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Letters from Fr John

6 November

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

As we enter the new lockdown, it is time to pause for thought. Some of us have remained at home since the early days of the pandemic, some have done so in the last few weeks. Others have kept busy until the last moment. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, the prospect of four weeks of lockdown presents its challenges. How can we approach these days?

It might sound strange to talk about silence or quiet. To some, it is an uncomfortable place to be. Others thrive on it. But silence and quiet can be a friend to us all. The last eight months since the pandemic began have been extraordinary and exceptional for us all. Normal, as we know it, has disappeared. We have all known frustration and anxiety. We could happily list each one of the changes that have happened in our lives, on the outside of things. But could we do the same for what is happening within us?

I have often wondered why it is that we have reached for the furthest parts of space and explored the deepest parts of the ocean, but still know so little of what lies within each one of us. I don’t mean the sciences of the mind. These have made amazing progress in recent years. I mean the journey that lies within, the beautiful other part of us; the spirit, the soul. Many of us lead active and busy lives. These coming weeks will be difficult. Is God inviting us to pause for a little while to listen to Him?

If we are able to put a little time aside each day to sit still, to read a little passage of Scripture or a spiritual book and to rest for a while in the presence of God, we might be surprised how quickly peace comes to us. The anxieties of all that is happening around us will lessen. The whisper of God within us is reassuring us that all will be well. This crisis might seem to be passing slowly, but pass it will! 

In these moments of prayer and reflection, let us remember each other. We will be together again. Until then, let us place our hands in the Hand of God and allow ourselves to be led. 

God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

1 November

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

At the public Masses this weekend, I spoke of the approaching national lockdown and the suspension of all Acts of Public Worship. The closure of our churches, the second closure in a year, is hard to take and very demoralising. However, our prayer  is that the lockdown will end at the beginning of December, and we can all begin our Advent preparation for Christmas.

Today, the Feast of All Saints, we have been reflecting on the Saints as ‘light bearers’. The people with whom we live and work need the light of Christ more than ever; a light that comforts, guides and encourages. These days certainly seem dark, but the Lord promised to be with us always. 

Please keep in touch in the days ahead; our Website, Facebook page and e mails are regularly updated with the latest information. If you need to get in touch with us at any time, you can find our contact details on our Website and Facebook page.

God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

23 October

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind

How is it possible to command someone to love? Surely love is meant to happen freely, and grows from attraction. To command someone to love you is surely missing the point? I think the answer is found in the question put to Jesus by the Pharisees; ‘which is the greatest of the commandments?’

Jesus makes clear that the commandments were given to help God’s People to understand that God comes first. He is the beginning and final end of everything, and that above all else He is Love. This is His Name. But this love is not given to us to keep for ourselves, to lock away. It is given to us so that we can give it away freely. For that is how we received it. Therefore, ‘you must love your neighbour as yourself’.

There is a great difference between love and liking. I may like a particular person who is easy to love. But what about those I don’t like? Those different to me, whom I rarely speak to? It’s a big ask! How do I even begin with this?

We all feel the need to love and be loved. But God shows us that this is just the beginning. He speaks to us from deep within our hearts, inviting us to listen to Him, to spend time with Him and to come to know Him better. It is in this deepening relationship with God that we begin to sense what it feels like to be loved by Him. It is God’s love, alive in us and flowing through us, that is to be shared with others. It takes my own poor loving and sweeps it up into something much greater, much more powerful. God does not like us, He loves us! He loves us regardless of what we have or have not done. He asks us to do the same for each other.

May the love of God grow in our hearts and radiate to all those with whom we live, work and come into contact with.

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

15 October

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

The other day I was reading an article entitled ‘How to deal with Pandemic fatigue’. Like everyone else, I am tired of the pandemic and the way it has dominated so many conversations and media reports. So I was ready to receive some new wisdom about ways to deal with these Covid days. I need not have bothered! The best advice the author could offer was to be realistic about the fact that it is here and will dominate our lives for at least another year!

There is no shortage of advice about how to cope and manage in these days. Much of it is well intentioned and helpful. But it seems to veer between out and out optimism that everything will be back to normal very soon, or a doomsday scenario! Neither are helpful!

I am reminded of the words of Jesus to his disciples as he was about to leave them; ‘I shall not leave you orphans’. It may seem at times that we have been left to survive on a stormy sea, listless and afraid with no help in sight. But the solution, the answer is right there before us. It is not for nothing that the chosen people came to see God as a rock, a steadfast helper, a refuge in time of distress. Time and again, God rescues and saves His people. Just when things seem to be getting worse, God shows His Face and dispels the fear and the darkness.

We are asked in the First Reading at Mass on Sunday to recognise a truth upon which we can depend; ‘that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting, that apart from me, all is nothing’. This is the only wisdom and advice we really need. The world has much to say about how we can cope with these difficult days. But it is time for us to turn to the comfort of God’s word and hear it again with open hearts and minds. Our Father God is speaking to us. Let us listen to Him and be reassured that we are loved and will never be abandoned.

In the end, only this one truth will really reassure and comfort us; that God is truly everything. Without Him nothing exists. Even in the worst moments, He is close. Nothing will ever totally overwhelm us. Our refuge is deep in the palm of His Hand.

Please stay safe,

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

1 October

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

The opening line of the second reading at Mass on Sunday speaks directly to our current experience; ‘There is no need to worry’.  We might be tempted to disagree and to present a long list of worries. St Paul, speaking to the first Christian community in Phillipi, explains himself; ‘if there is anything you need (or are worrying about) pray for it, asking God…’

Anxiety and worry are part of human experience. But St Paul seems to suggest that they should not form a significant part of a Christian’s life. When we think about this, it makes sense. The prayer we pray each time we celebrate Mass, the Our Father; “give us this day our daily bread’, makes clear that we depend on God for everything. Every breath, every move is made because He wills it. Nothing can happen without Him, His Power, His Providence.

This changes everything, or should! God is not just to be turned to for favours, a helping hand, a particular need. God is the ground of our very being, our existence. St Paul understands this deeply and points out to us the futility of worry, of anxiety. Worry achieves nothing. A complete dependence on God for everything we need releases us from anxiety. Everything we need will be given to us; no more, no less.

God wants to help us see this crucial truth today especially. In the midst of so much anxiety, worry and fear about the future, we are being invited to see that everything and everyone are in the hands of God. To trust that our Father God will make all things work for our good, even in these days, is a sure path to inner peace and joy.

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

24 September

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

Every day, I have reason to be thankful for so many good people in our three parishes who work hard for our communities. As I have mentioned before, much of this work is carried on quietly and out of sight. Whether stewards, counters, florists, cleaners or others, the list is long. Many of these tasks are menial and require a rolling up of the sleeves. But I have been so encouraged by this spirit of service. Many of our people, of course, have not been able to return to their works of service because of the pandemic, and are very keen to do so. But to those who have been able to carry on with their work safely, I extend a very sincere ‘thank you’.

‘Safely’ is a word that is becoming more important again. I have been wondering how the rather basic church life we have at the moment is going to look in the coming weeks in the face of further restrictions. The flower ladies at Our Lady’s, who have been doing a magnificent job in embellishing the church in these difficult times, have decided to withdraw for the time being, to shield during the new restrictions. Thank you ladies for all you have done! It is likely that other helpers will have to do the same. My thanks to each one of them!

Whilst we all carry the responsibility to take proper care of ourselves at this time, we are also responsible for each other. We all know the practical things we can do, especially for those who need us most. But the focus now is on our electronic and printed modes of outreach, to develop them further and provide greater support. More news about this work in the coming weeks.

Above all, let us keep our eyes on the Lord. Finding time each day for a little quiet and prayer will bring peace and light to our lives. So much appears uncertain at the moment, but the Lord is our rock and he is always with us.

Please stay safe in these days.

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

17 September

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.

I would like to begin this letter with a sincere ‘thank you’. In the midst of the most difficult situation any of us can remember, a pandemic which has uprooted so much that is dear to us, especially our freedom to mix freely with each other and to worship as part of a large, faithful congregation. Thank you to each one of you, the members of our Catholic community here in Formby, for your patience and understanding, especially in the way you have responded to the limiting and frustrating restrictions on our acts of worship; whether enduring the continued closure of your church, the very different atmosphere in our churches, or the distressing experience of being told that the church is full.

Thank you especially to all those who have given their time to steward, to ensure that our churches are cared for, and those who have worked to improve our communication outreach to the parishes. Thank you to those who are working quietly in the background to serve, encourage, care for and reach out to those who most need it. I have witnessed much of this in these past weeks and I am deeply grateful for your example.

We know that we are not out of the woods yet. Further restrictions have been placed on us. It would be very easy to grow angry, frustrated and resentful. We are all weary of this pandemic. Maybe we can have one final push in the weeks ahead to stay safe and to be mindful of those in need around us. It may not seem that we can do much, but it’s the little things that matter. A kind word, a smile, a phone call, an e mail. The world has such need of the presence of Jesus. Let us do our part to shed a little of his light on those around us. 

A final word to the parishioners of Our Lady’s. These last few weeks have been something of a whirlwind. Much work has been done to get our church up and running after the long months of lockdown, particularly the problems of damp which have worsened significantly. The problem is now being gripped. Thank you for all your patience and hopefully things will begin to settle soon. We found disturbing evidence of an intrusion into the church at the beginning of the week. It was disturbing because there was no sign of a forced entry. It is possible that someone hid in the church after Mass and exited through the emergency exit. Nothing was taken, but a number of items were disturbed. It is also possible that a key was used to access the church. We cannot be sure. 

The diocese were in attendance and ordered the immediate changing of all locks leading into the church premises. Our security systems will now be reviewed and we are taking advice from the insurance company on how best to proceed. Nothing was taken and no one was hurt, thank God. But I would ask that we all remain vigilant. If there is any further news I shall let you know.

To you all, a renewed and sincere thank you.

May God bless you and your loved ones.

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

9 September

Dear Parishioners of Our Ladys, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s,

As I write this letter to you, it has just been announced that the number of people allowed to meet indoors is to be reduced from 30 to 6. This represents a dramatic drop. Weddings and funerals are exempted and I presume the celebration of Mass also. However, it is clear that the infection rate and the death rate are climbing again. We are moving towards the winter. I think we all realise that a potentially difficult time lies ahead.

I am apprehensive about what this might mean for public Masses in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we need to look carefully again at the number of people we are permitted to accommodate safely in our churches. This number has been growing recently and some of you have been turned away. This is very difficult and cuts totally against the grain for us. However, safety is paramount, especially in an older community. Therefore we have to be stringent about the numbers we allow into church at any one time. I will keep you all informed of developments as they happen.

In my last letter, I spoke of my intention to improve communication across our Catholic community. Since then, we have been pulling together some new solutions. Here they are;

  • From this weekend, all Sunday Masses and all Requiem Masses will be live streamed from Our Lady’s and St Jerome’s. Details of how to access the live streaming will follow this letter. 
  • From this weekend, a new website will be launched for the Formby Catholic community. Presently we have a website for St Jerome’s and St Anne’s and a website for Our Ladys. When you access these websites, you will be redirected to the new website. Eventually, the old websites will go.
  • Again, details of how to access the new website will follow this letter.
  • From this weekend, we are producing a new printed newsletter. It will look different to previous parish newsletters which published details of meetings and events which are no longer happening. This newsletter will carry simple news items and information. It is primarily intended for those who cannot access the internet. Perhaps you would be good enough to post one through the door of those who need it? The newsletters will be available to you as you leave church. 
  • The Formby Catholic Community Facebook page is also up and running for those of you who use social media. The St Jerome’s Facebook page will be taken down soon.

All these initiatives, whilst effective in their own way, cannot replace phone calls and conversations. In large part, we are a well connected community. Perhaps we can consider spreading church news in our conversations. It is a good way of covering all the bases. 

Just to say a big ‘thank you’ to all who have been working behind the scenes to improve our communication outreach. Your efforts are much appreciated by us all.

In the meantime, keep safe and well!

God bless you all,

Father John

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Letters from Fr John

12 August

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s,

Three weeks after my appointment as your new parish priest, the handover of responsibilities by the Archdiocese is now almost complete. When a new parish priest is appointed, the Archdiocese offers various services of support to inspect all the various aspects of the parish estate. This enables the new priest to have an overall view of his new responsibilities and any matters that require his attention.

The most pressing need brought to my attention was the existence of damp in the church. As you know, this has been a long standing problem, but the situation has worsened. An example of this can be seen at the back of church where extensive damp is evident in walls only redecorated a few years ago. The damp is also widespread in the sacristy area and in the former confessionals.When a problem like this emerges, then speed is of the essence. Unfortunately, the surveyors were unable to access all the affected areas because many items had built up over time and were preventing access. The items had to be removed quickly to allow work to begin at the end of this week.

Some of you may have seen the large skip in the courtyard of the former Rectory which is now very full! This is the evidence of some very hard work that has been taking place over the last few days. The damp has sadly affected many items which have now been disposed of. Other items, such as those belonging to our groups and others have been relocated to the meeting room where they can remain in a safe, dry place whilst work is carried out.

I want to thank Andy Dell, the chair of the parish council, members of his family, Irene who cares for the flowers and other helpers who came in at very short notice to carry out this work. It had to be done quickly and it has now been completed. Thank you most sincerely to all who helped. Work will begin on the exterior of the church on Friday morning before work on the inside commences.

At a time like this, the sensitivities of people can be heightened. There are fears of change and reorganisation which become more difficult to cope with as we get older. A remark was made to me by a parishioner, that having seen the very full skip, the fear was that a number of the parishioners would find themselves on the skip as well!The arrival of a new parish priest will always cause some anxiety. That is inevitable. This is compounded by the pandemic which has taken normal life away from us and replaced it with a strange existence of social distancing and restrictions. As I mentioned in my welcome letter, this hits parish communities very hard, since social interaction is the very life blood of our life together.

So I want to reassure you as much as I can. Although our group activities are suspended, they will return at some point in the future. When they do, all our volunteers will be needed. Our Lady’s has a very strong tradition of community, service and outreach. I intend to work hard to build that up, extend and improve it and make Our Lady’s an even more welcoming and loving community.

We cannot see the future. We do not know how long this pandemic will last. Will there be changes ahead? Most certainly. But even these are unclear at the moment. Our parish remains quiet and our life together is at a minimum. This will continue for some time. But being aware of the needs of those around us is more important than ever.

Finally, a word about communication. Finding a means of getting information to everyone across our three parishes is proving challenging. I had hoped to create a single platform, but that is only reaching relatively few. There are some who do not use the internet and rely on the printed word. Unfortunately, we cannot print newsletters at the moment. So the existing platforms we have are Facebook and the St Jerome’s and St Anne’s website. E-mails are also sent to those who have given us their details. My hope is that a new website for the whole Catholic community will be ready before long.

May I ask that as many of you as possible communicate these letters of information to those you know in your area and to your friends. We can only do so much, but with your help we can reach more people.

Thank you, in anticipation, for your help.
May God bless you and your loved ones
Father John

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Letters from Fr John

6 August

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s

This is the first time that I have written to you all since Archbishop Mc Mahon appointed me as Parish Priest of Our Lady’s on July 20th. The sharp eyed among you will notice that I have greeted each parish in the order of the seniority of its foundation. The best way to do it I think!

Now that just one Parish Priest is serving the three parishes of our town, I wanted to create a single means of information for us all, so that there will be as little confusion as possible. We now have a single Facebook page with a new title ‘Formby Catholic Community’. The title speaks for itself and underlines the need for us all to begin working more closely together. I want to thank Siobhan and Karen for previously taking care of the Our Lady’s and St Jerome’s Facebook pages which will now be gradually phased out. I am grateful to Siobhan for agreeing to take the new page forward. Information about how to get in contact and how to share information will appear shortly. I am aware that not everyone is on Facebook and so I am looking at other ways to reach out to as many people as possible electronically. If you have any suggestions about the best way to do this, then please get in touch.

Let me begin by speaking to the parishioners of my new parish of Our Lady’s. Thank you very much for your kind welcome before and after my first Masses last weekend. It was reassuring to see some familiar faces! Although I have been just an occasional visitor to Our Lady’s in the past, I know that the parish has a long and distinguished history, and that the community there is blest with wonderful people. I want to repeat once again my grateful thanks to Father Bernard for his 22 years of dedicated and generous ministry. I am greatly impressed by the beautiful church of Our Lady’s and look forward to ministering there to all of you.

The parishes of St Anne’s and St Jerome’s have been receiving a weekly letter from me since March, sometimes more than weekly. Both parishes are wonderful communities and it has been my joy and privilege to serve both; St Jerome’s for 8 years and St Anne’s for 4 years.

Allow me to say some words to the parishioners of St Anne’s. Thank you for your great patience! You are a wonderful community and I know it has not been easy seeing the other two churches in Formby reopen and St Anne’s remain closed. Parish Priests with more than one church were asked to open just one for the time being. Added to this is the problem we have of being able to accommodate suitable numbers for Mass with COVID restrictions. I am very sensitive to this situation. We must now wait until the Archdiocese gives us further direction. In the meantime, I thank you for your example of patience and forebearance.

What of the future for our three parishes? The pandemic has impacted deeply on parish life. So many familiar things have been taken away from us. We are only now able to gather for Mass again, but even this is a strange and difficult experience. Most experts seem to believe that we are in this for the long haul and the daily news offers little comfort. So our social interaction is likely to be restricted for some time to come. Planning for the future is very difficult. I have been saying for some time that Formby is likely to see three parishes become one at some point in the future. I think that the pandemic is bringing that future to us more quickly than we might have imagined. No one expects that one priest can take care of three parishes, least of all myself! So we can expect to hear more about this in the near future. But for now the summer holidays are keeping everything quiet.

Regardless of what lies ahead, I believe that we are being asked to hold on to, and believe deeply in, the one who always stands at the heart of the Mass and each one of our communities; Jesus. The life and work of each one of our parishes serve him. So let us hold on to him and do our best to take care of each other. I ask for your prayers. But I am greatly encouraged by the wonderful and faithful people of our three parish communities. I ask for your patience in these coming weeks and months and ask you to bear with me as I try my best to serve you well and lead us forward into a very uncertain future.

May God bless you and your loved ones
Father John