Mgr Tony Rogers from Aldeburgh, who is completely isolated because of the pandemic, describes what the experience of lockdown can be like for a parish priest.
In my parish newsletter, for the Church of Our Lady and St Peter in Aldeburgh, for the Third Sunday of Lent (March 15) I inserted a little reflection by Pope Francis about lockdown. It had already started in Italy, but not in the UK.
Francis said that when all this is over, we will discover how the ordinary and trivial will seem like something very special. He cited the example of sharing a coffee with a friend. It all seemed a bit surreal, because at the time we had no experience, and the newsletter insert was by way of an example of how another person was feeling further down the line.
But Pope Francis was absolutely spot-on. Apart from the obvious longings – that we be back in our churches for Mass, and that we be able to meet up with friends and family, there are two trivial things that I long for. I’m currently, because of age and medical condition, totally isolated, and reliant on the wonderful people who are tending to my daily needs. But I long to go shopping, instead of sending someone a list. I am a spontaneous shopper. I love browsing, not just in bookshops, but in food shops as well.
And I’m longing for a haircut. By the time we’re able to go to the hairdressers again, I shall look like I did in the seventies, with hair down to my shoulders. And I don’t relish the prospect.
This has been a time for sorting, and clearing out – a skip is the next thing I need to order – and a wonderful opportunity to read both for study purposes and for sheer pleasure, and an opportunity to give time to prayer, without it being squeezed in at one end of the day. A more regular rhythm in this area has been so important.
From Day One of lockdown, I had to think of ways of keeping in touch with parishioners. This is a parish with a lot of elderly people, some of whom are quite frightened by the restrictions. Though lots of people use social media, I needed to think about the best way of communicating with the largest number of people. So, each morning or afternoon, I write a ‘Thought for the Day’ which contains the Mass readings and a mini-homily, plus any notices, news and updates that are relevant. It’s been a good discipline, and a good means of two-way communication.
The greatest benefit for me in terms of communication has been the daily live-streamed Masses, and now Morning Prayer beforehand. Wi-Fi isn’t working well, so I celebrate from the stairwell of my hallway. It has added hugely to a sense of not being alone when celebrating Mass, something which I found very painful in the three or four days when I celebrated alone.
Among other things, it has put me in touch with people I haven’t seen for some time, and I know that it is something that must continue when lockdown is over. It is painful receiving the Eucharist alone, but I know that we are doing the best that we can, and I know that in the words of Cardinal Vincent, God’s grace is not limited to the sacraments.
I hope that some of the good things which have happened in the period of isolation for us all, will continue when we return to normal, but perhaps normal will not be quite what we expect.
Pictured above is Fr Tony Rogers