Every week things are slowly getting back to normal, or what passes for normal at St George’s. After having only ten per mass, we were allowed twenty, and this week we are up to seventy-five. We are also allowed this week to resume singing our hymns together. Now, we are more the shy Anglicans rather than the full-throated Welsh, but it will be lovely to get back to singing our hymns together.
As a result, this Sunday will be the last Sunday to have three masses, and the 11.30 am mass on Sunday will cease after this week. This will allow us to resume our other meetings on Sunday mornings and our study group next month. Our weekdays masses will only have one change, with the Friday mass staying at 8 am, not 5.15 pm. For the time being we are still only permitted to give the sacrament without the chalice.
The time has also come to start to wind down this newssheet as well. I have enjoyed using this format, but it has taken considerable time each week to prepare. I am proposing that a parish newssheet will now come out monthly. We will revert to using the title “The Messenger”, the title of the parish magazine we have been using since Fr Wise’s time. This will therefore be the last Plague Rag to be sent out, unless there are further health restrictions. However, I intend to keep this format for the revamped Messenger, and it will now be mainly an email newssheet, rather than a printed magazine.
Furthermore, we will cease to have a regular angelus every day outdoors at 12 noon. This was designed to be a space where we could gather safely and at a distance to say our corporate prayers and particularly for those who were infected by the pandemic, medical staff and the safety of our friends and family overseas. We also made a special mention of nursing staff changing shifts at our hospitals, and the Royal Adelaide chaplain Fr Nicholas Rundle. My thanks to so many of you who turned up regularly over these months to support me.
It has been an interesting few months here. I have enjoyed our daily angelus, in fine weather and wet. The daily masses have continued behind closed doors. Then we worked our way through the complex rites of the triduum, the great three holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve, bereft of a congregation. Normally the Easter vigil is one of the longest masses of the year, with the blessing of the new fire, the singing of the great Exsultet, that special blessing over the new paschal candle lit from the fire, the myriad of vigil readings (my favourite always being the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel) , the blessing of the new water with its own lengthy prayer, and then the first mass of Easter in the wonderful gold vestments given in memory of Fr Willoughby, one of my predecessors as Rector here. Well, this year was the shortest one on record, as with only a few souls we zoomed through it in under an hour.
We started this lockdown just before the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, and this week we keep the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, 24 June. Both of these are what we call quarter days, marking the four divisions of the solar year. They mark the equinox of the season, when the night and day are of equal length, and for us the winter solstice, the shortest day of winter. As such they have a history that goes well back into ancient origins to mark the turning of the seasons. Quarter days were also in England the traditional times of paying tithes or rents, hence the British budget is still kept on 5 April, which is the old 25 March in the older Julian Calendar, before the insertion of 11 days to bring it in line with the Gregorian calendar we now keep. The feast of John the Baptist is exactly six months before Christmas, another quarter day. The reason it is on the 24th and not the 25th is that the days are counted in the older Roman way of days before the calends (the name of the first day of the month when the festivals of the month ahead were anciently shouted out and debts paid). As both John and Christmas are six days before the 1st of the next month, and as June has 30 days and December 31 days, there is hence the one day difference. (We still count our minutes like this when we say something is say five minutes, or a quarter, before the hour: once we counted days in the same fashion). So, we have followed this lockdown for a whole quarter of the year. It’s been a long time.
Throughout this time our main priority here has been to keep saying mass. This is because the gift of the sacrament is the most important thing we have as Christians. In the mass we bring all our needs, all our prayers, and join them with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As soon as we could we re-opened our church to allow you, the holy people of God, to join in this and receive the sacramental presence of Christ.
But we should also step back and consider what we have learnt and what has happened. Our Archbishop has put it in these words:
I do wonder though whether some of the reactions we have seen are also connected to the general anxiety in societies which are used to good health and relative security, but which have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions. People are edgy and anxious, tired and frustrated.
This is partly because of the change that we’ve had to adjust to; partly because people have lost jobs and businesses; partly because our political leaders who were so united on the journey to shut down are now not nearly so united. A major factor also in my view is grief. Grief because there has been much loss. Not just jobs and businesses though that has been substantial. There has also been loss because we haven’t been able to do what we had planned to do and what we like to do. There has also been a loss in that we, who thought we were very much in control, have been shown to be not in control of our destiny at all. A virus has surfaced which has turned the world upside down. What the virus has done is shown us the truth which was there all the time but which we could ignore and were encouraged to ignore by the powerful narrative of secularism. Humans think we are in control, but COVID-19 has reminded us that we are not in control, and that realisation, that loss brings grief, and anger is very much part of grief. Sadly, I suspect we might be in for more anger yet.
This seems to be an opportunity for an alternative narrative to be offered. A narrative which clearly admits we are not in control – not as an admission of defeat or weakness, but an acknowledgement of reality. A narrative which acknowledges another reality, the existence of God. Not some far away god, but God who loves the world so much that he entered into it in the person of Jesus, and continues to be present in the person of the Holy Spirit who comforts hearts and illuminates the church, the body of Christ, and also works in the world to bring life. As followers of Jesus we have this alternative way to offer. A way of living which gives us meaning and hope. This way does not take pain away but enables us to live with uncertainty because we know God loves us and all creation.
Our people need to be reminded and strengthened in this hope because we are all enmeshed with what is going on and affected by it, if not personally, then vicariously through others. Christians can be edgy and anxious, tired and frustrated.
Please keep talking, preaching and teaching the love of God in Jesus and the opportunity for faith/trust that we have, and which is available to everyone. Jesus blessed his followers with peace in a very turbulent time immediately after his resurrection. May we be blessed with God’s peace and may we bless people with God’s peace in this very turbulent time too.
I hope that this newssheet has helped you to reflect on your lives, your relationship with God and the state of your soul over this quarter. We have been blessed by the protection we have enjoyed. We should give thanks and continue to pray for that protection.
My thanks for the help in doing this newssheet, Emily Harding for proofing it and Tim Hender for the links every week. It’s been fun doing it, and putting together the photos – I hope you like this week’s them of past Rectors. My thanks as well to so many of you who have engaged with the topics I have raised, and found this useful.
Fittingly for the ‘last’ Plague Rag, let’s take a look at how people are memorialising the departed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, many of these arrangements are still temporary, especially in our sister churches in the UK and North America – nevertheless, people are talking and installations are happening.
- Don’t step on it! A very precise memorial to those who have died from COVID-19 at Norwich Cathedral – https://www.cathedral.org.uk/about/news/detail/2020/06/15/memorial-to-remember-those-who-have-died-from-coronavirus
- Please take a look as well at the Norwich COVID-19 requiem service, which sadly is still held in private. A big issue where regular funerals cannot happen. https://www.cathedral.org.uk/whats-on/events/detail/2020/04/08/default-calendar/weekly-requiem-for-the-departed
- What will the US national memorial look like? https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/04/28/what-will-covid-19-memorial-look-like/
- Very contemporary; artists in Washington are projecting social media obituaries (I guess they’re the successor to The Advertiser classifieds) onto walls in downtown DC.https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/04/17/this-dc-artists-projections-are-a-huge-poignant-memorial-to-the-citys-covid-19-victims/
- And a suggestion to revive 17th and 18th Century plague columns, from the LA Times of all places –https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2020-05-05/coronavirus-plague-columns-memorials-trump-tower
We must give thanks that for us in South Australia, we remain protected from the need to recognise the direct victims of the pandemic – yet we must also remember, as the Archbishop has called us to do, those other victims who are living in anxiety, fear and uncertainty.
If you’re having any difficulty accessing these resources, please contact Tim Hender at firstname.lastname@example.org.
21 Sunday PENTECOST 3
8.00 am Mass
10.00 am Mass
11.30 am Mass
22 Monday Fr Scott’s day off
23 Tuesday ALBAN, FIRST MARTYR OF BRITAIN, c209 (from 22)
10.00 am Mass
24 Wednesday THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
8.00 am Mass
12.00 noon Angelus and Mass
7.30 pm Gregorian Chant Group
8.00 am Mass
27 Saturday Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, Teacher of the Faith, 444
8.00 am Mass
28 Sunday PENTECOST 4
8.00 am Mass
10.00 am Mass