Brentwood priests volunteer for Nightingale chaplaincy

As soon as the news that the ExCel centre in East London was to become a Coronavirus hospital was announced, Fr James Mackay assumed that he would be involved. The parish priest of Our Lady of Walsingham, Custom House, lives just four minutes’ walk from the centre and was asked to head up the RC chaplaincy there by Vicar General Mgr Kevin Hale.

And, with the ExCel rapidly becoming a hospital, speed was of the essence. “I found out that the multi-faith chaplaincy was to be co-ordinated by Newham Imam Yunus Dudhwala and called him – I was the first Christian pastor in the centre two Sundays ago.”

He has enlisted a team of priests to join him on a rota at the hospital. “There was a very generous response from priests in our diocese – priests who have joined me include Fr Andrew Headon (Ilford), Fr Neil Brett (South Woodford), Fr Rob Page (Clayhall), Fr Mark Elliott Smith (Warwick Street), and Fr Dominic Howarth (Walsingham House at Abbotswick), along with Fr Francis Ward who is currently living with Fr Bob Hamill at East Ham.”

The idea is that a priest will be present every day for a six-hour shift to offer a ‘minstry of presence’ to workers and families, and be contactable via an emergency mobile phone line out of hours. “There may be opportunities to minister to patients – and we will do whatever we are allowed to do. Being there is so important. We are already feeling value in the response of doctors and workers to us, who are saying that it is good that we are here,” says Fr James. “Bishop Paul Mason, who oversees chaplaincy in hospitals for CBCEW, has given us his guidance: ‘Just be there for those workers and families – this is ministry for the living, for those under strain or suffering from bereavement. Don’t push for the sacraments of anointing the sick.’”

He adds: “If we are over eager to get into a ward that could put us at risk of infecting others. We are mindful to follow whatever the protocols dictate.”

Fr James has also appealed for volunteers for a bereavement management team, which involves the processing of all documentation of patients who have died, and liaison with bereaved families. “Each of the 10 volunteers in the team is a practising Catholic from my parish,” he says proudly.

He has also written to parishes across the diocese appealing for volunteers to work in the family liaison team. “This involves contacting families of patients at the NHS Nightingale on a regular basis, in accordance with NHS guidelines, and keeping them updated on their health status.”

The Nightingale has now opened for its first patients – but not before Fr James was asked to carry out a blessing of the hospital. “I was honoured to bless the NHS Nightingale in anticipation of its first patients. There are no words sufficient to express the dedication and love of every person involved in this incredible operation to save lives. I feel privileged to be a part of it,” he says.

Bishop Alan Williams sm said: “I am grateful to Fr James MacKay and his Chaplaincy Team of younger clergy and lay helpers.  Please pray for patients, medical staff and chaplains at this time and, indeed, all affected by this pandemic.”

You can follow Fr James on twitter: @james_m79, and on instagram: royaldockscatholics. You can access the parish’s online content by either going on youtube and searching ‘Royal Docks Catholics’ or by clicking the link