17 March 2020

My planned return to
Lichfield has not been
cancelled … just deferred

A half-open door at the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … the door has been closed on my planned ‘mini-retreat’ in Lichfield next week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Corina-19 pandemic is eating into social life everywhere. I celebrated the Festal Eucharist for Saint Patrick’s Day this morning behind closed doors in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and posted the readings, sermon and propers on various social media platforms, including my blog and the parish Facebook page.

For the foreseeable future, parish services have been closed to the public, and anything that takes place in the four churches in this group of parishes is going to take place behind closed doors.

But that does not hinder my ministry and the ministry of this group of parish: postings on the parishes’ Facebook page within the past week had reached about 1,700 people by mid-afternoon today. If even half of these people came to church after this pandemic has passed, we would be rejoicing.

My plans to spend Orthodox Easter in Crete have been cancelled by the Greek government’s decision to close all hotels and tourist accommodation in Greece until at least the end of April.

I have enjoyed Orthodox Easter in Thessaloniki and Rethymnon in recent years, so even rebooking for another weekend is not going to bring the same promise.

My planned trip to Myanmar with USPG later this month was called off almost two few weeks ago, and a number of events have been cancelled in recent days, including the installation of the new Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Rod Smyth, when I had been invited to preach, today’s Saint Patrick’s Day parades, when I would have been on the reviewing platform in Askeaton, the ecumenical service this evening in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, when I was invited to preach by the Dublin Council of Churches.

Lichfield Cathedral and Minister Pool … I was planning a short, personal retreat in Lichfield next week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Disappointed, I had booked myself three days away in Lichfield at the end of next week, staying for two nights in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn at the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

I was looking forward to a ‘mini-retreat’ in Lichfield, following the daily pattern of liturgy in Lichfield Cathedral, finding time for private prayer in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, long walks along Beacon Street or along Cross in Hand Lane, and walks around Stowe Pool and Minister.

For almost half a century I have regarded the chapel at Saint John’s and Lichfield Cathedral as my spiritual home. An experience of the love and light and presence of God in my life in that chapel one summer afternoon when I was a 19-year-old, and Choral Evensong later that day in Lichfield Cathedral, would shape and mould my spiritual life and my expression of Anglicanism.

Going back to Lichfield – like going back to Wexford – is like going home for me.

However, an email from Ryanair late last night informed me that my return flights from Dublin to Birmingham next Thursday and Saturday are included in the flights they have grounded … and so this trip too has been called off.

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn … due to reopen on Friday 20 March (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was looking forward to staying in the Hedgehog, which has been refurbished and is due to reopen this Friday (20 March). I had even thought of visiting the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street in Tamworth, which is now open on Thursday and Friday evenings, and I had even entertained the idea of spending an hour or two in Comberford village.

Things are changing rapidly, and who knows the future of travel with Ryanair and Aer Lingus after this crisis has passed?

Who knows whether I can get to the USPG trustees’ meeting in London in May or the USPG conference in Swanwick in Derbyshire – with the promise of another visit to Lichfield – in July? Should I forget about planned city breaks in Warsaw and Bari?

The present uncertainty even puts into doubt a planned holiday in Thessaloniki and Halkidiki in late August and early September.

But my dilemmas are as nothing compared to those of people suffering, living in isolation and living in fear. When all this is over, I promise myself a few days back in Lichfield, and a few weeks in Crete. Meanwhile, I hope to continue trying to keep in touch with people through social media.

Meanwhile, my return visits to Lichfield and Crete have not been cancelled … I like to think they have just been deferred.

The Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … my planned return visit has been deferred (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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