Local lockdown - one month on
Churches in Caerphilly borough were the first in Wales to experience the effects of a local lockdown. One month on and still in lockdown, Fr Mark Greenaway Roberts, Rector of the Benefice of Eglwysilan and Caerphilly, describes what parish life has been like.
Entering local lockdown was a huge shock. We had begun to enjoy the freedoms associated with reduced restrictions. Some of us tried to make light of it, but for many our anxiety increased. How long is this going to last? How unfair it should happen in our borough! To how much danger will I and my loved ones be exposed? It is hard when we can’t see family and friends. In my pastoral encounters I know that the mental health for some of us who live here is under strain due to the limitations on our social interactions and worries about livelihood.
It seemed like night and day. A much-loved coffee shop illustrates our experience. One day it was bustling with customers enjoying caffeinated drinks and company. The next day trade was modest, masks were worn, physical distancing was maintained. We took responsibility and modified our behaviours. Suddenly, pubs once filled with bodies, joviality and cheer became stilled, subdued and temperate.
As a Benefice we responded quickly by adapting to the latest restrictions and we maintained public worship with the Eucharist and outdoor services during the Season of Creation. Parishioners have responded positively to the new guidance, like wearing masks. The response of our member of Senedd, Hefin David, was invaluable and generous as he helped us to navigate the new regulations. Two members of our leadership team, a curate and an ordinand on placement, could no longer travel from their homes outside Caerphilly borough to join us for public worship. Each for their own reasons determined that the risk was too high, given other commitments and responsibilities in their lives. The remaining six members of the lay-clergy leadership team decided that the majority of us could not be in the same space at the same time. If one of us tested positive, the whole team would be out of action for days to come.
At a planning meeting for All Souls day, Remembrance, Advent and Christmas we held our heads in our hands. Like many in our world we are looking at a moving, often hidden target. “Agility”, “resilience”, the “new normal” have become almost daily buzz words, although empowering at times they seem to have a chilling edge. The commemorations and liturgical seasons will look very different. We know that and yet we don’t know how they will look.
At a recent Harvest service the church building was full, in a physically distanced way. Participants were extraordinarily generous with their gifts for the local food bank. None of the favourite hymns were sung, but we listened to recordings of John Rutter, including “For the beauty of the earth”. There was a poignancy in our mood and expectation. Masked and bowed in prayer we recalled our responsibility to take care of the earth (Genesis 1.28) with a grace-filled spirit of gratitude, generosity and guardianship.
Christmas presents us with such an opportunity and a challenge. Will carols be sung? Outdoor perhaps, at least on Zoom! What will re-telling the nativity story look like? Crowded buildings with errant sheep, lost Magi and shimmering angels probably cannot happen. But we want to share the story and are looking forward to new and imaginative ways to do so – not least through film and our Youth Group and practical acts of generosity.