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This article was written this month by Canon Kelly and will appear in the new edition of Catholic People. It recounts life in our Parish over the past few months.
Committee meetings! The burden of the parish priest, but his cover also. Like a roof.
Last autumn rooves and committees combined: leaks in the church meant happy hours with the Finance and Building Committee trying to get a view of the great air-craft hanger of the church roof to the side where the ground falls away. Even with a ladder, we could hardly see over the low pitch, and climbing on to it would only break more of the large 60 year old concrete tiles – not that health and safety would allow it. Should we get a cherry-picker? – wouldn’t extend far enough; a drone maybe? A Consultant would want proper scaffold access. Thank goodness Christmas came to distract us. And then that terrible weather, endless rain, and the winds.
On Sunday 9th February, not long after the Church has been full of families celebrating in a ‘School Mass’, the wind blew two large holes in the roof: concrete tiles scattered over the roof and roadway, and the felting billowing out like a sail.
The next morning I rang the Diocesan Finance office, the Diocesan insurers who told me to get the hole covered, and Len, who had been up a few weeks before to replace some lead ‘investigated’ by naughty boys rescuing a football from the flat roof. Then I blocked off the roadway round the church.
On Tuesday Len’s roofers came, but soon came off the roof saying the wind was too dangerous, and the damage too extensive to do anything temporary, especially with continuing gusts and another storm due at the end of the week. They took photos to show the insurers, and a scaffolder came to measure up. In the church I removed the keyboard, electrical equipment, and benches from beneath the hole, and cordoned off that side of the church.
On Wednesday the loss-adjuster came, a pleasant local man. He told us, vaguely, to get on with it.
On Thursday skips appeared, scaffold was thrown up round that side of the church, and before the scaffolders finished on Friday, the roofers were up clearing the debris, throwing broken tiles into a skip like kids skimming stones, and beginning to replace the felting.
On the weekend we celebrated Mass with traffic jams as half the carpark was cut off, water streaming down one wall and the carpets soaked, the musicians and singing group squeezed into a corner, and lots of parishioners having to move to new pews and meet new people. Nothing will stop us coming together to pray (we thought!)
The next ten day the roofers worked flat out to strip the whole roof, replace the felting, and re-roof it: a dozen lads from Ebbw Vale who carried on through wind and rain, laughing, joking, slinging and catching tiles from one to another like a chain gang. Cruelly, the morning they finished, the wind dropped, the rain stopped, and the sun came out as I watched them lay the last ridge tiles.
A week later the scaffold was gone, Len had sent his painters to repaint the rain- damaged ceiling (and invisibly mend the hole where a tile had been dropped), and the insurers promised to pay up (and they did). Apart from some damp carpet tiles, we were back as if nothing had happened, and ready for an uninterrupted Lent.
When the lockdown came.
Weekday Mass without a congregation is more than odd, it is hard. It is more than missing other voices to support the prayer, Thomas to prepare the altar, Louisa to change the liturgical colours: it feels like part of the Body has been amputated. And yet the faces of Parishioners keep popping up in the bench where they should be, asking to be included in the prayer they are missing.
And no first Communion children, no Confirmandi. No Baptisms or weddings. And these awful funerals with no requiem, hurried prayers by the graveside, and only a few mourners.
Then Sundays: Unsure of the rules, on the first Sunday Alun set up a webcam posted via YouTube, and Debbie and Simon were recruited to read the Scripture. But the sound was poor, and the live stream juddery and continually cutting out.
By the next Sunday it was clear that no one but the priest should be in the church. With remote instruction from Alun, I managed to set up my phone and celebrate a Facebook Mass. Better quality transmission and sound, but the singing left much to be desired.
So Brett started organising the singers and musicians. By the time we got to Holy Week, we had psalms, hymns, and Mass parts recorded onto the laptop, and all I had to do was press the button at the right time.
The Vigil, hard and strange enough without congregation, fire, Baptism, or Tom the MC to keep me on cue, was a disaster – after the Gloria I forgot the New Testament reading; the sermon was mumbled because instead of preparing I had been busy painting Saint Helen’s paschal candle and fetching Saint Peter’s candle from Bargoed; and after the offertory I had to go back for the Renewal of Baptismal Vows which had been left out. And yet Christ is risen, Alleluia!
Live-streaming helps – many parishioners testify to that and are most generous in their appreciation – but it is not enough. Luigi tells me he is sure he won’t get his appetite back properly or start putting back the weight he lost while ill until he has the Bread of Life. For all the endless phoning, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Zooming, we are not the Church assembled, the Body of Christ celebrating and sharing the Body of Christ, to become the Body of Christ sent out to bring New Life to our community.
But fewer committee meetings at least! Will the roof fall in? How will our churches survive all this? And the Church herself?
This week is Pentecost and apart from Sunday Mass we will also be holding a Pentecost Vigil on Saturday. Hymn sheets will appear on the website shortly. On Sunday we will be trying something new – a Virtual Coffee Morning!
We invite everyone who can to join us around 10 minutes after mass and we will meet up on Zoom. If we have large numbers the plan is to divide people in to smaller breakout rooms where they can more easily have a chat with smaller groups of people – as you would on a Sunday morning. Father will be popping in and out of rooms to say hello!
We will not publish the details openly online but would ask that you send us a message through Facebook, leave a comment below or email us. We will then send details on how to join and some quick Zoom tips.
Spring has brought an abundance of colour to St Helen’s and, as you are unable to come to us, Father John decided to take his camera out to the gardens to ensure that the glories of Spring can be brought to you. We do hope you enjoy this selection of photos and that they bring a smile to your faces. Feel free to let him know, in the comments below, what you think of his gardening skills in this difficult ‘lockdown’ period.