St Werburgh's Roman Catholic Parish, Chester

Daily updates 17th-21st March 2020

Saturday 21st March 2020: Coronavirus Update

4.30 pm, and soon time to drive out to Rowton, to the little Methodist Chapel we use there on a Saturday evening for Mass. Its origins go back to the Salvatorian Seminary that used to be at Christleton, the next-door village. Mass was daily celebrated in their Chapel, including Saturday Evening. When the Seminary closed in 1972, such was the demand other venues were found in the area, until we came to an agreement with our Methodist friends to use their delightful 1865 chapel. Tonight, the sad task of meeting any who turn up to tell them that Mass will no longer be possible there till this present emergency is over. Judging by the number of phone calls I’ve had today – “Is Mass still on tomorrow, Father?” – there could be a fair few. I shall be taking a pile of Newsletters and Information Sheets with me, to hand to any who come along. Both available on our website if you wish to access them there.

Opening the church this morning proved more than worthwhile, a lady waiting at 10.00 for a Mass Card to be signed. Good steady supply of people coming to Confession, the two spaced chairs on the Sanctuary working well, the Parish Priest keeping his voice down. You find that hard to believe, I know.

Worrying news items in today’s papers of two Coronavirus outbreaks that can be traced back directly to church services, one in the West Midlands and one in North London, both leading to fatalities. Proof, if proof were needed, that what we are doing in suspending all religious services in all denominations and faiths is the right thing. It feels wrong, but people coming to our churches and catching life-threatening infections there would be infinitely more wrong. If you can have degrees of wrong-ness!

Tomorrow morning, will there be the usual mini crowd there at 8.00 am when we open up? I do hope so.

God bless you all,

Fr Paul

Friday 20th March 2020: Coronavirus Update

A profoundly sad air at 12.15 pm today, as we gathered for our final Mass before the Coronavirus Suspension takes effect. We all know it is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t stop the feeling that not saying Mass is somehow alien and against everything we believe in. But the science seems clear: it’s when people gather together that the virus is spread, and anything we can do to stop that happening is a duty and an obligation. I just wish someone would tell these youngsters pictured in the papers continuing to whoop it up in the pubs and clubs of our major cities.

Had to go straight from Mass to A&E at the Countess, and that was a strangely quiet and eerie place, decidedly the lull before the storm. Fortunately, the Countess has a separate Coronavirus unit, away from main A&E, and clearly signposted, where anyone fearing they may have caught the infection is directed to go. Chatting to the staff on duty in the Hospital today brought home to me yet again how these amazing men and women are going to need our prayers when the crisis comes for all our Hospitals, as it surely will.

Driving back afterwards, I listened to Cardinal Vincent Nicholls being interviewed on the radio, and sharing the comforting words that, although there will be no public Masses, the Sacrifice of the Mass will continue to be offered through every Priest’s daily Private Mass. Asked what he felt about churches being closed, he replied that he sincerely hoped they would not be closed, but open at least once every day, places for people to go to find spiritual solace and strength, to say a prayer and light a candle. To feel a little less alone.

I was reflecting at 12.15 Mass today that St Werburgh’s has always been a House of Prayer and will come into its own as such in the next few weeks and months. In particular, I would like all Werbies to extend the invitation to their friends and neighbours, those who are not Catholics, those who may have no explicit religious faith, to come and join them in their visits to our Church. I know I’m biased, but I defy anyone to come into St Werburgh’s and not find an unmistakeable peace and serenity. Especially when the Parish Priest isn’t talking…

Much of today has been spent talking to the many couples whose Weddings we are looking after in the next few months either here or elsewhere – a total of 29 this year. Weddings are still permitted in church, but only with the absolute minimum of people there, again to prevent the unnecessary spread of this horrible disease. Some couples are exploring this “slimmed down” version, others looking at postponement till later in the year, and even into 2021. A stressful time for them, but I was struck by how calm and sensible they were all being. Not a Bridezilla to be seen for love or money.

I still cannot believe the Parishioner who cheerily greeted me with the wonderful news that Lent has now been cancelled. Just wait till the next time I get her in the Box. Three Hail Mary’s won’t be in it. No, Lent has not been cancelled, my dear, and I still need my Ovaltine every night in the absence of anything more interesting. Out of milk yesterday evening, and the supermarket shelves stripped bare. My own fault for leaving it so late. Went this morning and came back and told everyone that Waitrose now has a notice on the door, saying that the first hour’s shopping every day will be exclusively for the elderly and frail. “That’ll be OK for you then, Father”, was the reply. Ever the hard word.

Till tomorrow morning, Church open 10.00 am to 12.00 noon, Confessions available on the Sanctuary for those who would like to come along. Sunday open 8.00 am-12.00 noon and 5.00-7.00 pm.

God bless, everyone

Fr Paul

Thursday 19th March 2020: Coronavirus Update

A sad morning today, needing to contact all our many Parish groups and organisations to tell them we will need to suspend meetings until the Coronavirus outbreak is over. Thanks everyone for super messages of support and co-operation: this really is the good old Blitz spirit coming through.

We will unveil all our decisions from last night’s Parish Council Meeting over the coming days: sincere thanks to the team for turning out for an hour and a half, to go into the fine detail of the Bishops’ decision that all Public Worship must be put on hold for the foreseeable future. This starts Friday evening, so our final Mass together will be Friday 20th, 12.15 pm, as announced. No Stations of the Cross Friday evening, sadly.

We will be having our beautiful church open every day during this emergency, for private prayer, for lighting a candle, for saying the Rosary, a space for all of us to inhabit to find God’s peace and reassurance. Opening hours will be:

Sundays: 8.00 am–12.00 noon and 5.00–7.00 pm.
Weekdays: 11.00 am–1.00 pm and 6.00 pm-7.00 pm.
Saturdays: 10.00 am-12.00 noon.

I will aim myself to be there for most or all of those times if anyone needs a personal word or conversation.

Bishop Mark has requested that all his Priests continue to say a Private Mass every day, which we are all keen to do, and they will be offered for your Mass Intentions in the normal way. But sadly, it will not be possible to have anyone else present at those Masses. Our Newsletter will be produced in the usual way, both hard copy and on the webpage, and available from Sunday morning onwards for the former and Saturday afternoon for the latter. In addition, this Coronavirus webpage will be updated every day, and I’m so grateful to Brian and Peter, our tekkies, for doing the necessary here. I know this is reaching more and more people. Thank heavens for modern technology: and I never thought I’d live to say that!!

Arrangements for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals; online resources; 70+ self-isolating parishioners; and all the many, many other details of this decision to suspend Public Worship will be given to you in the days ahead.

Good to speak earlier in the week to one of our great former Chester Catholic High students, our old friend Sam Williams. Dr Sam Williams, if you don’t mind! Sam was with us for just the Sixth Form, 2009-11, coming from St David’s High School in Saltney. Medicine at Edinburgh University, 2011-2017, staying on there for the first two years of post-graduate training, F1 and F2, and now down at Tommy’s in London to work in Respiratory Medicine and A&E. Right at the sharp end, in other words. I rang him Monday to see how he was getting on, just off a solid weekend on duty, and going for a walk around Richmond Park to clear his head before catching up on some sleep. This August he moves up the road to UCH to start Anaesthetics training. The Catholic High has produced some amazing nurses, physios and doctors over the years, so do please keep them and all their colleagues in your prayers at this critical time. (Did you see that worrying statistic from Italy that 8.3% of all Coronavirus cases are doctors and nurses?)

And talking of Italy, if this flaming pandemic hasn’t cleared by August, and I can’t go for my fortnight in the sun, I shall definitely not be nice to know come the autumn. You have all been warned.

Coming out of Mass this morning I was cheerily greeted by one parishioner: “Not all bad news, Father! Lent abolished, G&T this evening!” Nice try, nice try. Lent has NOT been abolished, my children, and you can leave that gin bottle exactly where it is. Not that the message seems to have reached our fantastic Choir and their great Director, James: plans afoot, I gather, to move tonight’s Choir Practice over to the Queen’s Head, piano in the Snug, right opposite Domino’s Pizzas for afterwards… Not a chance, my little ones, not a chance.

I leave you with the following Facebook post spotted by Pat Floate. Thanks, Pat!

Facebook Post: Mike B
Just been in Morrisons. Saw a fella whose trolley was full to the brim with hand sanitizers, baby wipes, soaps, everything that people need. I called him a selfish *****, gave him a low down on the elderly and mums who need these types of things. Told him he should be ***** ashamed of himself.

He said, ‘That’s all well and good, mate, but I work here, so do you mind if I carry on filling the shelves now?’

Till, tomorrow, everyone: as they said in the Blitz, Keep Calm and Carry On!

Fr Paul

Wednesday 18th March 2020: Coronavirus Update

Surprising start this morning, ringing one of our Nursing Homes to check that the monthly Church Service we hold there had been cancelled. “Oh no, they’re all looking forward to seeing you as usual!” And a beautiful little half-hour ecumenical service we had, based on Palm Sunday, despite one old gentleman’s protest that it was still a fortnight off, and this was only the third week of Lent. No flies on these old’uns. We sung “There is a Green Hill” and “Ride on, ride on” with great gusto, read the Gospel passages and had a time of prayer together. As the Manager said, seeing me out afterwards, “They’d kill me if they didn’t have their monthly Church Service”. Good on them.


But the reality is that gatherings for worship are now to be severely restricted, and necessarily so, as everyone’s health must be top concern. This afternoon, Wednesday, we have received the expected Letter and Advice from the Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, meaning that every Catholic church and chapel in those countries will follow the same guidelines. Both documents are now on our Coronavirus webpage. Our own Bishop Mark is promising us his personal letter later on this afternoon, and so when our excellent Parish Council sit down at 7.00 pm tonight, very widely spaced from each other, we will have three documents to consider and take into account, in deciding exactly what measures St Werburgh’s needs to adopt in the coming weeks and months.


Bishop Mark’s message to us Priests yesterday, Tuesday, concentrated on the issue of our many Parish Priests who come into the 70+ category – twenty-one of them, either 70+ now or about to be, in the next few months. He is particularly concerned with the Pastoral Care of those Parishes where any (or all) of those PP’s have to self-isolate. (And before you all start with your nasty and wounding personal comments, no, I don’t come into that category. Well, not this year anyway. Possibly next year…)


Our Finance Committee had a very useful meeting last night, with Financial Year End looming. As we’ve suspected for several months now, 2019-20 is going to be the tightest year financially for a very long time. The pressures on our church budget are exactly the same as on everyone’s, and, although certainly not the most important aspect of this present health crisis, closing our churches will have a significant impact on Collections and Church Income in the next few months. A topic to which we will have to come back later when we can see what’s what in terms of our weekly life together.


Rowton Methodists were on the phone last night: like all other Denominations, the Methodists have suspended Public Worship, meaning we would not be able to use their beautiful little Rowton Chapel for our Saturday Evening Masses, even if our own Catholic Church had not adopted the same policy, which it has.


Tomorrow, after our Parish Council Meeting, I’ll write and let you know our detailed decisions for St Werburgh’s. Public Worship is to be suspended from Friday evening, so our last Public Mass here will be at 12.15 pm on Friday. But our Church will be open at least once every day, and hopefully twice, for private prayer, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available as always, though of necessity “behind the screen” rather than face to face.


Worrying times, but, with God’s grace and our cheerful working together, we will come through, as we always do. Please keep in your prayers especially any who are worried or stressed at this time, and our wonderful front-line nurses, doctors and other health-workers dealing with all this at the sharp end.


God bless you all,


Fr Paul

Tuesday 17th March 2020: Coronavirus Update

Happy St Patrick’s Day to everyone! But an odd one with the threat of church closures hanging over us all. The situation here in St Werburgh’s as of today is that our Parish Council will be meeting tomorrow night, Wednesday, to make some pretty hard decisions – and some planning for the next few months – informed by the latest advice from our own Bishop Mark and from our Government.

The Government’s Press Conference yesterday, Monday, confirmed that we are into a new phase of reacting to this epidemic. It came too late to stop our Readers’ Meeting last night, where we observed “safe spacing”. Tonight, we have a brief Finance Committee Meeting – just four of us, but so critical with Financial Year End looming – and then Parish Council on Wednesday. I think we can all see the way the wind is blowing, but I’m asking individual Parish Groups not to make decisions about their future meetings until we have had a chance to look together at the whole picture tomorrow night.

If indeed we do have to suspend public gatherings of all kinds, and our older Parishioners are advised to stop at home, rest assured we will do everything in our power to support them and make sure they are not isolated at this time.

I’ll be updating this page daily, so do please keep in touch with developments this way, and if you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to email or phone them in.

STOP PRESS: The Church of England has just announced, Tuesday afternoon, that all public worship will be suspended until further notice.

I’ll be in touch tomorrow on this page, but meanwhile, let’s keep each other in our prayers at this time. “Oremus pro Invicem” (as they say in German?)

God bless,
Fr Paul

17th March 2020