Many people are inspired by Seamus Heaney’s Poem, ‘Scaffolding’ which is so often recited as a reflection piece at weddings. It is of course a metaphorical poem about marriage, said to have been written by Seamus to appease Marie after a difference between them.
I must say at the outset these words are not prompted or inspired by Heaney’s poem; just borrowing the title and a few lines from it.
Right now, the tower at our parish church of St Mary’s is surrounded by scaffolding from ground level to the very top. It was interesting to observe it climb its way up the tower, guided by the experts over a period of eight days, making sure that planks won’t slip at busy points, all ladders secured and every joint is bolted and tightened; all done that maintenance on the stonework can be carried out safely.
That stonework has withstood much weathering and many storms over the past one hundred years, and it has taken its toll.
Our tower is modest in comparison to the magnificent structures that make up so many beautiful Cathedrals and Churches throughout the world which symbolise giving glory to God, stemming from people of deep faith. All that work was done without the resources and appliances available today, but by a people who worked together to provide what they could for their faith community.
Many of our Parish Churches were erected within a few short years of the famine with our own being built in 1869. On record there were 16 Churches built in our diocese here between 1850 and 1899. It speaks to us of the faith of the people who were the survivors of famine times.
Despite the limitations of the time when the tower was built, it too was an expression of a deep faith and a willingness to sacrifice. The people wanted their chapel with its tower to be a visible reminder of God’s presence among his people. The bell placed within the tower was a call to prayer and still is as it rings out for Angelus at 12.00 noon and 6.00pm. It also rings out before each Mass reminding people that Mass begins in three minutes time (provided the priest is on time!).
Like many things in life we can take our faith and places of worship for granted. This has been demonstrated for us during lockdown. Many people have spoken about how much they have missed not being able to come to Mass and share the Eucharist. Neither did they realise the strength they drew from worshipping together with their fellow parishioners. Like the good old building, we too from time to time need our support around us.
When it comes to support there is still much happening today for which we are grateful. Through the efforts of individuals, clubs, and other groups no one in isolation was left unattended during lockdown. Again, just look what happens for a family at a time of death. All the worries about how they are going to manage disappear as neighbours and friends literally take over.
On a personal level I am so grateful for the towers of strength who have kept me afloat over all these years by their prayers, words of advice, encouragement, and great generosity. Many different people come to mind for me; my friends and neighbours amongst whom I grew up, former teammates, teachers, fellow priests, parishioners, and the list goes on.
One group I have not mentioned is my family. Once I say family, then faith also comes to mind. My parents are typical of those who worked hard to give us the best they could and provide opportunities that were unavailable to them. The greatest gift they handed on was their faith which has stood by us in the best of times and the worst of times. It was a very practical faith which saw God at work in the most insignificant to the most meaningful of events in life. In the difficult times it was certainly challenged and stretched to the limit but in the end brings its comfort and consolation. I just hope that I have faithfully handed on some of that faith to the people among whom I minister.
The final lines of Seamus’ Heaney’s Scaffolding present a challenge; “Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall Confident that we have built our wall.”
As we here in Bellaghy are ensuring the continued wellbeing of a building which represents a legacy of faith, my prayer is the we too can be confident that we are handing on a faith that will enhance lives and bring calm amidst any storms that may lie ahead.
Monsignor Andy Dolan is Parish Priest of Bellaghy, in the Diocese of Derry