Fr Kevin Neal
8 February 2011
It is some months since we moved camp from Taradale to the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Palmerston North. Some people recognise that it has been a massive change – because every change is. The more the priest throws his lot in with the local parish community the harder it is to shift. You mix with parishioners and become one in their hopes and dreams and, of course, in their sorrows, too. You are the bringer of joy each Sunday and on the days in between but you are also the funeral celebrant. It’s a very complex web of knowing.
It’s at every level of knowing and understanding and the web spreads far more widely than just the parishioners. You have your friends and relations and others with whom you work and relax. In fact you could say that if the priest or parish worker found the change easy and painless then they were either in the place for a short time or something has gone awry in their interactions with parishioners.
Shifting town is a huge event even when it is done cheerfully. There are those who see a little deeper and can see that there is a certain amount of heartache called homesickness. It’s not that there’s anything wrong in the new parish but many of the details are worked out differently.
Then there are the parish assistants and the secretary. Again there isn’t a single thing wrong with what they do – it’s different at times, that’s all. You have to go back to the beginning and learn a new set of key ways to communicate. The changes must be equally hard on them, too. So homesickness is not too bad a word for what is happening around the diocese.
Blessed and blessing
But there is constant change wherever you go in the church. The details will change, as always, but the children’s blessing gives an extraordinary insight into God’s great plan in every parish. Some children are blessed during their parent’s communion and some are blessed afterwards. Some manage to get in both! It’s their sheer openness that gets me. They come up, look you in the eye and are happy to receive. I don’t think they realise it but the blessing they give to the presider in return is just as great. I have the privilege of blessing the children while I’m seated so it’s eye to eye that we meet and they seem to appreciate that.
These days the children’s blessing is a mini-United Nations but the children don’t notice that. The adults have been wrestling with race differences and gender and who is allowed to do what for 2,000 years but the children aren’t the least bit interested in colour, race, gender or the beliefs of their parents. They seem to know that they are God’s children and that’s all that matters.
Faced with this kind of reality a little homesickness seems okay after all.