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Not long before the lockdown came into place with all it’s restrictions I was presiding at a funeral at the crematorium. With the family we had, as always, planned the service so that it was personal to the gentleman that had passed away. Everything went in accordance with the order of service, and as is customary I said farewell to all the mourners as they left the chapel. On his way out an elderly gentleman, proudly wearing a regimental tie and blazer that associated him with his friend whom we have been celebrating, took my hand in a firm handshake and said, “Padre, I don’t do church, but today you’ve made it possible for me to!”
I remembered this because of the honesty of his words, “I don’t do church”, really stuck with me. Then just the other day I was reminded of that encounter. Following the news that permission was going to be given for churches to reopen for private prayer, I was talking to a deacon friend of mine. He told me about a conversation that he had been involved in with someone from his own parish. It was wonderful news he had been told that the church would soon be open, when will it be? He replied that a certain number of conditions had to be met and precautions put in place. Such as? he was asked. Well, sorting out the seating for social distancing, getting the PPE and in & out routes in place, working out the times it would be open, and the rota for stewards.
The parishioner I’m told looked a bit disappointed, but said how much they were looking forward to getting back to praying in the church. My friend replied that it would only work if they had enough stewards, so would they be happy to join the rota? That way everybody would have the opportunity to visit the church. Shockingly the reply he got was, “I’m going to be too busy praying, I don’t do stewarding!” He told me that he wanted to respond with, “Well if nobody does the stewarding, then no-one else is going to be doing the praying!”, but he managed to catch his tongue before the words came out.
What is it about the perception of actually rolling your sleeves up and doing something?
Is it better to be praying individually, or making it possible for a number of other people, including myself, to able to use the church?
As many of you will know, one of my diaconal roles is as an Assistant Director of Formation for the diaconate in the diocese. This involves the selection, training and formation of candidates to become deacons. Last year, a parish priest that I know, asked my opinion on what might be the questions he should ask someone who was interested in applying for the diaconate. Apart from faith knowledge and spirituality, we also spoke about the concept of service as part of the deacons role. I suggested that the following might be considerations:
At a parish social event are you the one pouring or drinking the tea?
At the end are you leaving or stacking the chairs?
When the votive candles are running out are you asking where to get more, or complaining that someone else hasn’t done it?
Are you thinking someone needs to hoover the church carpet, or are you getting the hoover out?
There is much wisdom in the old saying “Many hands make light work.” Within the church, within our parish community, there are so many things that could be achieved if there were more pairs of hands. Thinking that it is “someone else’s job” can be an easy excuse to use, as can “I’m too busy”, or “I don’t have the time”. It always amazes me that it is often the same familiar faces carrying out a multitude of roles, for which everyone is very grateful. And yet there is always someone else who will complain that things haven’t been done!
I don’t need to be a deacon to do many of the jobs that I do. Others don’t need special skills to push a hoover, welcome visitors to the church, collect hymn books, or even be a steward that enables everybody to have the chance to get back into our parish church. Thinking that, “Well, over 850 people come to Mass here every week in normal times means there are enough others to do it!” creates a problem if everybody thinks that way.
So as we get nearer to the goal of our church reopening, at least for private prayer, it is the time to ask myself – what can I contribute? That way we can all help each other get past the sentence that starts, “I don’t do…….”, and replace it with, “I can help to……..”
Deacon Ian Black