We have seen ‘the very best of people’ – Bishop tells parishioners

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has praised and thanked the parishioners of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, in County Tyrone, for their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bishop was the guest preacher at a drive-in service yesterday morning which took place in driving rain in the car park of St Patrick’s Church in Ballymagorry.

The Father’s Day Service was led by the local Rector, Rev Canon Paul Whittaker. It was the second time in a month that Bishop Andrew had preached at a ‘drive-in service’ in the diocese, although the first had taken place in searing heat, beneath a brilliant blue sky, in the car park next to St Augustine’s Church in Londonderry’s walled city.

Conditions could hardly have been more different yesterday. The sky was grey and overcast, and at times the two clergymen – who were standing on a trailer – were assailed by rain driving in from the south west. The congregation stayed in their cars throughout the Service – at one point the Rector urged them to “Remain seated” – and social distancing protocols were observed throughout.

Bishop Andrew said he was delighted to be with the parishioners of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. “I suppose it brings new light to that saying, ‘Look what fell off the back of a lorry,’ he said. “The pair of us sort of fell onto the back of a lorry this morning.

“I want to say to the parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong ‘Well done’, because during this time of lockdown you have really been able to innovate and do your best and help out. You have innovated with your worship, going online and coming for the drive-in services as well. You have done your best in serving your community hundreds of meals, cooked each week and distributed, and groceries given out to those who were home alone. And I want to say, ‘Well done.’

“The Parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong have been a bright light shining through the darkness of this lockdown. Well done to all of you, and especially to Paul and to [his wife] Carol for the leadership that they’ve been giving through this.”

The Bishop praised the congregation for the Christian way they had responded to the public health crisis caused by the Coronavirus. “None of us expected ever to live through a time like this,” he said. “We never expected, even when lockdown started, that three more months later we would only slowly and tentatively be coming out of this. And, in many ways, what we have seen during this time is the very best of people, the very best of people seeking to do what is right, seeking to serve us and seeking to help us, and you’ve played your part in that as well, and I want to say thank you and well done.

“I’m sure you never expected to see a bishop preaching to you from the back of a lorry,” Bishop Andrew laughed, “but, sure, it’s great, isn’t it? It’s great that we can do this. It’s great that we can be here together to worship God together.

“I suppose for all of us this journey through lockdown has been an experience that has changed with time. It might have changed during each day. Some days we’re absolutely fine with it, we know that this is just what we have to accept at the moment. Other times we’ve found it a very rocky and difficult experience because we’re maybe fearful for our own health, fearful for other people’s health, fearful for our own future, fearful for our financial security. So, it’s been a really changing time: sometimes it’s felt fine and sometimes it’s felt very, very difficult as well.

“Do you know, whenever I became bishop, a couple of friends took me out for a meal – it was very nice of them to do that – and just as we were walking into the restaurant one of them said to me, ‘How do you feel about this?’ And I said, well, I feel excited but I also feel very fearful. And they said this to me: ‘Well, isn’t it interesting that in the Bible, 365 times it says, ‘Do not be afraid.’

“Do not be afraid. How many days are there in a year? 365. And 365 times in the Bible it says, ‘Do not be afraid.’ And I suppose it’s there so often because the Lord knows that fear is such a general emotion, an emotion that we experience all the time – virtually day and daily – and the Lord wants to say to you and me, ‘Don’t be afraid’.”

The Rector, Canon Whittaker – who is an accomplished guitarist – provided the music for Sunday’s service, during which he asked his congregation to remember the nine members of their two parishes who had lost their lives since the lockdown began in March.