I think I must be the luckiest priest in Ireland. Luck is the key word there, because through no fault or effort of my own, I was eight years in this parish before Covid-19 struck. This was a powerful help just now. It means I know the place and its people very well (and they know me).
My second piece of good fortune was that the pastoral council disappeared once lockdown came. I shouldn’t reckon this as good, but it really is. The council had been at the end of its term anyway, and elections were being talked of. Even though lockdown meant elections were out of the question, the council still went to ground, never to be seen again.
As parishes edged back to life after lockdown, parish councils were suggested as the people who could make it happen. It is hard to generalise about parish pastoral councils – some are magnificent, others just talk, a lot – but the fact that mine has ‘vamoosed’ meant that I had a much freer hand in finding a group to reintroduce public worship.
My Covid-19 support team became a group of six: three women and three men. And an excellent group they are. I am learning from them what ‘an abundance of caution’ really means. Where I would rush in, they say: “Take it easy, what’s the rush, we’re in it for the long haul.” And indeed we are.
Contact lists are drawn up for each Mass and stewarding arranged for each celebration”
Pat is an architect, a logistics expert and a dab hand at drawing a map of the parish (and at ‘getting stuff printed’ too). Padraig is our supplies procuror – sanitisers, fluids, signage, masks, you name it, Padraig knows where to get it, and how much of it, and can instruct those who need to know. Mark is involved in the GAA as well as being an accountant, so finding stewards has proved his forté (people who operate the gate at GAA matches are well used to hassle, and so are perfect at stewarding recalcitrant parishioners!).
Geraldine is a nurse and is well-versed in the HSE, so she finds answers to all our HSE-related questions. Maureen is in the civil service – she can write a mean letter. She admits that civil service people can pad letters with lots of waffle, but she still has a gift. And Ena is our organiser-in-chief – she thinks of absolutely everything.
The team came up with a unique approach. They said: “Give everyone in the parish a chance to come to Mass one Sunday in four.” They divided the parish into groupings of townlands, and wrote a letter to all parishioners, alerting each as to how to book a place at Mass on the Sunday of the month allotted to that townland. Contact people have been appointed for each Sunday, contact lists are drawn up for each Mass and stewarding arranged for each celebration.
So far so good: people feel safe, and are safe, thank God. (And thank God for good luck!)
A welcome ‘staycation’!
In the parish where I minister, the Covid-19 team has allocated a certain area of the parish to each Sunday, the first, second, third and fourth of every month. There’s an advantage to this approach: some months have a fifth Sunday (and no one has been allocated Mass on that day).
Since August is one of these five-Sunday months, I spot a ‘staycation’ opportunity. In some parishes, Masses have multiplied and priests have become more grounded than ever. The Covid-19 Team sees no purpose in excess Masses. We all need a break: thank you, Covid-19 team for making mine possible!
Every passing must be and is marked
Life goes on. Even in pandemic, people get sick and die of ordinary ailments. Funerals are rough in every parish just now, but what is wonderful is how we Irish have adapted.
Condolences on rip.ie have replaced driving for hours to a distant funeral, to queue in the rain and shake a mourner’s hand. And funeral corteges have become a thing of beauty as people line our country roads with such love. Irish people ‘get’ funerals, even in a pandemic. The lesson we learned 175 years ago in the Famine is that every passing must be marked. And we still do it, and well.