Canon Anthony McBride, parish priest of St James the Less, in Rawtenstall, Rossendale, shares his experiences of ministering amid a pandemic, including his decision in January to close the church in the interest of his parishioners’ health.
Since the first lockdown last year, as well as being open at times, I have always put Mass each day on our parish Facebook Page (St James the Less Rawtenstall). I was fortunate to have some younger parishioners show me how to do this.
The church is small (250 person capacity in normal times) but we were instructed that once the first lockdown was ended we could welcome 50 people with the correct social distancing and face coverings.
Twenty-one people volunteered to be stewards and they have worked exceptionally hard to keep the church virus-free and ensure that people are safely seated with correct social distancing. They also ensured that people sanitised their hands and kept their distance when receiving Holy Communion.
I continued to put the Mass each day on the Parish Facebook Page for those people who were shielding or who were living in an household where others were shielding.
When the current lockdown arrangements were publicised the Government allowed public worship to continue but fewer people came to Mass and the numbers accessing the service on-line increased. The daily Mass consisted of between 12 and 20 people, mainly elderly parishioners. When I was alerted that Lancashire Health Authorities were suggesting that we discontinue public worship I thought long and hard and consulted a good number of parishioners about the possibility of closing the church until it was deemed safe by the health authorities. Without exception the people supported this closure in the interest of the health of, especially, our elderly parishioners.
We place parish newsletters in the Presbytery porch for people to take as well as other information. People post Mass intentions, collection envelopes and queries through the Presbytery letterbox (as we did during the first and second lockdowns). A great number of our parishioners still support the parish financially through taking out standing orders in favour of the parish, especially those who have also signed for Gift Aid.
We continue to support each other by telephone, email and messaging services. A number of our parishioners are also involved in some of the charitable activities of the area in partnership with other groups. Our PTA members organised food for children and families during the school holidays.
In other words, we have found new ways of witnessing to the worship of God and the service of other people so that the overall work of the church is able to continue.
Picture: Canon Anthony McBride.