Organising an ordination can be just as stressful as planning a wedding. Joanna Moorhead, in her second report, talks to the Lowry family on the eve of the big day for their former policeman son and brother.
IT'S the week before the big day, and Mrs Lowry has a problem. Where, oh where, is she going to find 600 pairs of knives and forks for the reception? It's a difficult one. "Six hundred!" she exclaims, emphatically. "I just hope there will be enough food for them all, that's all."
It wasn't like this when Breda, her eldest daughter, got married 12 years ago. The wedding was at the same church, but the guest list was rather shorter. And then, of course, there had been another family to share the burden of organisation, and the costs. This time around, the Lowrys are on their own: when your son gets ordained to the priesthood, the one thing you don't have is a bride's family to count on.
That apart, says Mrs Lowry, organising an ordination is pretty similar to arranging a wedding. The invitations, worded "Mr and Mrs Lowry, with the parish community of St Mary's Finchley, invites_ to the ordination to the priesthood of their son iMehall", went out several weeks ago, and the order of service sheets have been printed. Guests wanting to give Mehall an ordination present have been advised that a donation to a fund would be most useful, and who does what and when during the mass has been worked out.
Mrs Lowry has bought her outfit, and Mehall has planned his "honeymoon" a fortnight in Northern Ireland when the whole thing is over. Sausage rolls and chicken drumsticks have been ordered, the buying and arranging of flowers is in hand, and a family friend has made the cake. A photographer has been booked, and also a video operator as guest numbers are likely to exceed pew spaces at St Mary's, it has been decided to show the proceedings live on a screen in an adjoining room during the service.
Added to that, there's the logistics of finding accommodation for the planeloads of relatives who are flying in from the family's Irish homeland. It's all been quite a feat, and as the big day nears the stress is beginning to tell on members of the Lowry clan. Mrs Lowry sounds a bit tired, and admits she's having a frantic week; sister Breda is "a hit hyped up"; and Mehall, the star of the show, confesses he's had a few sleepless nights. The biggest fear, and one his mother secretly shares, is that he'll be overcome with nerves.
While she worries about Mehall, he is worrying about her. "There's been so much to do, so much build-up, and it's affected my family much more than it's affected me," he says. "I've been living away from my home parish over the last few months, so they've had all the hassle, all the work to do. I just hope that, when the day arrives, they'll be able to relax and enjoy it."
Mehall himself has been preparing for his ordination day, in a real sense, for the last six years, ever since he left the police force and went to Allen Hall. In the early months and years there was, of course, no certainty that he would actually end up a priest every seminary intake has its share of those who discover that they are not, after all, called to the life.
But nothing in the years of study and pastoral work led Mehall or those training him to seriously doubt his vocation. By the time he reached the fifth year, the powers that be had told him that as far as they were concerned, he had made the grade. The rest was up to him.
Mehall never wavered, though he admits he's wondered sometimes about the downside of taking on a celibate life. But in general, he seems persuaded by the church's line: "As a priest you've got to be able to be culled on and to serve as much as you can. You've got to be available for people." He believes, though, it will be very important to hold on to close friendships. "You've got to have both men and women who are good friends, who you can talk to. That will be a lifeline. I've always been blessed with good friends, so I'm fortunate."
Meliall doesn't think he'll undergo a radical transformation when Cardinal Hume lays hands on him tomorrow, and declares him a priest at last. "I'll still be the same person, of course I will. I suppose some people will call me father, and I know there is a kind of status attached to being a priest. But I can't imagine that any of my friends will regard me any differently. I'll be the same person, after all."
There doesn't seem much danger of the 600 friends and relatives treating him any differently when it's all over. Sister Breda says she used to think priests were a class apart. Now she knows they're people who are well, just like her brother.