These are the ways we in the English/Scottish Province are preparing to celebrate Christmas in the midst of the pandemic.
We are 35 weeks into the restrictions posed by the COVID pandemic. The Convent and Hospice are located within the Council area of West Dunbartonshire. Although around June, we had slightly less restrictions imposed upon us, in September, we faced tougher restrictions and most recently, West Dunbartonshire (and other parts of our wider community) were placed in Tier 4, which was the highest tier in Scotland. This meant no-one could visit anyone in their home – not even in private gardens – all hospitality was closed as well as all non-essential shops.
During the periods of lockdown, we spent more time together as a community. We were able to enjoy virtual Mass when it was not permitted to have Mass in the house. We also shared daily reflections sent by Sr Rita. We also continued our Exposition and Rosary together with sharing prayer requests from the Pope. We also spent time discerning and reminiscing together.
None of us have been able to travel home which is a great sadness for all of us because you miss seeing your family and having the freedom to travel or even go out for a cup of coffee. This has been a salutary message to all of us about how we took things so much for granted.
For Triduum, we are having some quiet days with space and time for reflection and prayer.
As community we have always celebrated Christmas lunch in the convent with some invited guests. This year however, being so different and a much smaller community, we decided to join with the Hospice staff to celebrate the Christmas lunch in the Garden Room restaurant and to fully enjoy the occasion.
Looking forward and in thanksgiving, we are preparing to repeat the celebration we had on 6 June by sharing Exposition, Evening prayer, Renewal of Vows and the Te deum followed by a nice supper.
Within the Hospice, the infection control and restrictions on visitors has been very challenging. To describe it as a nightmare sometimes would be quite in order. But we are in our 35th week and thank God, so far, everything has worked out for us. Although the restrictions have limited our visiting, we have managed to keep in touch with families by FaceTime, What’s App, Zoom, Messenger, but also allowing visits in the marquees outside, in the gardens and where possible at the patio doors.
Normally at this time of year, the Hospice would be buzzing with volunteers out on our Christmas bus, and thousands of people would join us at our Light Up a Life Service to remember all those they have loved and lost. This year, there is no Christmas Bus and our Light Up a Life Service had to be pre-recorded and will be shared virtually. In addition, our usual Christmas Mass, celebrated by the Archbishop is not permitted. It will be a very different Christmas, but we will do everything we can to make it extra special for the patients and the staff.
Advent plan. On Sunday the Hospice is holding its poignant annual "Light Up a Life" service in virtual format for this year to comply with current coronavirus restrictions which will be streamed online via Facebook and YouTube. Srs. Catherine and Agnes are both taking part in this service. We will miss the gathering outside the hospice which usually takes place and the oohs and aahs from the people gathered that follows the lighting of the tree.
Monday is the Feast of St. Andrew which is one of our special Feasts and has to be celebrated!
On Tuesday we get into the real spirit of Advent with Sr.Rita's Evening Prayer for Advent.
Our Advent practice this year is supporting ‘Mary's Meals’. This year the Goverment are Doubling every donation until the end of January. Mary’s Meals are focusing on the Bong County, Liberia as they have suffered brutal war, Covid-19 and Ebola amongst many others so there is great need.
We continue to keep in contact by phone with the housebound, the lonely and those in need. Normally we would visit and as Christmas approaches there is a heightened awareness of loneliness so these visits are very important. However we feel the loss too of not being able to meet needs by personal contact.
We also look out for ways to care for our planet.
On the 31st December we plan to have our "Thanksgiving Day"with Evening Prayer and Renewal of our Vows. We intend to have a celebratory meal as we have so much to thank God for. The menu will be anything from a Chinese takeaway to a boiled egg, the choice is yours!
O God, help us to live hopefully and joyfully this Advent in the face of the daily news of the anguish and tragedy of human life. Amen.
Here in Hackney, we are two communities. The first floor in our house is occupied by seven sisters needing various levels of care, while on the second floor there are seven sisters who are still in active ministry.
As we write, Advent is almost upon us. Because of Covid 19 and the many changes and restrictions this has brought to our lives over the past eight months, we find it difficult to plan for Christmas in the normal way. However, we have made some plans to suit the situation we find ourselves in.
Instead of our usual time away for Advent Tridium we are taking the opportunities being offered via Zoom, Jesuits in Britain “Journey through Advent” etc. As a Community we have planned on the 19th December to attend an Advent reflection day from Drumalis led by Sr. Pam Thimmes OSC.
Every Christmas Eve, Bishop Nicholas Hudson has come to visit us, share a meal, visit the sisters on the 1st floor and then visited patients in the hospice. At 9pm he would celebrate Christmas Eve Mass with us. This year sadly this visit cannot take place and at this point we do not know if we will have Mass in our Chapel or via Zoom!. Some of us will have the opportunity to go to the Parish Church.
This year Light up Life from the Hospice is being transmitted via the website. We will miss the presence of the many people usually present, but no doubt it will still have an impact on those who view it.
On Christmas Day the two communities will come together for Christmas dinner and we will celebrate it well. We usually have two local sisters and a few friends join us, but this will not be possible due to restrictions.
Despite all the restrictions and uncertainties, we approach Christmas with a real sense of hope. Hope for the present and hope for the future.
Care Floor Hackney
With every part of the world affected by Covid 19 and lockdown being enforced, life on a whole seems very ‘strange’ from any previous lived experience. The first floor within St Joseph’s convent which is home to a number of sisters; has not been spared by this strangeness and a great deal of adapting to the ‘new’ has had to be done. Technology has not been much appreciated as it is now and the sisters have had to turn to the use of technology. A retreat was planned for the sisters with talks and Mass. Fr Ray, OMI was gracious enough to come for 2days of the retreat. His talks centered on remembrance and looking back as well as appreciating the current moments. He highlighted very much that even though the sisters are not engaged in active ministry; they are still contributing to the building of the kingdom of God and doing his work by praying for the church and the world. The other days of the retreat, the sisters listened to online talks but Fr Denis McBride on themes in the Gospel of St John; followed by online Mass and exposition in the evening.
As part of the preparation for Christmas, a couple of dates have been set aside for an online Advent triduum beginning early December with talks by Fr Ray, OMI and another Advent Day of reflection by Sr. Pam Thimms OSC, mid-December.
Because Christmas is different this year, the convent is hosting a Christmas party with its staff as they form a support bubble. The community sees the need to celebrate with its staff especially after such a difficult year. Despite Covid 19 disrupting everyday life of millions of people, the sisters have continued carry the world in their prayer. To end the year, a thanksgiving prayer has been planned for the 28th December.
St Joseph’s Hospice Hackney
Changes that we have had to make due to the COVID19 pandemic
The year 2020 that has nearly finished will be a year that many people will never forget. The pandemic has engulfed the world and brought about so many changes that have affected almost everyone.
Working in the hospice as a part of the Mission Team over the last year has been very different. We have had to get used to the concept of social distancing, hand sanitizers and facemasks all of which seemed to go against the very fabric of our work where normally we can reach out to others without the barriers.
Like so many others within the hospice the Mission Team have worked creatively to ensure that we can offer our services. One of the main things that the Mission Team gets involved with is the annual Light up a Life remembrance service which usually is a very ‘hands on’ experience. It is a meaningful service where people of all faiths and none come together to remember their loved ones who have died.
Very early on this year we had a feeling that we would not be able to run the service in the same way. Back in March we convened a meeting with our colleagues to talk about what we could do to ensure that people were still going to be able to remember. We decided that the best option would be to film the event in advance so that it could be shown on the same day that Light up a Life would take place.
This is what we have done. We have now made a beautiful short film which involves many people taking part from different parts of our local community as well as from the hospice. People have still been able to send in their dedications for their loved ones which will be a part of the film. The film will be shown via our website as well as social media on the evening December 3rd. The large Christmas tree in the hospice car park will still be lit and a small ceremony will take place for this event which again will be shown on social media.
We also had the privilege of being invited to take part in the annual remembrance service at St. Pauls Cathedral. A service which was especially dedicated to those who have lost loved ones as result of the pandemic. This was also filmed without a congregation. Being in a nearly empty cathedral for filming really brought it home to us regarding the impact that this virus has had.
As always we have been able to be present around the hospice and to our patients and their families when needed. Sr Maria Coates
Who would have thought, Christmas online?
The restrictions have made all parts of our lives very different this year. But as we begin to think about preparing for Christmas 2020, lots of things are different but also somehow the same.
Here in Birkenhead, we have noticed that the Christmas decorations along Park Road North, have gone up even earlier this year! Walking in the local park, people are friendlier and often just want to share a few ‘socially distanced words’ with someone. We have all had little moments, one little girl, walking with her dad, asked if she could sing ‘Edelweiss’ she just needs someone to listen; her Dad said, Her little voice rose above everything, it was over in a few minutes, but left a special memory.
There is no rushing out to the shops this year, Christmas shopping is online and delivered right to the door. One good part of that, is that hopefully, more delivery people have been employed! But we all miss the window shopping and finding those little gifts.
The celebration of Mass is again on Youtube, from Holy Cross, Our Lady’s and St Pauls Church. The Irish Club have been meeting online via Zoom. Just having the opportunity to talk, laugh and share about their lives has been a great help to people
The Wirral and the rest of the Liverpool City Region moved on Thursday 26th November from Tier 3 to Tier 2 of the Government's Covid Alert System.
So we are all hoping to be able to gather even ‘very socially distanced’ in Church for Christmas, somehow it has never felt more important to do so.
While the Newspapers, have told us what the ‘new words’ for 2020 are, probably the word most frequently used is just ‘hopefully’.
So hopefully, we will have Christmas Mass together this year…hopefully!
Frances Pollard, Maura O’Loughlin and Mary Teresa Clarke.