everyday.

I had the honour of writing the invocation for the Aisling Awards. Grab a coffee and let’s be thankful for our City Champions who serve our City:

Life is hard as we adjust to this pandemic… with many of us dealing with great loss
We feel the pressure. We see the damage. We know the disruption. We know the cost
Will there be beauty for ashes? Joy for mourning? Healing for grief? No matter how brief
Tonight reminds us that light and hope begins to break through
It breaks through and spreads throughout our City …through each and every one of you. 
We applaud our courageous Health Minister and our phenomenal NHS team
Who work day in and day out with great pressure and stress – so often their work goes unseen
To our champions of sport, culture, arts, Irish language… and our amazing business leaders,
Not forgetting those who work with our youth and communities… and also our outstanding teachers
Thank you for being courageous – thank you for standing tall
Thank you for your grit and resilience - you are an example to us all.
I pray we continue to place our shoulder to the wheel – 
Restoring, Repairing, Reviving and Rebuilding …so our City and people can heal
A special Welcome to you, our City Champions – we see all that you do
You are all heroes… and this evening… we will celebrate you.