Fr. James Mallon accepts that times are changing in the Church, but says the Gospel remains as relevant as ever. CCN photo

Francis Campbell: A spirit of hope in Church’s new reality

By 
  • October 12, 2020

The times they are a-changin’.

Writing in 1962 about anticipated dramatic changes to family, racial, social, political and sexual dynamics, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan warned the old guard that their existing road was rapidly aging and they’d better get out of the way if they couldn’t lend a hand to those driving world change.

Nearly 60 years later, the times have moved past Dylan’s folksy lyrics to march for more than six months to a distinct pandemic drum, a beat that in this part of Canada, at least, finally seems ready to revert to a post-crisis near normal.

We live about a half hour outside the city of Halifax and since I had been relegated or delegated to work from home when the pandemic restrictions took force, I haven’t spent much time away from secluded suburbia. During infrequent trips to the city, the dearth of traffic, the deserted sidewalks and the abundance of available parking spaces marked a stark departure from pre-COVID times.

My daughter, a recent university graduate who had been searching diligently but fruitlessly for a job over the pandemic months, started a part-time gig with a mall retail outlet in late September. In our most recent visit to the city, it’s evident that the hustle and bustle has gradually escalated as residents make their way back to workplaces and commercial outlets.

Due to good management, good luck and its physical distance from COVID hot spots, Nova Scotia has been spared much of the ravages of the coronavirus. While COVID deaths have topped a million worldwide, only 65 of those have taken place in Nova Scotia and the vast majority of our provincial COVID deaths occurred in a singly hard-hit Halifax extended care home.

Globally, there have been nearly 40 million cases of the virus but only 1,088 of those cases, as of the waning days of September, were found in Nova Scotia.

While other parts of the country are experiencing upticks in COVID cases amid warnings of a second wave, the message here is that if we continue our fastidious behaviours, we could escape a second go-round of the virus.

Those careful ways are very visible as people increasingly frequent the malls and restaurants they largely abandoned six months ago. All Nova Scotia businesses must adhere to mandatory mask rules and floor markings direct people where to stand and in which direction in-shop traffic must proceed to assure social distancing.

The return to Catholic churches, shuttered for months as the raging pandemic first took hold, has basically followed the trend of secular social gatherings. In Nova Scotia, faith gatherings, including weddings and funerals, are permitted to fill up to 50 per cent of the church’s pew capacity.

During regular weekend Masses, those who register and attend our church number from 75 to 90, approaching capacity for the pew availability in the new cordoned- off world.

It all begs the question if many of those who haven’t returned to Mass, those who didn’t register for a variety of reasons that range from simple inertia to having learned to live without in-person Mass during the early days of the pandemic, will ever come back. The COVID regulations seem to have exacerbated the prevailing problems that already had parishioners turning away from their churches.

The people who did not feel welcome or drawn to our churches for myriad reasons before the pandemic are not likely to feel any more welcome when the pandemic finally comes to an end.

Fr. James Mallon, a dynamo priest who worked on a parish renewal and restructuring within the amalgamated Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese in Nova Scotia that transitioned the diocese from 65 parishes and missions to 20 new parishes by the beginning of this year, said the re-alignment was done in a spirit of hope.

“The goal is health, not to be a particular size or to have a particular number or people at church,” Mallon said during the run-up to the transition. “We believe that the Gospel is as relevant as ever, that Jesus is as relevant as ever and this is about ... getting our structures and our way of doing things out of the way to let the light shine.

“We are adapting to the new reality and, God willing, it’s going to bear fruit. It’s going to take work, it’s going to take time because it means learning a new way of doing things.”

The times are a-changin’ inside and outside the church walls.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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