Reflecting on life as a parish priest
FATHER John Bloomfield is preparing for a quieter life of contemplation when he retires at the end of the month after 35 years as a parish priest – the last three in charge at Winterton.
He had just got to know a few people when the first Covid lockdown arrived a year after he moved to the village. Advised by the NHS to isolate, he found himself suddenly doing most of his work remotely. Church services were out, but he said Mass on his own in his dining room every Sunday. “It was ministry by telephone, which is better than nothing,” he said.
That Easter he had the service outside in the rectory garden with one parishioner and a friend who recorded it to go on YouTube.
It was one of the strangest times of his life in the church, which started when he became a curate in well-to-do Chichester. A move to a more deprived area of Littlehampton followed before he returned to his native Norfolk to take over as vicar of St Edmund in Hunstanton where he spent the next 20 years.
As a priest he’s seen life and death, officiating at baptisms and nuptials and being called out at all hours to deliver the last rites.
One of the toughest jobs he faced was organising the funerals of two children murdered by parents. In one case the mother, on bail, visited to discuss the service. “You have to put aside personal feelings to be a priest,” he said. But that time he struggled. “It was the most difficult, uncomfortable experience.”
He was able to help the baby’s innocent father through the process “because his own family couldn’t cope with his distress.”
There was joy when he was able to help a terminally ill husband reaffirm his marriage vows for his ruby wedding anniversary. “It was so moving because he was determined to stand and not be in a wheelchair. That was very special because everybody knew he was dying.”
Another celebration tinged with sadness was when he performed the funeral of a young mum just a month after officiating at her wedding, her coffin on the same spot where she had stood to make her vows. She’d been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to be wed before she died. “It was a sad funeral but not weepy because of all the memories of a month before.”
He and Dixie the dog will be moving to Dersingham where his life will take on more of a monastic flavour. He plans to offer a facility for fellow priests to take part in days of prayer and reflection.
A keen musician with a range of instruments including a reed organ, a piano, a harmonium and an autoharp, he also hopes to have more time to devote to composing.
His last services in the benefice will be at Hemsby on May 1 and April 24 in Winterton.