MY FAMILY retreated into Lockdown on 13th March 2020, a week earlier than the general announcement. I had been unwell with a heavy cold and felt very strongly that the Government should have taken action during the Italian crisis rather than waiting until we were in crisis. I had been ahead of the game with the congregation, withdrawing the holy water stoup, the Sign of Peace (which we have on Sundays only), the chalice, and all hymn books and perennial handouts. It was called being ‘ahead of the curve’ and I was proud that we were. As with any other priest, there was the inevitable self-examination: should this be treated as an opportunity for heroic witness or rather for prudent leadership? There was some romanticisation – shades of St Charles Borromeo – and I was challenged by the 72-year old priest in North Italy – a man of my age – who laid down his life to enable others to live. What I noticed from the story of St Charles Borromeo was his care not to put others at risk. Masses continued, but out of doors, and that was before anyone knew much about how plagues work. Nearly eighteen weeks after our own Lockdown, nothing much has happened in this rural community. None of those who look to me has become seriously ill or died – I say that with some trepidation because intelligence is inevitably partial – and morale seems to have been high, even amongst those who live alone, and perhaps because they know all about living alone. My work as a priest has continued – in a strange fashion. Every day except Saturday there is Mass at 9am in my Oratory, live-streamed on Facebook (and available thereafter as a video). There have been irritating gaps in transmission: lacunæ in some broadcasts and twelve days when a hole in the road, dug by the Water folk, severed the telephone connection. I was slightly nonplussed when I discovered that most of my congregation were either watching other live-streams or having a break from it all. The other live-streams must have been tempting – I have nicknamed it ‘Mass Tourism’ – and there have been tales of watching the Pope’s Mass, the Bishop’s Mass, and Mass in religious communities. All of these must have been interesting to watch. Nearer at hand have been Holy Rood, North Hinksey, where a former curate here, Fr Daniel Lloyd, has live-streamed services on ChurchServicesTV, with his wife, a talented soprano, acting as cantrix and singing the plainchant. Another draw has been Abingdon, which (no doubt becomes it begins with ‘A’) has attracted 8,000 watchers and listeners to its ChurchServicesTV Sunday Mass. My own (on East Hendred Catholic Parish Facebook page) have attracted a handful of devout followers, including one or two priests and former priests. The Sunday evening Zoom Mass, started mid-Lockdown, drew in some parishioners, and a relative or two of theirs. Numbers remained low – fewer than a dozen – and it came to a natural end when Sunday masses resumed in church. We are now emerging a little from Lockdown. Being over-70, a Type 1 diabetic with a history of heart disease and hypertension, I am not judged ‘extremely vulnerable’ but nonetheless I am waiting for the go-ahead from 1 August. Meanwhile we have had two Sundays of masses in Hendred – an 11.15am (which is normally the St Patrick’s, East Ilsley time) and 6pm (which we began in October 2019 when the monthly 6pm Mass at Milton Manor had run its summer course). The limit on attendance is 30 per occasion and, in common with other churches throughout the country, according to informal reports, we seem to be drawing between half and two thirds of this capacity, and so maybe half our normal attendance. Our masses at present are being celebrated by Fr Dominic Adeiza, the priest at Faringdon, and Fr David O’Sullivan, parish priest of Wantage. We are having no weekday masses because of the age of most weekday Mass-goers but we are opening for a couple of hours of private prayer midweek. It will be interesting for social historians to discover and reflect on how the clergy worked during the Lockdown. Some of it we already know: surely everyone searched their databases for the lonely and vulnerable – not all of whom, however, had made it on to databases; surely everyone maximised the limited opportunities for charitable work, national and local; then, as well as the celebration of Mass, alone or on live-stream, we all were tasked with the issue of the weekly newsletter, by which we keep in general touch. Add to that the various administrative chores, left to the priest, because (in this diocese at least) the administrative staff were on furlough. Some of these I quickly decided were beyond my competence but others, such as grappling with the parish e-mail, were inescapable. It did not help that, during the Lockdown, the diocese changed mail server and I was certainly not alone in making urgent phone calls to IT support, diocesan and private, to get things back on track. Then there were the Zoom meetings. I have already mentioned the Zoom Mass on Sunday evenings and there have been other Zoom masses too. These have been a valuable tool in looking after the school. A Zoom Mass, with most children in their own homes, and a bubble or two of children in school, was a new experience for everyone, and a way of celebrating Corpus Christi and the Leavers’ Mass. The Zoom meetings were a surprise. With the School Governors it has been ‘Teams’ but in the parish we have gone for ‘Zoom’. I was able to attend the Parish Finance Council and to convene a Standing Committee which made exhaustive arrangements to ensure a safe environment for Sunday masses. A Parish Pastoral Council meeting has been planned. Traditionally – well, at least in the tradition in which I was raised – the priest spent the morning in his study and the afternoon out and about. If the latter was impossible – I remained shielded – I at least could make good use of mornings. The general pattern, after the daily Mass, has been to compile a daily bulletin for those on the list – including the psalm and one of the readings for the next day’s Mass and a reflection on the reading. This has been prefaced by a daily letter, highlighting this or that, and appended have been various handouts, such as material for children’s formation, and directions about booking for Sunday masses. I am not naïve enough to think that this daily bulletin has been deeply studied, but it has surely been widely read, and, even its appearance in the Inbox, only to be deleted, has been a form of being in touch. It has been seen as a way of keeping everyone together. Ironically, the comment was made to me with regard to those attending Mass in July that, as they left, there was a danger of them ‘congregating’. The flock of sheep outside my window in this rural hideaway seem to manage both to socially distance in the field and yet congregate. There are new skills for us to learn.
1 thought on “Lockdown in Hendred”
It seems churlish to ignore your interesting account of time spent in lockdown. Most importantly it is good to know that you are all well. I am rather pleased to be retired and in the vulnerable category because it strictly limits the tasks that can be assigned to me. In Swanage we have a huge crew of active retireds who are all similarly supernumerary, which leaves our Rector and Curate in training quite busy.
I think we all have a little list of people we keep in touch with. I am very impressed with the way they are coping. We are back in church, with good support, but it is a rather sterile experience. My neighbours have to endure my daily saxophone practice when in my imagination I am Sonny Rollins or Lester Young. We all miss our weekly rehearsal in the town band and all the gigs that have bee cancelled. I think we shall be a long way down the priority list, Ialways take an interest in your postings and look forward to more revelations. With very wishes,John