“The churches were locked”

A rapid rise in Corona infections is forcing the UK to take new protective measures. A challenge, also for the German Catholic community in London. Pastor Andreas Blum speaks in the current Himmelklar Podcast.

Himmelklar: Infection numbers are on the rise again in many countries. What is the situation now, six months into the pandemic, in the U.K?

Father Andreas Blum (German-speaking Catholic parish of St. Boniface in London): Similar to other countries in Europe, the situation is just getting worse again. There are individual regions in Great Britain, especially in the north, in the area of Newcastle and Manchester, where local lockdowns have been imposed again, where the measures have an even greater impact and interfere with people's social and cultural lives. But in the rest of England, too, we now have the so-called "Rule of Six" since last week. You're basically only allowed to meet with six other people inside or outside, who are from other households. And that makes it clear to everyone again that the relief, as we experienced in the summer, is going in a different direction again at the moment. Of course, this also depresses the mood.

Clear as day: Is this what is needed in Great Britain, to remind people again how dangerous the coronavirus is??

Blum: Yes, I suppose so. As a result of the fact that the infection rates and, above all, the deaths and even the hospital admissions had fallen so massively, some people thought that they had already largely left the pandemic behind them, went on vacation or at least tried to go on vacation – either in England itself or in Europe. There were also these corridors set up so that people could at least travel to certain countries. And all this together has perhaps led to such a mood that one also became a bit frivolous again.

Himmelklar: Now the situation is again very threatening. How do the measures look concretely with you? How will your everyday life be limited?

Blum: In fact, there are high numbers. And to that extent precautions are in order. A concrete example: there are parishioners who are in hospital. And there is a strict ban on visits. So neither I and partly also the family members cannot visit the ill ones and also the dying ones and are dependent again on telephone calls. These things, of course, show that such measures also have bitter consequences.

Sky clear: How important is there the pastoral care that you provide – then now perhaps over the phone?

Blum: Exactly, which makes the whole thing even more difficult. In pastoral care, in the accompaniment of the sick or dying or of elderly people, we do rely very much on closeness, personality and touch. It is important for people and everything is forbidden at the moment. This is especially sorely missed. If one wants to keep contact with people only through words or through pictures on the Internet, this can certainly be done well in a purely technical, superficial way. And that is also better than nothing. In this respect, we are grateful that these technical possibilities exist at all. But they also clearly show me the limits. Being there, holding hands or taking someone in your arms creates a completely different closeness, a completely different comfort and a completely different encouragement.

Clear as day: What impact does the situation have on worship services or on the faith life of your congregation?

Blum: In England, unlike in Germany, we even had the case that the churches were really locked. For several months. The churches were not allowed to be opened either for personal prayer or for church services. The Anglican Church even went so far as to prohibit its clergy from entering the churches. Personal prayer and church services have been allowed again since the summer, but also under very strict rules. The pews were closed, the masks had to be worn, no singing was allowed. The sermon should be kept as short as possible. That is no great loss for some now. But all of this affects the character of the worship service. For us as a congregation abroad, it is particularly painful that the people who are spread all over the greater London area, some of whom have to travel long distances, no longer have the opportunity to have lunch together or to spend the afternoon together, to exchange ideas. The whole social interaction is forbidden. We are allowed to hold services, but that's all for now.

Clear as day: Being together is, after all, part of the Catholic life of faith.

Blum: Yes, right! This subsequent meeting after the Eucharist belongs to the service. This is the extension, the extension of the service. I wouldn't divide that into two different areas at all. But I don't want to explain that now to policemen controlling here, because then in case of doubt she doesn't understand it after all.

Clear as day: Prime Minister Boris Johnson also talks about calling in the military. Do you think that's a proper measure or excessive?

Blum: The military clearly has a positive connotation in England. The military is an integral part of society and has a very positive connotation. You can't compare that with Germany. Here it's understood more as support and probably even widely welcomed.

Clear as day: In this time you need a lot of hope. Where does your?

Blum: Please don't laugh now: I find it helpful, for example, to talk on the phone with the seniors in my congregation, who can look back on a long life experience. I call them first to find out if they are doing well and if they need any help, if we can organize shopping or doctor's visits and support them somehow. But when they start talking about the current situation and simply put it in the context of what they have already experienced, it has a very calming effect on me.

One parishioner put it in a nutshell: 'As long as the firebombs don't fall here, we're actually doing fine.There is this serenity. There have always been crises. There have always been ways through the crises, though. There is a solidarity that may be emerging to deal with such a crisis. That already gives hope. Or when I see how the networking and the cohesion, the willingness to help is simply there in the parish. I've never had to deal with a phone call or a request and never received a negative answer.

These are all such small signs where I would say, 'Yes, maybe not hope, but at least encouragement.The generation of my seniors, they are still the emigrants after the war. Those were the ones who had lost almost everything in Germany, family, economic foundations. They moved to the country after the war and were not welcomed with open arms, but with certain resentment.

When younger people just lose their jobs, there is this cohesion even across generations. There is something comforting and encouraging about the fact that the young can now learn something from the old, I think. Hope is a very big word. For St. Paul, faith, love and hope are among the three great indicators of our faith, and in the end I always end up with God himself. In these small signs that I then experience in the congregation or even in the city. I feel that God is there, that he ultimately has our lives in his hands. And of course I also have the hope that in the end he means well with us.

I can look at all the things that are very difficult at the moment, that are troublesome, that are also broken in social life, in cultural life. But I can also try to look at the other signs along the way and then, as Ignatius of Loyola says, really decide in favor of hope. And I have to do that every morning again and again.

The interview was conducted by Katharina Geiger.

The interview is part of the Podcasts Sky Clear – An inter-diocesan podcast project coordinated by MD GmbH in cooperation with catholic.de and our site. Supported by the Catholic Media House in Bonn and APG mbH. Moderated by Renardo Schlegelmilch and Katharina Geiger.

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