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”.