“How long O Lord, how long……?”
Canon Mark writes: that verse from the Psalms – it appears in Psalms 13, 35, 79, 89 and in a number of others – may well sum up a question we have been asking for months in so many different ways. When can I see my grandchildren or grandparents? When can I have a haircut? When can we meet friends for dinner, or even just a cuppa? When will things return to ‘normal’?
At the Cathedral and in our worship too, the question comes to mind often. How long before we can sing again? How long before the choirs return? how long before we have incense again? how long before we can use the High Altar? how long before we have altar servers again? how long before we have a Eucharist on weekdays and Choral Evensong…? I could go on and indeed, many of you may have questions I have not even thought of. The response to all these questions has two parts: we do not know how long it will be, BUT we do know we WILL do and have ALL of these things again, just as soon as we are allowed. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that congregational singing sadly is still illegal. It is possible to have a small choir, but for us at the Cathedral, while the choristers are not in school it is simply impractical and too difficult to rehearse in a way or to a standard that will work for us. For the Parish choir and other groups, the current restrictions surrounding distance, seating, preparations beforehand and afterwards, let alone the rules around handling books and music again make it impossible for us to work safely at the moment.
The Church in Wales regulations advise that “ritual and ceremony be kept to a minimum”. The rules as they apply to the gathering of serving teams make it quite impractical for servers to operate at the moment. The rules are such that only one person must handle the sacred vessels [the chalice and ciborium] and the elements [bread and wine]. We are currently very careful about the handling and touching of these things so if a server carries them, the Priest cannot touch them and vice versa! If we simply had servers robed they would not really have anything to do, but we would also have to seat them 2 metres from each other and from everyone else. I know that many people miss the use of the High Altar and kneeling for communion. Both of these things will return as soon as possible. At the moment, the regulations are that we need to stand for communion, so people do not have to touch the altar rail. We are using the Altar in the Nave to limit movement around the building and therefore hopefully to make things as safe as possible. Moreover, when we can have the choir singing – in what we might call interim arrangements – the only place we can accommodate them safely is in the area of the Sanctuary and the Presbytery [the area in front of the High Altar] so that puts that whole area out of bounds when we are allowed singers.
The format of all our services at the moment could be described as ‘minimalist’ – short and simple. This is in line with the regulations that require us not to gather for any longer than is absolutely necessary. The positive thing to take from all that we have done and the ways we have operated is that places of worship have, in recent months, been deemed to be some of the safest places to gather. This is undoubtedly because of the stringent guidelines and the way in which we have all done our best to adhere to the rules and regulations.
As things begin to return to normal and more of us are vaccinated, so we will gradually be able to return to the kind of worship that we all love and find most satisfying. It is often said that if we think hard enough, we will always find something to be thankful for. As difficult and unsatisfactory as we might find things at the moment, at least we can be thankful that we have been able to remain open and we have continued to worship in person.
So the answer to that question, “how long O Lord…?” is that none of us really knows. However, what we can be certain of is that this time of uncertainty will pass, and we will be able to do the things we love to do in the ways we prefer to do them. I constantly ask, “how long O Lord…?” but just as often, I think of that other wonderful phrase from scripture, “do not be afraid…I am with you.” For that we can give thanks and praise to God always! Keep safe!