The life of a priest in lockdown.
I trust you are keeping well and safe during these difficult days of Covid-19 and Social Distancing and Isolation. All of us, judging from the phones call and emails I have received lately, are experiencing challenges at this time and they are different challenges for each of us.
Every season has its blessings or its curses, so I am going to write about my experiences as a priest in lock-down. In many ways I have been blessed during this time, always start with the positives an Ofsted Inspector once told me. I live alone so am not cooped up in the same house as others 24/7 which I know for some is a challenge, I have a garden I can sit out in and Lucky the cat kept me company during the recent balmy weather. I have very good neighbours who I chat to over the fence each day namely Mrs Friel (Deputy Head), Kathy (Yr. 6 tutor) and Tina who are running St Patrick’s School for the children of key workers. My routine has become more monastic as I spend more time praying the Divine Office interspersed with office work, pastoral work, house work, gardening and a walk each day. Deacon Peter and Melinda telephone to see how I am two or three times a week as do Eddy and Flora Vales who are my nearest residential neighbours. I am very grateful also to Monsignor Canon Vincent Harvey for his support at this time, particularly with some of the more difficult pastoral situations I have been faced with lately.
Priests are of course human beings and persons! I know that can sometimes seem a bit of shock to people, but we are human beings like everyone else warts and all. Priests have feelings and emotions and of course have their own struggles during this time of isolation, so now for the curses. As a priest so much of my time is spent in the presence of others. So I miss you my dear parishioners and the two very different parish communities I am responsible for. I struggle saying Mass in an empty church, though Lucky the cat has taken to coming to Mass in recent times, though he does get somewhat distracted (so he must be a Catholic).
I miss the parish staff, Marion P, Marion J, Neil and Mika who do so much behind the scenes and in many ways form part of my household during the week and give me company and a confidential ear. It has been a mammoth task responding to all the emails and phone calls as they come in during their Furlough and I find computers and the internet challenging as they are not my forte and sitting at a computer for any length of time does my head in. I miss my school communities of St George College and St Patrick’s School, though I am as I said before able to chat to some of the staff and students of St Patrick’s School over the fence most days, as we check up on each other.
Then rather sadly much of my pastoral work now is focused on those who are dying and the arrangements of funerals, which is of course part of a priests’ ministry but it is normally interspersed with happier occasions such as Baptisms, Children’s Masses, Parish Masses, Coffee mornings etc.
Then as a person (priest hat off) I miss seeing my friends and my parents. As many of you know my parents and my entire extended family are all based on the Isle of Wight (we are an old island family stretching back into the midst of time) and I usually pop over once or twice a month to see them. I miss meeting up with my friends for meals out or a drink down at the pub to let off steam and have a laugh about what I experience as a priest.
I know at this time that some of you would wish me to be a celebrity online priest who is all singing and all dancing in front of the camera, as so many are now in the online world. But I am afraid that is not me. I do what I can, I work very long hours, but I can only do what I can do. When God was handing out the gift of charisma, computer skills, good looks and celebrity personalities; well I was sitting under the Tree of Knowledge reading a book with a cup of tea. I can only get through what I can get through in the run of a day, but I am here working and ministering as best I can in this awful situation which has been thrust upon us all.
There is also a great inequality in the wider Church as you may have noticed when it comes to finances, resources and online presence. Bigger parish churches or those in wealthy areas have a lot more money and resources available to them and they are able to be that all singing and all dancing church that we might like to be, with paid youth workers, pastoral assistants, people with social media knowhow and the equipment to go with it, and many young dynamic assistant priests who have more time to do things as the Parish Priest gets on with the more time consuming management of the Parish.
We in Netley and Woolston do what we can, with the resources that we have and do you know what - we are doing wonderfully well. People feel supported by the phones calls they receive from other parishioners, church volunteers and the parish clergy. People feel that we are looking out for each other, that we are caring for each other and that we are praying for each other and at the heart of this is the Parish Mass being said daily on your behalf by the Parish Priest with your intentions at its centre.
During this time of pandemic, crisis and isolation we need to continue reaching out to people with Christian love and charity and we need to continue talking to Jesus in prayer. This is a difficult time and Jesus knows this. Talk to him in prayer, tell him how you feel, be honest and upfront and uphold the community you are living and working in with prayer! Prayer is the answer, particularly if you are at home and unable to get out. One of the things we can all do is pray and minister to our neighbour as Christians. Keep going, be strong and as the Queen rightly said: “We will meet again.”
God bless you all