A Joint Holy Week & Easter Message

A Joint Holy Week & Easter Message

From Archbishop Eamon Martin & Archbishop-elect John McDowell

“Early on the first day of the week while it was still dark…”  John 20:1

The Easter story begins in darkness, in a time of great fear, sorrow and despair.  The disciples were nowhere to be seen but were hidden away behind locked doors fearing for their lives.  That description could very easily describe the world we have been living in for the last number of weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic has taken hold. What once was familiar has become unfamiliar and we are now in so many ways cut off from our normal routine and way of living.  Family and friends are isolated and kept apart, with doors closed to keep out an unseen enemy.  Every day we search for good news and some sort of light upon the horizon.

When he rose from the dead on that first Easter morning, the risen Christ brought the light of hope into the darkness of despair. The stone was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and the risen Lord appeared to Mary.  Through closed doors, he entered the place where the disciples were and said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The Easter story may begin in the darkness, but it ends in the light.  From Good Friday to Easter Day – from the cross to the empty tomb, from death to life, these holy days invite us to journey inwards to seek the inner peace that only Christ can bring.

That peace and confidence in Christ encourages us, like the first disciples, to announce and live out the Good News that Christ is alive! In our present situation we have seen the light of the risen Christ shine out in the devotion and care shown by healthcare workers and others on the frontline reaching out to help the sick; in the kindness shown by neighbour to neighbour and in gentle and simple acts of compassion carried out by countless ‘Good Samaritans’.  Despite the uncertainty, suffering and grief caused by the pandemic, the Lord is near. We must never give up hope.  His spirit is with us as sons and daughters of the Resurrection.

“Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”  John 20:20

Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia!


Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Church of Ireland Archbishop-elect of Armagh


‘Kneel at Noon’ for those in self-isolation

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, has given his blessing to an initiative begun by one of the parishes in the diocese which aims to provide prayerful support for those who are self-isolating during the Covid-19 public health crisis.

‘Kneel at Noon’ is the brainchild of the Derg and Termonamongan Group in Tyrone. “This is a simple yet powerful idea,” the group’s Rector Rev’d Peter Ferguson says, “that together, at 12 noon each weekday, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we stop and pray for those who are self-isolating, for ourselves, for each other, for our community and for the wider world at this time of global crisis.”

Bishop Andrew says the idea is commendable and that he has no hesitation in recommending it to parishioners elsewhere in the diocese and beyond. “We are people of faith, not fear,” the Bishop says, “and this is a wonderful, practical way of living out Jesus’ call to ‘Love one another’. I hope Derg and Termonamongan’s ‘Kneel at Noon’ initiative is embraced by as many people as possible and that in this time of dread and fear we – as a Church family – can become agents of hope and love.”

Resources for joining in Palm Sunday ‘Call to Pray’

Last weekend, the leaders of the four main Churches in Ireland issued a joint call to pray on Palm Sunday. “In the midst of this global pandemic,” they said, “we turn to Jesus in our time of need.”
As they begin the journey through Holy Week towards Good Friday and Easter, the Church leaders invited all Christians – from across the whole Church – to join in prayer from 3pm to 4pm on Sunday coming.
Remember: in line with government advice, we should only gather to pray within our own households.
Click the link below for some resources which will help you to join in prayerful solidarity with other Christians right across the island. Please share as widely as possible and encourage others to join us.

Bishop Andrew urges people to share their fears and anxieties with God

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, admitted to feeling overwhelmed sometimes by the Covid-19 health crisis but urged people to share their fears and anxieties with God and ask Him for strength and courage.

The Bishop was speaking during a Passiontide service of worship which, owing to governmental restrictions on movement and assembly, was broadcast live and online from his home. Bishop Andrew said none of those watching or listening could have conceived of the days they were now living through. A couple of weeks had changed so much.

“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but sometimes I find it quite overwhelming because of the uncertainty that we’re living into. So it’s so important that day and daily we reach out to God, asking for his strength, asking for his help and asking for the courage that he can give us to help us through these days.”

Bishop Forster said the restrictions introduced by the governments were important but difficult “because for most of us, and in general, we’re social people, we’re energised by our interactions with other people. And not being able to be with family and with friends and with those we love – not being able to be with them physically – It’s really hard and it’s really tough, and we know that it will get harder and it will get tougher. But yet we know that this is the right thing to do.”

The Bishop said: “What we’re doing now, through this time of isolation, of being at home, is actually loving our neighbour, it’s wanting the absolute best for them, in fact it’s wanting life for them. So, staying at home, as we’re being told, is saving lives and it’s absolutely loving our neighbour.”

Rt Rev’d Forster said he had been reading some of the Psalms of Lament this week. Psalm 88, he suggested, could almost be called an isolation psalm or a confinement psalm. “Some of the verses say this: ‘You’ve taken from me my closest friends.’ ‘I’m confined and cannot escape.’ ‘You’ve taken my companions and loved ones from me.’ They’re words that express real raw emotion from the bottom of our hearts. And they’re words that express a raw honesty with God. And, if they tell us anything, they tell us that we can be honest with God; that we can pour out our frustrations and our hurts and our fears and our anxieties to God and that God listens and that God’s shoulders are big enough to take it as well.”

The Bishop said we were staring at our own mortality through the Covid-19 crisis but that Jesus’s example was the example of hope beyond the grave. Today’s Gospel text was John 11: 1-45, in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. “It tells us of a Jesus who comes to be with us, of a Jesus who knows our grief and our sorrow, and of a Jesus who gives us resurrection hope and His life in our lives now.”

Bishop Forster ended the service by praying “for those people who we rightly identify as heroes in the midst of all this, those who are working in our hospitals and in healthcare at the moment, the people who are heading towards this illness whenever we are trying to get away from it. I think they deserve not only our deepest gratitude but also our fervent prayers.” He prayed, too, for policymakers, for scientists who were seeking a vaccine, and for all those who were working to keep supply lines open.”


Church leaders salute healthcare workers and issue joint call to pray on Palm Sunday

In a joint statement, following a video conference, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches have paid tribute to everyone in the health and social care services and those in the frontline, for their courage in the battle against the Coronavirus (Covid–19) pandemic.

The leaders of Ireland’s main Churches, together with other denominations and Christian organisations, also issued a call to pray, which will take place on Palm Sunday, 5 April from 3pm–4pm.

Statement in full:

“In these days when we can no longer gather and ‘be church’ in the traditional way, the call to live out the Gospel as agents of God’s mercy and compassion through the sacrifices that we make to protect the vulnerable, and by finding new ways to be Good Samaritans and good neighbours is as powerful as ever.

“To all who are suffering, have lost loved ones and are anxious in these unprecedented days, we pray that you may find strength and comfort in the loving presence of Christ who promised to be with his people always (Matthew 28:20).

“As Church Leaders, we want to thank everyone in our health and social care services and those working on the frontline, for their courage as they work selflessly to minimise the suffering caused by the Coronavirus (Covid–19) pandemic. Alongside our chaplains and pastoral teams, they have chosen to walk towards the danger for our sake. We owe it to them to play our part in limiting the spread of this virus by staying home and practising social distancing when we need to go out.

“With this crisis has come a heightened awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependency and a new recognition of the vast array of jobs that are essential to the functioning of our society. All our workers, whether called into service at this time, or asked to stay home, need to be adequately protected.

“In the midst of this suffering, however we can see many signs of hope. The speed with which local communities, involving churches, community groups, charities, businesses and other local community leaders, who have mobilised in response to this unprecedented challenge, has been a great reassurance to many.

“We still have a long way to go in the fight against Covid–19 and its consequences. We will need many volunteers for our health service and to protect the vulnerable. Charities that provide much–needed support, also need donations, so please consider giving online. We are all called to make sacrifices, but the burden of suffering will not be evenly shared.

“In a short space of time the rhythm and pattern of our everyday lives has changed. There is however one constant throughout – an ever–loving God who tells us, ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41:10.)

“As we look to Him with our pastoral and practical concerns during these unparalleled times, as the island battles this pandemic, standing alongside other denominations and Christian organisations, we are today issuing a call to pray.

“As Christians, we believe that prayer sustains our life as followers of Christ. In the midst of this global pandemic, we turn to Jesus in our time of need. As Church leaders, we join together in calling all our people to pray. As we begin the journey through Holy Week towards Good Friday and Easter, we invite all Christians from across the whole Church to join in prayer on Palm Sunday, 5 April, from 3pm to 4pm – remembering that we should only gather to pray within our own households, in line with government advice.

“God loves the world and everyone in it. We will pray for those who are sick, and those feeling fearful; we will pray for those who have been bereaved and those who are isolated and alone. We will pray for our healthcare professionals, delivery drivers, essential workers and all who continue to work on the frontline. We will pray for, and with those in our communities, who are fearful about their employment and for those reaching out to provide food and shelter. We will pray for our families and friends, neighbours and civic, business and political leaders for the inevitable challenges that will arise in the coming days. We also remember those across our world who are similarly suffering. We pray for those working hard to produce new treatments and vaccines.

“Though we cannot meet as the gathered Church, we will end the hour united in prayer, asking for the Lord’s healing touch on our land and all its people. All are invited to pray, regardless of where they are in their own journey of faith, even if they have never prayed before. At this critical moment we will bring this land and our world before our loving God in prayer remembering that, ‘We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy’ (Daniel 9:18).”

The Rev Brian Anderson
President of the Irish Council of Churches

The Rt Rev Dr William Henry
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Rt Rev John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop–elect of Armagh

The Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland

The Rev Sam McGuffin
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland


Church Leaders Group

The Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.


Easter n:vision goes online

The public health emergency over the Covid-19 coronavirus has prompted the Diocese to make the Easter edition of the diocesan magazine, n:vision, available online.

The decision was taken by Bishop Andrew in light of guidance from the governments on non-essential travel.

The magazine has been edited, as usual, by Rev’d Katie McAteer who hopes that readers will find n:vision a source of comfort and inspiration in the current climate.

You can read the magazine by clicking the link below.

Nvision Easter 2020

‘Don’t let the cold callers scam you’

Northern Ireland

Information for parishes in the Republic of Ireland follows below

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is urging the public to be on their guard against cold callers and scammers who continue to prey on the community by taking advantage of householders, even during the Covid–19 pandemic.

Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: “Unfortunately, during these unprecedented times there are still despicable people in our communities who are out to make money by taking advantage of others.

“Our advice about cold callers is especially important now because so many more people are either working from home, or self–isolating at home. This means they can’t go about their daily routine as before, which can include buying their groceries, or other personal items, and this is what the scammers and cold callers are exploiting.

“We have seen instances where people are calling to the homes of older, or vulnerable people, telling them they will do their grocery shopping for them for a small fee. These people take the money but, cruelly, they never deliver the goods.

“I’m making a direct appeal to friends and loved ones of older people, or those who are vulnerable in our communities to please, take a few minutes and have a conversation with them about what they can do to help protect themselves and their homes.

“There are a number of initiatives which are really helpful, including the ‘No Cold Calling’, the ‘Nominated Neighbour’ scheme, QuickCheck, Neighbourhood Watch and ScamwiseNI Partnership and details of all of these can be found on our website at psni.co.uk

“For example, the Nominated Neighbour Scheme allows householders to nominate a person who will deal with callers to their home. If a caller arrives when you are alone in the house, they can be shown a card instructing them to contact your ‘Nominated Neighbour’, who will then try and check the caller’s identity avoiding the need for you to open your front door.

“You can contact your local crime prevention officer on 101 about the Nominated Neighbour Scheme and QuickCheck. By using QuickCheck, people can phone 101 to check the identity of callers to their home who claim to represent an energy or water network company.

“Finally, I would really urge people to always ask for proof of identity. If people are who they say they are, they will be happy to show you their ID.

“To avoid becoming the victim of a scam visit ScamwiseNI at www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/scamwiseni or @ScamwiseNI

“If you have any concerns please speak to your Local Policing Team Officer or your Crime Prevention Officer on 101.”


Follow this advice when answering the door:

– Report suspicious persons or vehicles being driven  in a suspicious manner immediately

– Before answering the front door, make sure the back door is locked.

– If you have a door chain, remember to use it before opening the door. If not, we recommend you get one installed.

– Ask the caller for their identification and check it carefully.

– Ask them to wait outside and close the door – genuine callers will not mind.

– Ring Quick Check on 101. The call will be answered personally and promptly by a trained police call handler. They will check with the company that the person at the door is genuine. If they are not or they think that there is something suspicious, the operator will be able send the police to you.

– Do not let anyone into the property until you are satisfied as to who they are.

The four main Churches and the Irish Council of Churches are supporting Scamwise NI through the Church Leaders Group.

Republic of Ireland

Gardaí across the State are being asked to actively identify those persons most at need, particularly those with limited local family or social support.  In these cases, An Garda Síochána will assist.

Contingency vehicles will be used to maintain personal interactions and where needed to assist and support people, which may include collecting medical prescriptions, attending hospital appointments and other supports they may need.

An Garda Síochána will also use these opportunities to link identified people into local, national and state services where appropriate.

Any person with these concerns for themselves or for a neighbour should contact their local Garda station, Contact details, including email contact, for all Garda stations can be found on the Garda website or in any phonebook.


Church leaders respond to NI Justice Minister’s statement on funerals

The leaders of Ireland’s main Churches have commended Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister, Naomi Long MLA, and the Department of Justice, “for their concern, sensitivity and understanding of the need to ensure dignity and respect, for both the deceased and bereaved…” in relation to new funeral arrangements during the Coronavirus (Covid–19) pandemic that were announced this evening (23 March).

In their statement, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches said, “Exceptional times call for temporary extraordinary measures to suit the needs of the hour, and forward planning is vital. We commend the Justice Minister, Mrs Naomi Long, and the Department of Justice for their concern, sensitivity and understanding of the need to ensure dignity and respect, for both the deceased and bereaved at this difficult time and in the weeks that lie ahead.

“Funeral rites and practices vary in different parts of the world. In many parts of this country we have come to expect that a funeral service with burial/cremation will normally take place around the third day after death. With the evolving Coronavirus (Covid–19) crisis that may not be possible, especially if there are numerous deaths and the authorities come under severe pressure.

“As Church Leaders, we give assurances that appropriate prayerful pastoral support will be offered to all facing bereavement as they undertake what is always a painful journey. We also commit to perform funeral liturgies and services as soon as legally and practically possible, working with funeral directors and others as appropriate.

“As Christians we believe that every aspect of what makes us human is important to God, so physical bodies are precious. However, at this time we also emphasise, as a means of reassurance, the Christian understanding and belief that, after death, the spirit lives on. That does not, in any way, diminish the necessity for a respectful Christian burial or cremation for the physical body of a loved one after their death.

“As Churches we will support bereaved families through the inevitable challenges that will arise in the coming days. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with all who are having to make these most difficult decisions and with those involved in offering funeral, support and bereavement services.”

Their statement concluded with a passage from John Chapter 11 verses 25 & 26: “‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord. ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’”

The Rev Brian Anderson
President of the Irish Council of Churches

The Rt Rev Dr William Henry
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Rt Rev John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop–elect of Armagh

The Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland

The Rev Sam McGuffin
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland


New Rector instituted behind closed doors

The Rev’d Jonathan McFarland was instituted as Rector of the Parish of Urney at a private ceremony in a largely empty Christ Church, Urney on Friday evening, as the Covid-19 crisis forced the postponement of the planned public service.

The ceremony, which was led by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, was conducted instead behind closed doors but in full compliance with the Church of Ireland’s constitutional requirements for an institution. Public health guidelines for social distancing were also observed throughout.

Bishop Forster was assisted on Friday evening by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and the Diocesan Registrar, Rev’d Canon David Crooks. There will be a full public service to celebrate the new Rector’s institution at a date in the future.

Photos by Jonny Collins @UlsterImage

“Jesus knows what isolation is all about” – Bishop Andrew

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, was one of a number of clergy in the Diocese who took to social media on Sunday to lead services of worship for parishioners. All Church of Ireland churches in the Diocese are closed because of the Covid-19 crisis and clergy have been exploring new ways of reaching out in mission to their people.

Rectors and curates used platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube to share services which – because of social-distancing restrictions – had no congregations present.

Bishop Forster opted to speak to people from his home. “I felt it was important, as Bishop, to speak to parishioners,” he said, “and to say something into the life of the Diocese in these days. I felt very nervous talking to a camera – far more nervous than I would in front of a congregation – but I had no option but to try it: lots of our clergy were using social media today so why should I be any different?

“For many people on Mothering Sunday, church was at home – they couldn’t be in the place where they would have preferred to be – so I thought that I would join them from my home. And, when you think about it, the first breaking of bread and taking of wine was in an upper room in someone’s home, so I thought that was particularly appropriate.

“My message to people was that – although the Church had left the building – we were still Church. We would have loved to have been together physically, but we simply couldn’t be because, to put it bluntly, that would have been putting lives at risk. However, social distancing doesn’t need to be spiritual distancing: we can still reach out and find God close.”

During his broadcast on Facebook Live, Bishop Forster wore a cross made of bog oak from Glencolumbkille, which had been sculpted by the Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge in the parish, Rev’d Robert Wray. “It’s quite amazing to think that this oak was growing whenever Jesus was walking the earth,” Bishop Andrew told viewers and listeners. “My faith is the faith of the cross and my faith tells me that Jesus knows what isolation is all about. He knows loneliness. He knows pain. He knows heartache. But you know, for every Good Friday there’s an Easter Sunday, an Easter morning, and on this Good Friday there’s hope for us because of the cross of Jesus.”

Bishop Forster shared a reflection during the service based on Psalm 23 – ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ – one of Sunday’s set readings for the Church of Ireland. “This week has definitely felt like the valley of the shadow,” he said, “and unfortunately the weeks that lie ahead will have many dark moments; but let faith be the antidote to fear. Remember, the Lord is my shepherd. In these days of social isolation, keep repeating the words: ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’.”

The bishop said he was encouraged by the instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive reaction he received as the service was broadcast on Facebook Live. One viewer, Donegal Roman Catholic priest, Fr John Joe Duffy, thanked Bishop Andrew for his “comforting and reassuring words”. Another viewer, Celia Ferguson, welcomed his “strengthening and comforting words”, while Anne Greenaway found the reflection “inspirational and thought-provoking”.