Dear Parishioners of Haverfordwest and Narberth,
For some the effect of Coronavirus has been minimal, while for others it has meant a huge amount of upheaval and big changes to daily life. Whichever end of the spectrum we are at though, not one of us has had a normal Easter season: we’ve all had to make adjustments, and each of us has had to get used to a ‘new normal’.
The same is true for clergy and parish life; things are quite different than they were before, and I don’t suppose they will ever go back exactly as they used to be, even when the ‘old normality’ returns. This time could be moment where with think about how the parish needs to change and how things can be both different and better. Maybe some of you already have a few thoughts about what we can do that is fresh and new. Please do share those thoughts with me.
Many of us will have developed a new daily routine. Speaking personally, my own timetable has adjusted in response to the changing circumstances. Many of you will be aware that Mass is now broadcast daily on YouTube and that, as Chaplain to Withybush Hospital, I’m making a daily visit every morning after Mass. I’m not carrying out my general ward rounds anymore, but I am visiting those who request me on both the green (COVID-free) and red (COVID-detected) wards. I have full access to protective equipment so, fret not, I’m keeping safe. It has been a privilege for me to see first-hand the great work that is being carried out in our hospital, and which is being replicated by many others in and around the communities of Pembrokeshire.
Since the start of our containment Fr Matt has not been living in the presbytery – he has temporarily moved to the parish of Tenby. This has the two-fold advantage that if one of us were to fall ill, the other wouldn’t have to self-isolate (thus reducing the clergy staffing in Pembrokeshire by two priests) and it also maintains a priestly presence in Tenby while their priest is away having suffered a bereavement just as the lockdown started. You might think that this would leave me on my own, but the parish currently has a seminarian too. Many of you know Greg Beckett from Hook who studies for the priesthood at Oscott College in Birmingham. When his college closed he was due to move into a parish in Swansea to continue his studies there. Unfortunately the priest of that parish became quite ill, almost certainly with COVID-19, albeit that it wasn’t clinically tested in those first few days of the outbreak. Given that we could accommodate Greg, he moved into Fountain Row and has been living with me since – and I’m pleased to say he’s been a great help. He very good at assisting in the liturgy and, for those who tune in on-line, you cannot have missed his excellent singing and flower arranging skills! He’s been attending lectures via video-link and has had to complete several papers and presentations recently. I really don’t envy him, and it just brings back to me the stresses of student life! His exams start next week with Biblical Greek, Moral Theology and something about the Gospel of John (give me a COVID ward any day!). Please do keep him in your prayers.
It’s a source of pride for all of us that our parish has been so welcoming to students. You may recall last year we had the deacon Rev. Robert Davies come and stay for a month. He was due to be ordained a priest this summer, but that has been postponed. I’m told a new date will be selected for the mid-autumn. Once arrangements have been confirmed I shall let you know the date – and I’ll run bus to the Cathedral so anyone from the parish who wishes can attend.
There are two topics I’m receiving lots of emails and ‘phone calls about. The first is the large number of comments saying thank you for the on-line broadcasts. If you aren’t already aware then you can see daily Mass on YouTube by using this web address: http://m.youtube.com/user/LIFBB Broadcast times are Mon-Friday at 9:00am, Saturday at 12 noon and Sunday morning at 10:00am. Also on Sunday evening at 6:30pm Evening Prayer (Vespers) is broadcast. On weekdays we generally have 50 to 60 families watching on-line and this rises to just over 200 on Sundays. As well as live content there are also some pre-recorded videos for you to watch at your leisure.
The other matter constantly raised is that of finances and several have enquired is the parish doing okay. I’m pleased to say that the parish has good resources and is doing just fine. Some of you have wished to make donation electronically in lieu of the weekly collection, for those who have taken this step then thank you. For those who wish to do this, I can provide you with the needed information if you desire it. However there is no pressure being put on you to give at this time when so many are in need themselves. Some of you may be keeping your envelopes at home. That’s fine, there’s no need to risk posting them to the parish; keep hold of them until all this is over. My primary concern is to make sure that all of us have enough resources to cope at home.
If there are those who are finding it difficult to cope financially, or need to speak with someone to help ease the loneliness, then the parish is here to help. Our SVP group does do, and is continuing to do, some great work. Only this week I had a ‘phone call from Social Services who were delighted with the way our parish has been supporting someone. If you need someone to speak to, or if you are finding yourself short of resources, then please contact Don Phillips on 01437 763711 or Gustavo Falco on 01834 861322. I’m delighted to say that through the SVP charity, and its members’ good work, there are those locally who are being supported in simple and practical ways.
One element of parish life, which is painful for us all, is that the Sacramental Life of the parish has been so badly curtailed. I cannot wait for the church to re-open so that the community can gather again to celebrate the Mass, Funerals, Weddings, Baptisms etc. There were due to be several weddings this summer, all of which have been postponed. We pray for the repose of the soul of Bryn Matthews and Renato Rabaiotti who have died, and for whom we shall gather to honour in the future. We think of those who were to be received in to the Church this Eastertide and are awaiting Baptism and Confirmation. This weekend just past should also have seen the parish celebrate the First Holy Communion Mass of children from Mary Immaculate School and from other schools is our parish. Yet, through all of this, the Church goes on and, as the famous hymn says, “the voice of prayer is never silent and rests not now by day or night.” Our God does not abandon us when we need him the most and he comes to us in our homes and our places of work when we call on his name.
I am not yet sure when our church will re-open, nor do I know how that will happen. What I do know is that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is working with the government to get our church buildings open as soon as possible and when it is safe. It may be the case that social distancing requires a phased re-opening. This could mean no public worship initially, but only times for private prayer. It could mean that when the church does open, there might be a limit on the number who can attend. We shall have to wait and see and follow the advice which is to be given.
As we wait patiently for the advice to come and for our churches to open, it brings to mind the lives of Mary and the Apostles who gathered in the upper room. They waited there from the time of Christ’s Ascension to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. During those nine days they were unsure of what was going to happen next, but they were full of hope and expectation of the coming of the Advocate. This Thursday is the Solemnity of the Ascension, and I’m going to propose that every person in the parish makes the most of the nine days from Thursday to Pentecost Sunday by praying together a novena of prayers. The Prayers can be said at any time of the day, but make sure you give yourself a little space to be calm and unhurried. We too are a people of hope and expectation, so be aware that many others will be saying the same prayers as us in their homes, and that we are all acting as one when we come together as brothers and sisters to praise the Lord. Don’t forget to pause at the end of the prayer, and to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, directly, in your heart.
I look forward to seeing you all again soon. In the mean time Greg, Fr Matt and myself will keep you very much in our hearts and in our prayers. Keep safe and take care and may you be richly blessed in these days.
Fr Liam Bradley VF