Ever since this pesky virus broke I have been dismayed at the manner in which the media has reported it. Instead of seeking balance and a calm reporting of facts we have witnessed hysterical propaganda causing a wave of fear to grip this nation. Will anyone hold the media accountable for the overblown fear instilled in the community which disproportionately affects the vulnerable and elderly?

Each fatality accompanied with old photographs and only sketchy details about the overall health of victims at point of death. One had to dig into the data to discover that the median age of Covid death was lower, in any given nation, than national life expectancy. Only later was it revealed, and not in the headlines either, that two thirds of all Covid deaths were amongst those with proven disability. A fact which is terribly sad but totally changes the narrative of gloom as put out by the media. A media which has also failed to report widely on the fact that deaths in recent weeks are running well below average for this time of year. Which rather suggests many of those who have died were due to die this year in any case.

All deaths are tragic and we would be foolhardy to play down the threat of this nasty virus. But if the vast majority dying were at the end of life, as seems the case, then we are not quite in the territory of fighting off a new ‘black death’ as the media would have us believe. Most of us are not going to die of this. A fact I have had to gently spell out to several people too terrified to leave their homes at present. If you know somebody who is frightened urge them to switch off the television and avoid newspapers. An over saturation of Covid news is doing great harm to healthy perspectives.

Take the headlines today reporting on how scientists have modelled various scenarios for the government ahead of any possible resurgence of virus this winter. In reality the scientists presented a RANGE of scenarios. From the very best scenario of no second wave to the very worst scenario of all. No prizes for guessing which the media ran with! Why do they always give us the worst case not the best? Why do they report heavily on deaths but say next to nothing about positive recovery rates? Why do they warn that only a minority of people have antibodies when latest research suggests most people fight this virus with T-cells not antibodies meaning we might be closer to herd immunity many realised?

Yes the virus is bad. But there is plenty of good news if you look for it. Healthy children are all but immune. Over 99% of us have survived thus far. And the worst case scenario -as presented in the media at the outbreak of this crisis – which claimed a half million of us would be dead by now- simply never materialised. Both cases and deaths are now plummeting. And no second wave has occurred save in places that locked down so hard that the first was heavily suppressed. All of this is reason for cheer.

The Catholic faith teaches that hope is a great Christian virtue. And I think one of the best ways Christians can minister in the present crisis is to rise above the panic gripping this nation and become beacons of hope and positivity to those around us. This does not mean turning into Pollyanna and being recklessly optimistic and ignoring guidelines. It means keeping risks in perspective and not caving into the gloom. It means accepting there is risk in life and not letting fear of death stifle and govern us.

After all if we have hope filled faith death is far from the worst thing that can happen. Christians might even look forward to it though preferably at the end of life not prematurely. Stay safe, keep smiling, and know that this virus is bad but nowhere near as bad as the media would have you believe.

Another golden nugget of wisdom from Fr. Benedict Kiely. He has written a lovely article this week about our parish and the recently arrived Newman pews thereby raising our profile in the USA. The fact he also shared news of our ‘go fund me’ ensured our coffers swelled as a result. Thank you to everyone who has contributed. If you haven’t then it is not too late. Go here. The extra income has been invaluable given the difficulties to finances posed by Covid.

Last Sunday our ‘pod’ system worked well. The lack of hymn singing and intercessions ensured services lasted a shorter 40 minutes which gave ample time for safe turn around. Thank you to everyone for the sensible manner in which you approached everything. It gives us great confidence moving forward.

Please note that you do not need to sign up each week. Your place in the pod remains fixed, week by week, until this phase ends and normalcy can resume. Please also note that making swaps in slots, from one week to another, is simply not possible as it becomes impossible to manage safely.

Father Nicholas will be celebrating Low Mass on Tuesday and Wednesday this week enabling me to visit my mother in Sheringham. Live streaming will therefore return on Thursday morning. You do not need to sign up for daily Mass as is currently necessary on Sundays.

A reminder also that we have changed times of daily Mass. As we move forwards the new schedule in Pembury will be as follows:

Tuesday 9:30am
Wednesday 7pm
Thursday 9:30am
Friday 9:30am
Saturday 9:30am

Sunday 8am – 9am – 10am-11am.

A pause in liturgical parish life has allowed for reflection and one thing I have pondered is our erratic mass times during the week. Would it not be better to have a routine mass especially for those who are housebound and tuning in remotely? The one exception would be the Wednesday evening Mass as it is often followed by lectures, catechesis, meetings etc…

For this reason a new schedule of weekday Mass will begin from next Week.

Tuesday – Low Mass – 9:30am

Wednesday Low Mass 7pm

Thursday – Low Mass – 9:30am

Friday – Low Mass – 9:30am

Saturday – Low Mass – 9:30am

I shall be announcing this at all services this Sunday. Please remember that admittance is by pre-booking into a set ‘Pod’. Each Pod is attached to a Mass. These are at 8am, 9am, 10am and 11am.

Good news; our parish resumes public worship from this weekend. To ensure this continues into the future it is imperative people understand this next phase of opening up safely. So please take note of the following:

Nobody is compelled to attend. The Sunday obligation is still suspended meaning that if you wish to continue isolating you have our blessing to do so and nobody is judging that. Stay safe.

To attend Mass on Sunday you MUST sign up with me before hand. People are then placed in a designated ‘pod’, of no more than 30 people, each pod being linked to a designated mass. These are at 8am, 9am, 10am and 11am.

Spaces are reserved on first come and first served basis. We will operate an evening Mass at 6:30pm if all morning slots fill up. Thus far we have 100 signed up – which means around 30 -50 people on a normative pre-lockdown Sunday have not yet signed up. So do spread the word gently but under no circumstance put any pressure on anyone to attend.

A priest will check names at the door. We must have a contact number for each person attending to aid with track and trace in the event of an outbreak. This is a governmental requirement. People arriving without having signed up will be given a spare seat where it exists (currently minimal) or, more likely, sent home to sign up for the following Sunday.

Arrive at Mass early but not too early! We are to avoid congregating. People are asked to line up, socially distanced, in front of the main doors down the path towards the village green. Exit will be via the Sacred Heart Chapel and round the back of the church down the drive. In other words a one way system is in operation.

If you are attending alone please sit at the end of an available pew. Go to the far end if the pew is vacant. Two solo worshippers can safely occupy a pew. If you are in a family group take a pew together. We have roped off half the pews to keep a 2m gap. This means you are not obliged to use a face mask as would be the case had we opted for 1m spacing.

On entering and exiting church use the hand sanitiser provided. The celebrant will use sanitiser prior to communion which is under one kind. A server will wipe the altar rail after each use and only 4 people can come to the rails at a time. Keep social distancing when lining up for communion. Go to communion down the centre aisle and return via the sides.

Mass will be shorter than usual. Congregational singing is banned and so too are intercessions. At the end of Mass exit when requested. If you wish to pray before the sacrament come to Mass on a weekday as there will not be time for this after Mass on Sunday at present.

Smile, relax and be friendly. Whilst it is important to stick to these rules to ensure we can open up – it is equally important that we do not give in to fear. The good news is that deaths are now back under the yearly average and infections, especially outside of care homes and hospitals, in steady decline. It is wise to open up cautiously but there are reasons to be optimistic especially if you have a healthy immunity.

I want to thank everyone who has been praying for my father. Thanks to the power of social media this is quite a lot of people.

In January, following surgery on his prostate, dad collapsed at home and found himself unable to walk, disabled from the waist down. After several weeks in hospital he was diagnosed with sepsis and neuro-sarcoidosis along with several other serious complications.

When Covid struck he was moved to an outlying care home, one that specialises in rehabilitation, and told to prepare for the fact that he is unlikely to walk again. The focus was to help him build up strength to enable him to move from his bed to a wheelchair unaided.

Sadly dad’s rehabilitation was cut short when he was rushed to hospital a couple of weeks later with full septic shock. The photograph above shows just how hard it hit him. The doctors telephoned to warn the family that, in their professional opinion, he would not survive another night.

Thus it was that I rushed to the Covid ward where he was inexplicably placed until he tested negative. He was unconscious and struggling for each and every breath and, having seen many dying people, I anointed him immediately, beseeching the prayers of St. John Henry Newman.

In the early hours of the next morning the telephone rang and I was braced for the worst. But to everyone’s surprise, not least the medics, it was my father who spoke. He had not only pulled through but regained consciousness. And so, with glorious English understatement, he informed me in a groggy voice “I wasn’t feeling too good yesterday.” More amazing still he later tested negative for Covid for a fourth time and was moved to a safer place.

Dad is now back in the rehab centre and is being well cared for. He is obviously weak and easily tired, the last few weeks having been grim. However he is making extraordinary progress much to the delight of his carers. Yesterday, for the first time since lockdown, I was allowed to visit and couldn’t believe the change in him. His colour has returned, he was in good spirits and determined to get better.

With 12 co-morbidities present the family need to be cautious, apparently the septic shock could return any time. He remains a sick man who will need care moving forward. Nevertheless his recovery has exceeded all expectations- so thank you to those who have been praying for him, quite clearly those prayers have been efficacious.

The ever wonderful Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke has been producing some wonderful reflections throughout lockdown. This latest offering brings attention to Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More. As these great Saints flank our altar in Pembury I thought I would share this with you all.

I am delighted to report that our pod system, for signing people up to a set mass on Sunday, is working well. We currently have 18 signed up for 8am, 22 signed up for 9am, 17 signed up at 10am and 15 signed up at 11am. Do keep those names rolling in. If we require overspill then we can offer an additional evening Mass on Sunday or else during the week.

Please note that the public celebration of Mass will resume in Pembury on Sunday 5th July. At this point our wonderful volunteers, who have helped open the church for private prayer, will be stood down and we return to a normal pattern of worship. Low Mass at 12pm on Tuesdays, 7pm on Wednesdays, 10am on Thursdays and Fridays and 9am on Saturdays. (However please note that there will be no Mass on Tuesday 7th July)

Because many isolating and isolated people have benefited from our live streamed Mass this practice will continue after normal worship resumes. And do please note that the Sunday obligation is still suspended. This means there is no pressure for you to attend Mass if you prefer to stay home. The risk of infection has not gone away entirely and it is for each person to make their own decision regarding when they return to church life.

I am yet to hear from diocesan authorities. So what follows is subject to change. However, assuming governmental guidelines of 30 worshippers at each Mass when it resumes, then I propose the following plan comes into effect for our congregation at St. Anselm’s.

Each Sunday a short Mass, with no congregational singing, will be celebrated at 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am and 6:30pm. My understanding is that the Sunday obligationwill remain suspended. We can therefore mop up any overspill at the Wednesday Mass which will move back to 7pm.

To ensure everyone gets an opportunity to worship the congregation will be divided into ‘pods’ of no more than 30 people. Pod A will gather at 8am on Sunday. Pod B at 9am and so on and so forth. People can join a pod (on a first come, first served basis) by contacting me via text, telephone or email (edwardtomlinson@rcaos.org.uk) or via the parish facebook page.

We will only move to a pod system for Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Low Mass if numbers prove unmanageable.

Watch this space for further information, especially as the diocese might have a different scheme in mind. Until then let me know which Pod you wish to join and I shall make up provisional lists.