14th August 2020

Dear Parishioners,

A slightly earlier than usual delivery of this weekend’s Newsletter !

This is in part to let those who may have had thoughts of attending an advertised event – the Royal British Legion’s Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, which was due to take place tomorrow (Saturday) in the Memorial Park at Cleckheaton – that the act of remembrance has been cancelled due to our current localise restrictions. Despite the lack of a formal event, we can still pause for a moment during the morning to remember the sacrifice, and suffering, of those who fought in the Far East during World War Two.

It continues to be a source of joy to welcome ‘returning’ parishioners to our celebrations of Holy Mass both during the week and at the weekend. Hopefully those attending feel reassured by the disciplines in place to keep everyone safe within our two churches. I continue to be enormously grateful to our volunteer Stewards, and to those who, after each Mass, are wiping the benches down and ensuring surfaces that may have been sat upon or touched are sanitised for use by the next congregation.

Be assured of a continuing remembrance in prayer and affection, and let us all hold one another in similar sentiment.
Fr. Nicholas

From webadmin:  Apologies for the delay in posting the update from Fr Nicholas – which was supplied Friday Evening instead of Saturday morning.

This week’s newsletter references an article on the Diocesan website entitled VJ Day 75.  This article can be found here

8th August 2020

Dear Parishioners,

I am pleased to be able to attach this weekend’s Newsletter and Readings for Holy Mass together with a greeting sent in the hope that you are keeping well and safe.

From this weekend there will be a significant change in our coming together for Holy Mass, as it is now mandatory to wear a face-covering (supplied by yourselves) in our churches, and other Places of Worship. There are, of course exemptions. It is advisable that you put your face-covering on before entering either of our church porches, and then go through the, now, usual, process of registration and sanitising your hands. For our Stewards and Ministers of the Word I have obtained Face Shields and these may be collected at the beginning of your next ministry. New guidance has been given for our Ministers of the Word in relation to this new requirement.

Ministers of the Word are to wear a face covering when entering church and making their way to their position on the Sanctuary (where they are seated with members of their household). When preparing to proclaim the Word, they should remove the face covering in order to proclaim the Word. The covering then should be replaced on the completion of each of the two parts of their ministry i.e. (1) The Word and (2) the Prayers of the Faithful. We are only able to do this because our Lecterns are 2 meters away from the congregation and myself, as the celebrant. If the space was less, the face covering would need to be worn throughout. The same applies to myself, behind the Altar, but when distributing Holy Communion, I shall now have to wear a face covering.

In regard to face coverings and the reception of Holy Communion. I shall give instructions about the removal of your face covering for the receiving the Lord in Holy Communion at the appropriate time during Holy Mass.

Hopefully that guidance was relatively clear. No doubt as we get used to these changes, what we are being asked to do will become second nature.

We continue to welcome parishioners back to Holy Mass and it is a joy to do so. One returning parishioner on seeing me asked if I’d managed to find things to keep me busy during Lockdown !!! A number of parishioners (and ‘virtual’ parishioners from far away) have said that they’re missing my letters. With the opening of our churches, and an easing in restrictions initially, I thought that I would be seeing more parishioners face to face, rendering my ramblings void, however, as returning numbers are small and the process gradual, I can only say that my time is now spent in new ways. Incredibly I spend about fives hours a week just at the doors of our churches, welcoming people, engaging with them, and (I’d like to think !) assisting our fabulous volunteer Stewards. Whilst others could do this, I’ve always been a pastoral priest, and being with the people I serve is a priority to me. So, perhaps an odd letter may appear every now and again, but I cannot promise anything ! New times also mean learning new skills. Rather than reading faces, we will all have to learn to read the eyes that we can see above the face coverings.

Wishing you a good week, and continuing good health. Be assured of prayerful support, remembrance and affection,

Fr. Nicholas

1st August 2020

Dear Parishioners,

The beginning of another weekend, and the arrival of the weekly Newsletter and Readings for our weekend Masses, all of which I trust finds you well and in good spirits.

As we are all now aware Kirklees together with other areas has moved into a new phase of Lockdown. In theory it means at a personal level that I can go (not that I ever do) for a pint of beer in a public house, but I am unable to visit the bereaved in their homes or gardens … Rapidly moving on, one impact that the new measures will have on church life is the fact that face-coverings will be have to be worn by everyone attending Mass from next Saturday (8th August), including our Ministers of the Word.

As someone who very rarely mentions the financial state of our churches, at this juncture I really do have to point out that currently we are losing a Loose Plate and social income of at least £1,000 per month from both of our communities. Clearly our social income has dried up for the time being, but offerings to the Loose Plate (i.e. monies contributed to the weekly collection not through the use of collection envelopes) can be donated through electronic means (Text Giving) as highlighted on the Newsletter. Donations may also be put through either of our Presbytery letterboxes as an alternative. Despite our current circumstance bills still arrive, including recently the annual Assessment for each church, paid to the Diocese for the funding of the central services and resources that each parish benefits from. Throughout my years in both churches, this has been paid from our cash accounts, not our reserves, it would be good to think that, perhaps later than usual, we will be able to do the same this year.

Continue to keep the Faith ! Be assured that you are remembered in daily prayer and the Masses that we celebrate, as we all look forward to better times and being united once more around the altar of the Lord to celebrate together the Eucharist.

With prayerful assurances and affection,
Fr. Nicholas

25th July 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Please find the Newsletter and Readings for our weekend Masses attached to this e-mail. It is good to see increasing numbers of parishioners crossing our church thresholds, and, even with our numerical restrictions, there is still room for more! This process of return is a personal one, based on when you feel comfortable and able to join us in body as well as in spirit. In the meantime at each celebration of Mass we recall in prayer those united through Spiritual Communion with us, remembering not only our parishioners but also their loved ones and intentions. This unity of prayer and intention is what binds us together as a family of Faith. A number of people who have returned to Mass over the last couple of weeks have simply said that the experience was like “coming home.” What a wonderful expression to use !

Wherever, and however, we participate in Holy Mass this weekend let it be an experience that continues to unit our community in faith, hope and love.

With my prayerful remembrance and affection,
Fr. Nicholas

18th July 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Please find attached this weekend’s Newsletter, on which I’ve included a couple of internet addresses allowing for participation in Holy Mass and the Rosary from Lourdes which are being live-streamed each day (in English at stated times on the menu). The Readings for our weekend Masses are also enclosed for your use.

It is good to welcome parishioners back to our churches, and we are reliant upon each other to spread the word that we are open! The Newsletter is sent out to a very large number of homes, but sometimes word of mouth is the best means of communication. For those who have attended Mass, I think it is important to share with others, who have not, the measures we have in place to keep us safe and well, as there is a general and understandable, nervousness about meeting together after such a prolonged period where distancing from others has been the norm. There are a good number of our parishioners continuing to ‘Shield’ until the beginning of next month too. Acknowledging that our seating capacity is hugely reduced, and whilst most seats are being booked on-line at the weekend, I do reserve some seats in each church for telephone bookings, to assist those who do not have access to the internet.

In closing I wish you a safe, healthy and good week ahead. A card received during the week from a friend, living alone and rich in years, carried the following message: “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts, I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” With each day as a gift, let us live it wisely.

With continued prayerful remembrance and affection,
Fr. Nicholas

11th July 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Please find enclosed this weekend’s Newsletter, together with the Readings for Holy Mass and a very helpful guide offering step-by-step assistance for who wish to book on-line for a seat in church.

On the Newsletter may I draw your attention to our need for more people to act as Stewards; both churches need volunteers to act in this capacity in order for us to function as we are currently. Whilst there are some restrictions about who can fulfil this role, it is important that the numbers increase.

We continue to be grateful to all who are supporting our churches financially through the use of envelopes and standing orders. For those do not use either of these methods and who contribute to the ‘loose’ collection, please be aware that on a small fraction of this financial resource is coming. The figures mentioned on the Newsletter under the title “Text Giving” give a stark indication of our loses in this regard. Maybe you could think of giving in this way.

Wishing you continued good health,
and with an assurance of constant prayerful support and affection,
Fr. Nicholas

From web-admin:
text CHURCH HEC to 70500 to donate £5 through your phone
Click the donate button to make a one-off or recurring payment of any other amountFor more details, see the Offertory Donations page

9th July Online Booking for Attendance at Mass

Dear Parishioners,

As mentioned in the last Newsletter we are about to launch an on-line booking service for attending weekend Masses.

By tomorrow (Friday) there will be a live link on both of our websites through which you will be able to book a seat in church.

Appreciative that not all have on-line access, I have reserved some seats for those who are only able to book by telephone.

N.B. If you have volunteered to be a Minister of the Word at a particular Mass, a seat (for you and those who come to Mass with you) will be already reserved on the Sanctuary; the reason that I ask those who are accompanying you to sit with you is to maximise our space.

All best wishes,

Fr. Nicholas

4th July 2020

Dear Parishioners,

A couple of weeks ago I offered you a literary picnic, an element of which was The Parable of the Pencils as written and told by Fr. Brian D’Arcy CP. During the course of his wise counselling to the work of his hands the pencil-maker reminded the newly made pencils not to forget you always have an eraser at your disposal! Its use being to correct the mistakes made. In practical terms Fr. Brian reminded his human hearers that no matter what mistakes I/we make, I/we can always correct them and start again. There is always a second chance. In the early days of Lockdown, I discovered that the power to erase doesn’t just lie within the brief of either pencils or human beings, but also vans !

Venturing forth as a man on a mission during what I welcomed as the gift of an hour of exercise I arrived on Hollinbank Lane (Heckmondwike) in search of a plaque erected a few years ago by the Spen Valley Civic Society. What I sought was the permanent reminder of an explosion which took place at Ellison’s Chemical Works at White Lee on 2nd December 1914. It claimed no less than ten local lives. In its wake chaos and devastation descended on many families and their properties. My interest in this event stems from the fact that one of those killed was James Alfred Morton, a Catholic, with an affinity to St. Patrick’s School-Chapel, as it was then, on Darley Street. Expecting to find a grassed area with an obviously located mounted plaque, the resulting fruit of that initial foray was absolutely nothing. Retracing my steps on the way back to Holy Spirit Presbytery, again I failed to find what I was seeking. Terrier-like I set once more, on a different day, of course, having on the first day reached the limit of my hour of fresh air. This time spying another human being – a rare sight in those late-March days – I called across to ask, as he was a resident on the Lane, if he could tell me where the plaque was located. With his directions I ventured just a few steps to find what I had been looking for. The very obvious site of the memorial which is not on a verged area, but in the middle of a footpath, led me to question why I had failed to see it on my initial outing. Was I overdue a visit to Specsavers? Not so. The answer lay, as memory recalled, in the fact that a van had been parked on the footpath on my first visit, thus erasing the plaque, taking with it the memory of both the people and events from that particular geographical area at the beginning of the Great War.

With the passage of time connections with the horrific occurrence of that far-off Wednesday afternoon naturally diminish. Today those events are mainly limited to stories shared amongst family members recalling their past, and those, like myself, with an interest in local history. Thank goodness for the plaque recalling The White Lee Disaster which reads: Near here on 2 December 1914 ten men were killed and six injured by a blast which destroyed the factory of Henry Ellison Ltd. The men were making picric acid, for use in artillery shells in WW1. Many nearby homes were badly damaged. As the Hollinbank Lane area flourishes today with numerous houses now built in the vicinity of the 1914 explosion it is hard to imagine the scenes of devastation captured on photographs reproduced in the local press over a hundred years ago are those of the same area. New life and rebirth came to that vicinity, aided and abetted by the passage of time. The opportunity to start again is the beginning of a process. Second chances are initiated by tentative steps being taken in a forward direction. The tragic events that took place at Ellison’s factory also brought forth new and green shoots in the evolving area of health and safety with the passing of the Munitions of War (Explosives) Act in July 1915 which was an attempt through legislation to better control the manufacture, storage, carriage and sale of explosives.

This weekend as a faith-community we begin the process of starting again, with the opening of our churches for the celebration of public Masses. Even in writing those words, I am aware that not all of our Diocesan churches will be opening at this time, as for a variety of reasons they are simply not ready or able to do so. Similarly a Methodist colleague told me this week that his churches would not be opening until September at the earliest. There is certainly no race in beginning this process, and behind the scenes a vast amount of work has gone on to bring us to this point. So much of which has and will continue to be reliant upon the efforts of individuals who have given generously of their time to volunteer as Stewards to shepherd and guide in good practice and habit that which is a way of keeping everyone as safe as we can. As we are beginning to put one foot in front of another in an attempt to make a fresh start, I am conscious that legs and feet may not be as strong as once they were.

Sacred Scripture gives us many images of new beginnings, some more welcome than others. Our first parents were rather nonplussed at finding themselves being turned out of the Garden of Eden to start afresh. We can smile at the imagined look on their faces as having enjoyed the comfort and security of an intimate friendship with the Creator-God, they suddenly found themselves expected to work for their living. God did offer them a leaving gift, however, before closing the gates behind them, as we hear: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) Clearly the garments bearing God’s designer label were deemed more appropriate for their new way of life than the leaves with which they had covered themselves earlier!

Elsewhere, again from those rich and, oftentimes, very beautiful, beginning stories, we learn of Noah’s gratitude and appreciation towards God in the aftermath of the Flood. Having emptied the Ark, we hear that the first thing he did was to build “an altar to the Lord [on which] he sacrificed burnt offerings” (Genesis 8:20) in thanksgiving. This is exactly what we are about this weekend offering our Sacrifice of thanksgiving, Holy Mass, for the first time as a community since Friday 20th March.

A further scriptural image comes to mind as I visualize people coming to Mass this weekend, being asked to queue, perhaps, and observe social distancing, most definitely. It is the story of the blind man who is given back his sight at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22 – 26). Part way through the healing process, when asked by Jesus, “Can you see anything ?” the man responds by saying “I see people, they look like trees walking around !” (v.24) It is a strange response, and begs the question of how he knew what a tree looked like. Realistically it is probably a reference to his having had some, although very limited, sight earlier in his life. For some of those entering our churches this weekend and during the coming weeks their first impressions will be of the differences they notice within our sacred spaces – the arrival of sanitizer, a lack of votive candles, an inability to purchase a card, the use of facial coverings and gloves … things being done for the common good, and within the collective, for the well-being of each and every individual. These will be (either in thought or even vocalised) the trees mentioned by the blind man whose sight is beginning to return. At the end of the miracle-story we are told: “Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (v.25) The purpose of opening our churches is to bring us together, as a safe and confident collective, to return to Almighty God the gratitude and appreciation we feel in the sacrifice of Holy Mass. In essence we are doing exactly what Noah did. Scripture doesn’t record the periphery events surrounding the life of Noah and his family at that time. The primary focus was on his offering to God. The detail of the length of Noah’s hair or what he and his family looked like after having been holed up in the Ark for forty days was simply not important.

A few weeks ago we all celebrated our shared birthday: Pentecost (Whitsuntide), the birthing of the Church, ourselves as the People of God. This new beginning came no less than fifty days after the resurrection of Christ from the dead. During those days the Apostles, Our Blessed Lady and others joined in prayer, either alone or, when it was safe to do so, together. From a place where the doors were locked out of fear (John 20:26) that small group of believers, our ancestors in the Faith, were called out by the Holy Spirit to live in a new way, a manner which was both new and different. Many of us, I am sure, can relate to that first-post Easter experience this year. Perhaps never more closely have Christians walked in the footsteps of that embryonic beginning to our faith lineage.

How the early followers of Christ lived attracted the attention of others who quickly observed that “all the believers were together and held everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:44 – 47) A couple of millennia later we too are being called to live in a new and different way. Our roots in both prayer and community-spirit remain strong and firm. Together we travel the road ahead. Like any fresh start or second chance it brings new and rich opportunities. Being less concerned and distracted with the necessary differences which surround our new beginning will give us the opportunity to focus on the significant and important. Our individual and collective joy is the ending of our Eucharistic fast and the ability, once more to be a part of something that was given to us in an upper room long ago as a taste of the heavenly banquet on earth when Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” (Luke 22:19 – 21)

In ending this letter, I do so with a quiet confidence about our process of beginning afresh. If the last few of months have taught the majority of us anything, one aspect of the commonality of our learning experience has to have been a deeper appreciation and sense of gratitude for what, all too often, we’ve taken for granted whether that enrichment and enhancement on life’s adventure are people, possessions, experiences or events. As God’s people – the Church – there is no higher moment of appreciation and gratitude than in the celebration of Holy Mass. The Eucharist is our ultimate act of Thanksgiving.

With this new start will come an end to these weekly “Ramblings”, which have reached out to those both near and much further afield. As I sign-off enjoy and be inspired by these words of John O’Donohue taken from his work Benedictus – A Book of Blessings.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening,
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Be assured of prayerful and affectionate remembrances,

Fr. Nicholas

27th July 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Good parents are incredible people. And it takes incredible people to be good parents! I say this very aware that not all have had the experience or come under the influence of the parental gifts and skills that my own journey to this juncture in life has been enriched and blessed with. Sadly, tragically and hugely unfairly, despite all of the advancements that are at the disposal of our twenty-first century society, we are all too aware that not all our young people experience or benefit from a positive encounter with parenting.

Acknowledging that levelling reality for some, when it comes to my parents, I have to say that I feel doubly blessed and gifted by the Mother and Dad that the good Lord chose to place me into the safe, crafting, creative and caring hands of. Professionally I hear many stories about the best Mum or Dad in the world, however for Patrick and Dorothy Hird there was no competitive element about their parenting-skills, no race to be won. Parenting for them was not about trophies and medals. Instead I view my Mother and Father as the very finest and best parents that God could provide for me, and throughout their lives I have always been enormously proud of them. As a forebear in faith recounts in sacred scripture: “my father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5) so I have always been very proud to say that my father was a weaver! For me, our Trinitarian God’s choice reflects the vantage point of Their being able to see more than we ever can of the larger tapestry of life on which the individual threads that are brought together form only a tiny part of a much bigger and complete pattern. Parenting far from being competitive is much more of an adventure during which God’s choice appreciates what is the best and finest in another and allows the gifts and talents, hidden deep within them to find soil in which they can begin to sprout, grow and mature, their role is also to prune and cut back, allowing stronger and more appropriate development. Often a learning curve, steep at times, just as children are not identical, so parenting doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all approach. At a time in our history when more emphasis than ever is being placed on the unique individuality of society’s members, there can be no greater need for careful, sensitive, crafting, colouring and shaping by the hands entrusted with the vocational call of parenting.

Last Sunday, Father’s Day, was a day for many of us to remember the special place our Dads have in our lives. As I once read Any man can be a father but it takes someone really special to be a Dad, and for those blessed with such a figure in their lives, those words will carry a tangible truth. For some, Sunday will have meant pausing and reflecting and remembering; perhaps a visit to a cemetery or crematoria; focusing a longer than usual stare at a much cherished photograph. Others may have had the experience of an anticipated visit being replaced by a virtual one through the use of social platforms. Whilst there will have been many, including myself, counting the experience of being able to see our Dads in person, with a sense of additional gratitude and appreciation this year. Personally speaking, Dad and I spent some very enjoyable time together, in the surrounds of the only home that I have ever known enhanced by the garden into which he has ploughed so much of his time and energy in recent weeks. His reward is seeing and enjoying that which he planted grow, and at this juncture in the summer, to have an abundance of colour on display for his own pleasure and for that of those who pass by with increasingly regularity as they embark on their daily exercise, drive out to work, or begin their school day.

A blessing of the last few months has been the opportunity that I’ve had in being able to see Dad each week, spend time with him, chat, laugh and reminisce. My own life of ministry oftentimes does not allow such a luxury, attempting to meet the needs of those I serve, and putting their demands before those of family. This was something I referred to in the homilies delivered at my celebratory silver jubilee Masses when I publicly acknowledged the enormous contribution both my parents have made not just to me as their son, but also for allowing – and never standing in the way of – my discerning the call that Almighty God was making of me. At the time I said: Both [my parents] have been, and my father continues to be, very generous in supporting and encouraging my Priesthood. It is always worth remembering that on traditional family-orientated days, such as Christmas and Easter, parents and family members of priests often get the physical, emotional and spiritual left-overs of bustling and expectant congregations. St. John’s vision of Priestly leadership involving the caring and feeding of lambs and sheep (John 21:15–17) makes demands – and presents invoices – only payable by a shepherd and his parents. To a greater or lesser degree my calling has been that of my parents too. Uncomplaining, with a door ever-open, it is good to be able to thank them for sharing my priesthood over the last quarter of a century, and before that over a decade of preparation in both junior and senior seminary.

Lockdown has provided a tiny of opportunity of payback in the relationship that I have with Dad. At its outset a letter arrived (which he tried his hardest to keep at a safe distance from my eyes!) informing him that he was grounded, and from its beginning I assumed the mantle of a weekly foray to shop for both of us. With a list of required items received on a Friday, sometimes added to on a Saturday, they have been duly delivered each Sunday. On the whole the contents of the shopping bags have met with paternal approval, although I have at times been reminded that he wouldn’t normally buy such a large bag of this or that. His fridge-freezer has never been as full! Being confined by the restrictive guidance of the Government and its relevant agencies has proved a challenge to Dad. Not necessarily how to cope with being grounded but in finding ways of escape that he thought I would be unaware of. Having read some of my earlier reflections you will appreciate he has had moments of Houdini-like absconding.

Last week saw Dad, like so many, beginning to take his first steps into a longed for, but very different and new, normality. He did his first weekly shop, although with a strict request from yours truly, that he only went to one supermarket, and didn’t embark on the usual price comparing, bargain seeking, grand tour around the Chevin towns of Otley, Guiseley and Yeadon. After a period of enforced hibernation, like the disembarking passengers of the biblical Ark, amid a world which appeared similar to the one he has been familiar with for over eight decades, Dad discovered subtle alteration and change.

Before anyone decides to report me for parental neglect, I did indeed arrive home last weekend with a shopping bag containing a small selection of necessities (I still have a use!). There was also the giving of a Father’s Day card and gifts. As a father and son we have been very compliant to the guidance about keeping each other safe and well, and blessed with good weather most of the time that we have shared has been spent outside, sitting at a safe distance from one another. On cooler and wetter days we’ve ventured into the kitchen, sat at a perhaps less than safe-distance away from each other, but without the demolition of a wall, an exact two meters was nigh impossible. Not having seen the living room since March, cards are now displayed in the kitchen, and it was with pride that Dad’s Father’s Day offering was placed within vision of both of us. As well as its own simple and profound wording, I couldn’t help adding some humour in my own handwriting: Congratulations on having me as your son! For those who have met him, you’ll appreciate that he has a good sense of fun. Relaying the best wishes of a local funeral director to him recently, Dad, graciously accepted the concern conveyed in the greeting, and went on to ask that the next time I was speaking to the said inquirer I should mention that he would not be needing their services for quite some time yet!

A personal skill cultivated out of Lockdown necessity has been that of hair management and a growing confidence in the use of electric clippers. Seeking to advance this new-found qualification, I decided that it was time my hair clippers had an airing in Otley. A further Father’s Day gift: a haircut … my father’s cup runneth over on Sunday! Having made the suggestion, Dad greeted the appearance of the clippers with no sign of fear or trepidation, having acknowledged some weeks previously that I hadn’t made a bad job of cutting my own hair. Seated, and with instructions not to talk or move, we were both surprised at just how much hair Dad had amassed over the last three months, whilst somehow also managing to make it look not too unruly. Whilst parents can often read the minds of their children, so on occasion the reverse can be true. Hence, when silent and still, I knew Dad’s thought process would be preparing a nugget of humour for when I said that I’d finished. It came when, picking up some of his fallen white locks from the floor, he began to speculate their worth and value in the hands of a paintbrush manufacturer! Needless to say that neither Dulux nor B & Q will be receiving packages containing an octogenarians hair with DNA that is shared with, or even traceable, to me. Humour and a sense of fun is something that I’ve inherited from Dad, although I clearly missed out on his natural ability to turn his hand to most things practical. Whenever I lament this limitation of my own life he reminds me that, unlike him, I always know a little man who is useful and practical, and who, above all – when I turn on the charm – is able and willing to come to my assistance!

Dad, as a pre-war child, added this ad hoc haircutting experience to a list that he can reel-off, some of which include a basin, others carried out by various, untrained or qualified members of the family standing over him with a comb and scissors. Unabashed he has also been known to give this recently much missed area of expertise in our wider society a try himself. Together with his elder brother (a ‘handful’ for their parents with just fifty-three weeks between them!), Dad was entrusted with looking after their younger brother, just after the ending of the war when the Hird family lived in rural Whitwell-on-the-Hill off the A64. The elder boys, never shy of seeking a new avenue of adventure, managed to find a set of wind-up clippers intended for use on horses. With a compliant head for use on the shoulders of my uncle, Michael, they began to test their skillfulness. With my father turning the energizing handle, my Uncle Peter did the deed with the equine clippers! Thankfully their brother survived the experience with head, ears, nose and every other part of his anatomy miraculously intact. Aged just three or four he was mercifully too young for the incident to cause any lasting or permanent psychological damage! With regard to any form of reprimand for either Uncle Peter or himself from my grandparents, Dad remains firmly tight-lipped.

One of the blessings of Lockdown for many of us has been the opportunity to appreciate and be grateful for so much of normality (whatever that may be for any of us!) that we often take for granted whether that is material, spiritual, experiential, or above all the people who share our life-journey. At the beginning of March Dad and I spent a rare and privileged time of table-fellowship indulgence at an Ilkley hotel, enjoying afternoon tea, as we took advantage of a Christmas gift that I’d received. With hindsight, a special day, yes, but more so an extraordinary moment on the calendar of events marking the passage of 2020 thus far. A random photograph taken on the day, with lamination and a few witty words became a homemade postcard received by Dad in the midst of his experience of being grounded. It was not just a depiction of happy memory, but more so, a sign of hope for better and brighter times, and more significant moments to be shared in the future.

No matter the length of time we are blessed with good parents, it is never enough. Within those of us from whom God has called back a parent lies a desire to hear their familiar voice, experience the scent of security their presence exuded, to be held, share with, or ask a question of; tangible reminders of the call to appreciate those who populate our lives whilst they still do. As a child vividly recalling the 1970’s, I share with many others of a similar age, that the majority of our childhoods were lived under sunshine and blue skies. The sunshine came in the shape of annual events such as birthdays, Christmas, holidays and days-out, the skies of which were coloured blue by the desire, energy and determination of good parents putting their all into giving of the best and finest of themselves that they could muster. The tools they used were all left backstage during those epic productions, but included hard work, self-sacrifice and finding the required patience and energy to walk the extra mile. These ingredients transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary, and brought their own magic to what in the twenty-first century may seem like overly simplistic and dated experiences involving flasks dispensing tea or coffee, Tupperware containers packed with lukewarm, well-travelled sandwiches, and the pick ’n’ mix sweets embellished with the taste of salt liberally dispensed as the wind shook from its invisible wings the sand it had collected as it flew along the beach at speed. Before the likes of Greta Thunberg were even a twinkle we were there saving the planet, because all we had used came home with us to be washed and put away in anticipation of our next outing. The disposable had been consumed and items of litter were a luxury far beyond our parents’ means!

In recent months for many there has been an epiphany of thought in regard to exceptional times into which we throw so much of ourselves. Easter came and went, and so have many other occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, university graduations and, yes, even Father’s Day. Anticipated exceptional times have worn the clothing of mere passing moments, and conversely what we often previously regarded as mere passing moments have become exceptional situations. Ultimately we will all have special times to celebrate, perhaps out of kilter with the calendar and their seasonal context. Deeper questions have also risen to the surface in quiet times and with reflection, such as why do we take the presence of loved ones for granted and visits to them as mere normality? In reality these times are a privilege, and as we cross the threshold of a loved one, we stand on holy ground. With so much of life being turned upside down reassessment of what is important in our lives is far from an indulgence but a real necessity for survival as we begin cautiously and slowly to disembark from the ark of Lockdown. The catch hauled in from our recent still water experience has reminded us of the precious nature of life’s basics, not least the priceless worth of the people closest and dearest to us. It has also given us the opportunity of discarding the worthless, the stuff of clutter, that which so often not only fills our loft-spaces, but also our hearts and fickle natures.

These days will pass, because everything passes but I sincerely hope that the positive transformation which has taken place amidst the profound pain of both loss and deprivation will enable us to culture an enriching future for all, blended and flavoured with a generous sense of appreciation and gratitude for family, friends and loved ones that we have previously taken for granted. This awareness will allow us the opportunity to celebrate worthily future momentous events.

As for Dad, that ever-present, self-effacing, supportive, encouraging source of unconditional love who never seeks much for himself, what a blessing God has given to me in him. For all God’s gifts, delivered to us in the wrapping paper of humanity let us be appreciative and thankful. After all none of us own each other, nor are we bought or purchased, only loaned and borrowed. And one day we will have to hand back, and be returned ourselves.

Be assured of prayerful and affectionate remembrances,

Fr. Nicholas