Yim Soon and I have enjoyed attending a zoom Mass every Sunday, so too the sense of community that has grown up around it.
It’s a gathering organised by L’Arche London and we had taken part for the first time a few months ago when the group was marking the death of a dear friend Thierry Jacques. Thierry had met Yim Soon at Heathrow when she’d first arrived in the UK in 1987 to spend 18 months with L’Arche in London. He had been holding up a sign with the word ‘peace’ in Korean. It was Thierry who was to walk Yim Soon down the aisle at our wedding. Following that first Mass we were invited by Agnes, who co-ordinates who does what, to come again the next week: Yim Soon to do a reading and me to do a song. The Mass is at 11 am which is the time I’d usually be listening to Desert Island Discs but I’m always happy to do a bit of music and I decided it was a sacrifice worth making!
The priest at the Mass happens to be an old friend and is one of two priests called David who married Yim Soon and I back in 1992. David is one of several there at the Mass who I’ve known for over thirty years and four of the regulars were present at our wedding. Indeed on one recent Sunday the entrance song turned out to be the entrance song at our wedding. It had been chosen by another couple Chris and Belén who usually sing, beautifully and in harmonies, the first song. They only met one another shortly before the first lockdown began and they were married, also by David, at the end of 2020.
There’s a real sense of intimacy about the Mass, and I like how everyone is sort of equal on the zoom screen, if you look with the Gallery View. There’s also a wide participation in the different elements of the Mass, be it readings or music. The psalm is always read by a young boy Aarav, whose even younger brother often tries to steal a bit of the action! There’s some lovely flute music played after communion by Franzi in Munich. And the list of countries represented, besides England, Wales, Scotland and Germany, includes Ireland, France, Belgium and occasionally Canada.
It’s always good to see the familiar faces as they appear on the zoom screen and it feels particular special to see people with whom I go back a long way. Marian, back now in her native Glasgow, was the person who greeted me when I arrived for my visit at L’Arche Kent in 1988. I first met Jim when he took the newly-founded community of L’Arche Brecon for a visit to Canterbury in 1989 and I was delighted when he was part of the team with me on the last L’Arche Alps retreat in 2019. Chris in Inverness has known Yim Soon and I for donkey’s years. And I first got to know Marcella in the late 80s when she was a national leader with L’Arche. She now joins us from her Passionist community in Dublin, to which she recently returned.
After the Mass there’s a catch up on news. Just before Christmas I shared a joke with the group: Why couldn’t Mary and Joseph do a video conference call in Bethlehem? Because there was no zoom at the inn! Since then David tends to say at the end of Mass, “Has anyone got any news…or a joke?” It’s good to have that bit of social time, and one week Chris and Bel showed us pictures from their recent wedding. Usually when I’m at Mass in a physical church building I’m keen at the end to get out and get home. When we’re sitting on a settee in the comfort of our living room, perhaps with a cup of tea in hand, and with such a group, it’s a different story.
The whole experience seems somehow far more personal, so too the time of intercessions, where several of those present ask for prayers for a variety of people and situations, some of them intensely painful. On Palm Sunday, just passed, we waved hand-picked greenery at one another and on Easter Sunday we’ll surely have one heck of a celebration. It strikes me that our zoom Mass might not be too dissimilar, technology apart, to what the early Christians did: meeting up in their own homes for the sharing of food, faith and fellowship.
I enjoy helping with the music and singing with Yim Soon, and we’ve also been known to do a harmony or two! When we first started to attend we sang a ‘Gloria’ which I wrote some years ago. A few weeks down the line I tentatively suggested to Agnes that I could do the whole Mass setting that I’d written for a special event at Aylesford Priory, and had called the ‘Aylesford Mass’, but had never used since. This includes the ‘Holy Holy’ and ‘Lamb of God’ as well as the ‘Gloria’. Since then Yim Soon and I have sung that each week and I’m touched to be able to share that. It’s testament to something that’s been a bit of a theme for me over the course of this last, unusual, year; that nothing is wasted.
It will be interesting to see which of our newly-created pandemic practices will survive once Covid is finally conquered. My guess is that the on-line Mass is here to stay, especially if it’s as enjoyable, meaningful, international, inclusive and inspiring as the one Yim Soon and I attend.