The joys of Easter Week, already subdued this year when we share the suffering & grief of many thousands in the UK affected by the coronavirus, & those stalwart disciples on the front line who are working miracles in service of the victims & tragically the growing list of the dying, have been further muted by the sad news of the sudden death of Andrew Cornforth, one of our Grounds team, who was found unconscious in the workshops on Tuesday evening, & in spite of long valiant efforts by two teams of paramedics & some of our own staff, died at the scene. He leaves a wife, Deborah & two children Ethan & Elsa. Please keep Andrew, his family & his colleagues in your prayers. On Wednesday morning Fr Ambrose, Dean of the College, & I led a half hour of prayer at the workshop with Andrews colleagues on the Grounds team. On a stunning morning in a most beautiful location, looking over “his”grounds, & for such a tragic reason. As I told them, we expected the threat of death to invade our valley from the virus, & instead it has come in this awful way. Please also pray for those of our own staff, Fr Ambrose & myself who were there on Tuesday evening in practical & spiritual support. How strange my notes to you on last weeks bulletin referred to the extraordinary pandemic, as well as the first Resurrection, with Mary Magdalen then, & now our individual & collective presence in the fear of Good Friday & then the joy of Easter, as “& I was there” you & I present..little did I know I was to be there on Tuesday afternoon with the other front line responders, sharing in the Cross with & for Andrew, & his journey onwards now towards his own resurrection. “we were made for these times”..remember?.. When I sent out on Maundy Thursday the fourth of our series of weekly bulletins, with homilies & other articles of spirituality to help you through these lean times of liturgical absence, coincidence or the work of the Holy Spirit [ & you well know my regular drip feed understanding of which is to the fore so often in our life & faith ] I quoted at some length from Fergal Keane in my Good Friday homily, a wonderfully spiritual BBC correspondent who is often sent to crisis areas sometime after the initial drama to see how the residue, usually the weakest oldest most disabled, are coping once the fit & able have moved out & on. That night, in the midst of BBC news being filled with graphic images of the effects of the virus & its tragedies, with only time for one other news item, the BBC chose to have Fergal Keane’s report from the migrant camps outside Calais, where thousands wait to cross the Channel into the UK; queues for food & water with no hope of social distancing, thousands at risk from the virus..& Fergal was there..his & our Catholicism betrayed in his voice & report, thanks be to God. Later that evening on podcast I noticed “Poetry Power; BBC correspondents” where eight correspondents were asked to select a piece of poetry for the pandemic moment; the first was Fergal Keane who chose “to bless the space between us” by John O’Donohue, chosen by me to share at our final Mass in Our Lady & St Benedict’s on Friday 20 March 2020 as the lockdown began. I enclose a copy of the poem with this bulletin, with other poems & writings which seem to hit a chord at present.
We are now a full month into lockdown, with many practical & spiritual initiatives in place & working well in helping fill the liturgical empty spaces. I would like to put to you two proposals for your prayerful consideration, to take forward in the weeks yet to come. Some years ago, the Bishops of England & Wales went to Rome to meet the Pope for their five yearly Ad Limina visit. During two weeks in Rome each Bishop has 15mins with the Pope in a private audience. Usually the topic of conversation remains private but Bishop Malcom McMahon, now Archbishop of Liverpool, returned & shared the two questions the Pope put to him; “how is the Church in Leicester?” Leicester is in the Nottingham Diocese & is the most ethnically diverse city in the UK. The second question “how are your young people evangelising themselves?” two searching questions indeed. With the current lockdown, I estimate we have over 30 of our youngsters between ages of 13 & 23 presently at home, & I expect many of them will already be in touch with others via social media. I would like to ask each of them to be in touch with as many others as possible, to look after each other practically socially & spiritually. A fine opportunity to make, renew or deepen friendships, & perhaps form a Home Prayers page with a 5min daily prayer moment on line, including a prayer a song & a brief meditation, for young & old. A further possibility is to form a chain of care, to ensure no one in our locality of whatever age, is without a contact twice a week for conversation, a shared prayer, & the offer of practical help in getting food or medicines..& perhaps, with the skills we know many you have, to compose & sing your own music, which could be shared across & beyond the parish, & which, once the lockdown is over, could season our liturgy in Church. I do hope some of you will take up this gentle warm invitation, & include me in.
A second initiative would include us all; to ask if each family & those alone, would agree to be a partner for another. To connect, via social media, phone or post, & to keep in touch, weekly or more often, to ensure each of us has someone we know we can contact, either to offer help or to ask for it, & to share a prayer; we now have a comprehensive database of the majority of parishioners, & we could pair up families/individuals for the duration of the lockdown, & perhaps beyond. Next Sunday, we have the gospel of the two disciples on to road to Emmaus, walking home downcast after losing their Jesus, now crucified & buried, sharing their story, & who find themselves with a companion alongside, who they discover in due course to be Christ himself. It would be really helpful to receive your wise counsel on one or both of these opportunities please.
..remember please to tell others of our Church food initiative set up by Rev Catherine Reid & myself with great help from Deb & Ray in the Village Shop; those in financial hardship can go in & quietly ask for a bag of food essentials all prepared for them; our two Churches [increasingly one Church] will source funds to meet the cost. Middlesbrough Food Bank remains open & in desperate need for help, now offered direct to them by cash transfer, or by cash in an envelope posted at St Benedict’s House please. Please keep each of these intentions & many more in your prayers.
Living God, you walk alongside us & speak to us throughout the Scriptures. Your Son, Jesus Christ, listens to our hopes & fears & shows us how to live for one another. Send us the Holy Spirit to open our hearts & minds so that we may be your witnesses throughout the world. Amen. V. Your word is our path & your truth is our light. R. This day & every day. (Prayer of the Word for the Year of the Word)