LEICESTER, United Kingdom – For most people, the instrument that personifies Scotland is the bagpipe, perhaps accompanied by fife and drum.
However, another instrument is entertaining the parish of St. Margaret’s in Dunfermline during the coronavirus lockdown, and like the bagpipe, it could be considered an acquired taste: Father Christopher Heenan is giving a daily concert on Facebook with his … accordion.
“I would have loved to learn the piano, but that wasn’t possible,” the priest told Crux.
Heenan said he always loved music and felt drawn to play an instrument.
“I saw a second-hand accordion for sale in our local paper and decided that was the instrument for me. There was a teacher who taught accordion and violin locally and he took me on for lessons,” he explained.
Heenan said once during a service in a nursing home, he played a few Scottish tunes on the instrument, and an old lady told him: “Son, you’re better at that than you are at the other stuff!”
Remembering the remark, he decided to play a tune on his chosen instrument on his parish’s Facebook page.
“We are in a very difficult and worrying time. Music is a great way to leave behind the troubles and tensions of the day at bring a bit of happiness to our lives,” the priest said.
“I thought it would be a good idea for me to have some kind of routine at this time and, as I don’t often have the time to play that I would like, I decided to work through my music collection. I noted that there are a lot of spiritual resources and reflections being offered, so I decided to try something different and offer a tune or two. I certainly didn’t anticipate doing this every day,” he added.
However, his parishioners had other ideas: The priest began to get requests, telling him how much they enjoyed the music.
“People have asked for requests for themselves and for family and friends at home and abroad. I’m pleased that it lifts peoples spirits a bit,” Heenan said.
Although his playlist includes the polkas and waltzes most associate with the central European instrument, Heenan mainly keeps to local fare.
“I play mainly Scottish tunes, some Irish music as well. The accordion is a versatile instrument, so I have done a few tangos, a number by Elton John, and an aria from an opera as a dedication to a local opera singer,” he said.
“It’s been wonderful to go over melodies that I learned as a teenager and has been quite challenging sometimes too. I’m still working on some of the requests that I have received,” the priest added.
Dunfermline was once the home to the royal mausoleum for the Scottish crown; St. Margaret of Scotland was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, which now belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and her relics are now enshrined in the Lady Chapel of Heenan’s parish.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has been tough on the people of the parish.
“Parishioners really miss coming together for Mass and all of the other activities that take place in this very vibrant parish,” he said. “But I am amazed at people’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. Our technical people set up a livestream facility for Mass.”
The Mass is livestreamed from the same chapel where St. Margaret’s relics are kept.
“The music group record hymns and Mass parts in their own homes and these are put together, and readers record the readings,” he continued.
Heenan said other parish activities are also continuing, even if they have to change their ordinary ways of functioning.
“Groups still meet by Zoom. The Saint Vincent de Paul society are still helping those most in need and our One World Group are still supporting a school kitchen in Malawi. People phone around and ake sure that those most in need are looked after,” he said.
I’ve met parishioners on my walks who tell me that they’ve met other parishioners that they have recognized from Mass and have talked to them for the first time. I had a virtual meeting with two local minsters from other churches yesterday and we all remarked that we feel very much appreciated at this time with all of the messages of support and encouragement received from people,” the priest continued.
But that’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult to do his essential priestly ministry.
“Lots of rearranging of baptisms and weddings has taken place. Funerals are very difficult with the restrictions put in place. All who are involved with funerals really feel for families at this time,” he said.
“I thought that I’d experienced it all, but I was wrong. I’m having to learn to minister in different ways, but it is important to remember that the Church is still here, and the work is still going on.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome