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It’s a joy to be back!

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While some people have enjoyed being able to watch Mass in the comfort of their lounge room, still in their pyjamas and with a cup of tea or coffee in hand, celebrating his faith this way just wasn’t the same for Blackwood parishioner Geoff Sugars.

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“It felt a bit hollow, it just wasn’t there,” Geoff admitted when The Southern Cross spoke with him after he attended Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Way Church in Glenalta.

“A friend of mine said she found it very nice to sit up in bed with a cup of coffee and watch Mass, but it’s not the same. It’s good to be back.”

As someone who lives by himself, Geoff said the church community provided an important support network and he was delighted to be able to attend Mass in person again.

Just like other parishes around the Archdiocese, Blackwood is getting used to the new ‘normal’ way of worship, with the necessary precautions and social distancing in place.

It is entirely up to each individual parishioner to make up their mind if they feel comfortable returning to face-to-face worship, but for Barbara Colla it was an easy decision to make.

Together with husband Clem, Barbara has been a parishioner at Blackwood for the past 44 years and she echoed Geoff’s sentiments about the delight at “being back”.

“At first we watched Mass online – I found one in America and then the following week it was Sydney, and then we started watching the one at the (St Francis Xavier’s) Cathedral,” she explained.

“After a while though, we got a bit tired of that because you miss the community – that’s the most important thing about coming back.”

Barbara said she couldn’t wait to walk back inside the building to celebrate her faith with fellow parishioners and receive Communion. While the all-important cup of tea and chat afterwards in the church hall has yet to recommence, a small group of parishioners are now opting to get together at a nearby café.

A member of the parish community for more than half a century, Peter Smailes is another who has welcomed the return.

“You get a feeling of community and participation with fellow Catholics – it’s something you can’t get from the television or YouTube,” he said.

“To feel the closeness of friends and sharing our faith together makes all the difference – although I do miss the music terribly.”

Pastoral coordinator Charlie Borda said like many younger Catholics, being able to sit in the lounge at home to watch Mass with the family had been nice for a while, but she was glad to be back inside the church.

“Coming back I was reminded how important and sacred it was to receive Jesus in the Eucharist; spiritual communion does not replace the real thing. And in some ways coming to church keeps you accountable,” she said.

Parish priest Fr Tony Telford-Sharp said when churches were forced to close there had been a concerted effort to keep the communities at St Paul of the Cross and Our Lady of the Way connected.

A Facebook page was set up, the parish website was updated regularly, there were letterbox drops to parishioners and Fr Telford-Sharp and Deacon Tee Ping Koh were constantly telephoning parishioners to make sure they were OK.

The parish decided not to live stream Mass as it believed there were enough online options available, however when the church doors reopened in late May extra Masses were offered.

“We doubled up on Masses as we wanted to get people back and having that feeling of belonging,” Fr Telford-Sharp said.

“Online is a wonderful thing if you can’t go to church if you are sick or elderly, but it is second best to receiving Jesus for real.”

Fr Telford-Sharp said attendance at Sunday Mass was slowly increasing and weekday services were proving popular.

He added that one of the positives from the pandemic had been that people disconnected from their faith had started to watch Mass online, and have since decided to come back to attending church.

Deacon Tee Ping said encouraging people to reconnect with the church community had been a focus for him in recent months.

“The Church is more than the brick and mortar. It is about us, as a community, living out in the real world,” he said.

“Many of us have been lucky enough to be able to stay in touch through technology, but there is nothing quite like seeing the special people in your life in person.”

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