Father Benedict, who works tirelessly for the persecuted church, and who is an associate priest of our parish, has produced his second Gospel nugget. This time the focus is hope. Four minutes of deep wisdom. Enjoy!

St. Anthony productions have made some really good material available for free on their website. There are articles to read, podcasts to listen to and videos to watch; including the series ‘Art of faith’- the first episode of which I share above.

Why not head over to the website yourself and watch the rest of this excellent series. You can also check out all the other free content. Better still buy something and show support to St. Anthony Productions. Your money will not be going to a large company but to a very small one run from a home by a devout Catholic with a family to feed. This company is worth supporting because the content it produces is always faithful and good.

We are living in dangerous and uncertain times. Pandemics always threaten society and have always been survived at terrible cost not beaten. No matter what option is taken there will be suffering and death. That is what pandemic brings to the party. So one can understand those whose first instinct is to be cautious and to encourage lockdown to minimise risk.

When lockdown began I shared a belief that it was wrongheaded for places of worship to be classed, alongside pubs and cinemas, as part of the non-essential services. I felt, and still believe, we should have been placed amongst the essential services, like supermarkets, off-licences and bin collections. I worry about the message locked churches transmit to the world. I worry that, for the first time in history, the church is not at the forefront of crisis but being pushed, wilfully or not, to the outer margins.

In obedience to the hierarchy, and because we were told enforced closure was for three weeks only, I kept doors closed and bit my tongue. Live streamed mass became the norm and pastoral care occurred by phone. But now the three weeks are over and the lockdown is extended. Government ministers no longer talk of ‘flattening the curve’ so much as ‘beating this virus’. Is it time to review protocols? Time to urge bishops to think again How long should churches remain closed? Days, weeks, months, years? How long should we deprive those commanded to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ from being able to do it at all?

The answer will not be easily arrived at. As with everything related to this horrid virus at present anyone can weigh in with AN answer but none can provide THE answer. Because, without widespread testing, we simply do not know how widespread or deadly the virus is. And that means the few stats we have are easily manipulated in favour of a desired outcome. Until clarity is possible expect the left to lean towards big state solutions and provision and the right to resist and expect all to pick and choose data to support arguments.

That is the lay of the land for the world at present, but what about the church? When the Pandemic ends people will rightly applaud the health service, cleaners, shop workers and refuse collectors for having been there for them regardless of what direction is taken. What will they say about the church? This needs to be answered if we are not to lose further credibility.

My own hope and suggestion is that the leadership of the church starts showing a little more imagination than at present. Could we not find creative solutions to ensure people have access to the sacraments without taking unnecessary risk? The supermarkets managed to come up with innovative solutions – like screens and one way traffic flow, why can’t places of worship?

Imagine if Sunday obligation was dropped for the duration of this pandemic so that nobody was forced to attend church. This way anyone who is worried can stay home safe. Then imagine if we held two or three services a day, six on Sunday, with congregations of less than 25 present (or more in very large buildings). Your slot could be booked online or by phone to ensure no others turned up. And people could space sensibly once inside and maintain proper distancing protocols. This is just one idea which surely wouldn’t endanger people any more than at present? The frail and vulnerable could watch these services streamed but those willing to take a small risk could be present.

There are other ideas, like drive through confession or confession behind air tight screens, that are worth pursuing. But it strikes me that simply closing the doors and doing nothing is a recipe for long term disaster. Is it not time for us to seek creative solutions in the face of crisis?

Finally I want to assure the hierarchy of my prayers. It is a difficult time for them as well as us. In this parish we are fortunate to have an excellent Ordinary and excellent Archbishop. I hope they, and any other senior figures reading this, take it in the spirit intended; which is not to criticise but to encourage creative solutions. And I do appreciate those reaching different conclusions to myself could be right and, even if wrong, are attempting to work in our best interest. I shall not rebel but I do want to question and challenge in love…

Our associate priest, Fr. Benedict Kiely, has been asked to produce some short videos for the March for Martyr’s website. Little Gospel nuggets to inspire people at this challenging time. He has kindly said we can also post them here. And so the first is provided above.

Parishioners will be pleased to hear that Father Benedict, who is isolating at home with his elderly mother, is in fine spirits. I am regularly in contact with him by telephone. He sends his prayers and good wishes.

Easter is not a day but a season of joy within the Church during which we celebrate the great event of faith; the resurrection of Christ. So do make sure the chocolate eating, wine bibbing and general revelry is kept up even amidst the lockdown. Laugh, enjoy yourselves and be of good cheer. For we are a resurrection people and alleluia is our song! We are called to live by faith and hope in life eternal and not in gloom and fear of death.

Monsignor Keith Newton has produced a short Easter video which I share with you today. At 9:30am- and every day except Monday- I will be live streaming Mass from church. Happy Eastertide to you all.

I had a friend at university who only befriended lunatics and eccentrics because he thought every one else was frightfully dull in comparison. As one of those friends it left me wondering which category he placed me in?!

The Church of England used to produce a slew of fine eccentrics who made the world a more colourful and better place. Sadly they are dying out in an age of boring bureaucrats. We might think here of the inventor of the modern harvest festival, Rev. Hawker, shot at by his own parishioners not because he enjoyed dressing as a mermaid and singing to the sea but because said singing was so dreary and awful. Or the Rev. Ian Graham-Orlebar who rode around his parish in the 1960’s on horseback because he detested what he called ‘modern motorised clergy’. He later caused bedlam on the roads of Bedfordshire having told parishioners that the highway code had changed meaning roundabouts were obsolete and driving had switched from left to the right.

By comparison to these chaps Fr. Geoffrey Kirk was normal. But he was nevertheless one of the more colourful and interesting characters within the Anglo-Catholic movement in the latter part of the 20th Century. Ever at the elbow of then bishop (now Monsignor) John Broadhurst he helped forge Forward in Faith, a movement formed to defend an orthodox expression of faith in the face modernist changes. He was its intellectual head.

Because he possessed an intoxicating blend of genuine wit and searing intellect he was ever an irritant to the beige hierarchy of the Church of England of his day. I delighted in the articles he wrote which were ever mischievous but bang on the money. Behind the impish, sometimes even waspish, satire was a fine theologian indeed. And one who genuinely lamented the decline of Christianity in the modern world.

When I was ordained an Anglican Fr. Kirk was incredibly supportive and welcoming. He always looked out for me at meetings of the Society of the Holy Cross and encouraged me to start writing for the journal New Directions. He would often telephone for a chinwag and we would invariable fall about laughing at some point. Though a dour Yorkshireman when it suited him he did enjoy a good joke! And boy could he cook.

Fr. Kirk was diabetic and his health took a bad turn some years ago. Despite suffering poor health he joined the Ordinariate as a layman within the parish of the Most Sacred Blood in London. Fr. Kirk passed away on Good Friday. He will be missed. His was ever a prophetic voice of clarity and truth at a time of chaos and confusion.

Jesu mercy, Mary pray. Rest in peace dear friend.

This afternoon the Good Friday liturgy was held in church in slightly simplified form. The service can be viewed on our parish Facebook page by following this link. I also pre-recorded the Stations of the Cross which can be viewed in the blog post directly below this one.

I had planned to live stream Stations of the Cross at 2:15pm today. But a practice run this morning highlighted the folly of this plan; it was impossible to keep a steady camera and jostle the books in use!

I have therefore switched to plan B; a pre-recorded youtube video. Please find above then my reading of reflections written by St. John Henry Newman, patron of the Ordinariate, and images taken this morning of the Stations in St. Anselm’s church.

We shall still live stream our Good Friday liturgy at 3pm on the parish Facebook page. Hopefully without the technical issues suffered last night.

The reaction to this virus concerns me deeply. We are suddenly hearing far too many shrill calls to listen to Big Brother blindly – meaning debate and healthy questioning is frowned on. This is never good news for society.

We see too many curtain twitchers willing to tattle on neighbours and report others to authorities. This is lamentable and soon leads to a police state rising up. Drones used to spy on people walking in isolation? What is that about? It is certainly an affront to freedom.

And finally we see far too many people refusing to balance the current risk of contagion with the potentially worse future risk of shutting down an economy and causing widespread poverty. How many will die when hospitals cannot function and half a population is out of work?

Social distancing at present is wise. We must protect the vulnerable. BUT as we do what is necessary we must not sleepwalk into an Orwellian future and hand governments power that can then be abused and later used against us. History shows that most dictators are given power in time of crisis that they later refuse to give up.

Therefore let us encourage and champion good choices on behalf of a free democracy NOT champion draconian enforcement from on high. Let us encourage but not force people to comply. Let us do what needs to be done to protect life whilst also insisting that civil liberties be defended.

Otherwise we might just find the baby of freedom is thrown out with the bath water of viral threat.