“It’s great to be back,” Bishop Andrew Forster told parishioners in Holy Trinity Church in Dunfanaghy, on Sunday morning, as they gathered for worship in their parish church, in north-east Donegal, for the first time in almost four months. Holy Trinity was one of a number of churches throughout the Diocese to open their doors for collective in-church which is permissible again following the relaxation of public health restrictions north and south of the border.
There was a much smaller than usual congregation, in Dunfanaghy, given the new restrictions placed on attendance, and there was strict adherence to Church and state guidelines concerning hygiene and physical distancing. There was new signage in the church and hand sanitiser for members of the congregation. There was strict social distancing in and between pews, and there was no hymn-singing – only an organist to provide sacred music. People also had to ‘sign in’ as they arrived, to facilitate track and trace measures.
Despite the restrictions, and regardless of the damp, blustery conditions on the way to and from church, there was no dampening the spirits of the parishioners who were delighted to be back in church for Dunfanaghy’s first Sunday Service since before St Patrick’s Day.
In going to Holy Trinity to preach, this morning, Bishop Andrew was fulfilling a commitment made before the arrival of the coronavirus. “Lockdown has reminded us,” the Bishop said, “of something that we had already known, that Church is not simply about a building. We’ve always said that; we’ve told the children at Sunday School that Church is not a building. And yet so often we see Church bound up in bricks and mortar. Lockdown has reminded us that we, the people of God, are something very different from bricks and mortar, that we’re a family, and the family of God is worshipping and loving and serving.
“And during lockdown,” the Bishop continued, “the family of God has continued to worship, and to love and to serve, wherever we are and whatever our calling has been. But yet, this building – bricks and mortar as it is – becomes sacred space to us, special to us, and that is why we longed to get back to church together, because it is for us a place of prayer, a place that brings together those landmark moments in our life – both of joy and of heartache – and it’s because a church building is a place of worship and love and service that, in turn, it helps us to worship and love and serve wherever we go. So, in other words, that’s a very long way of saying it’s good to be back isn’t it? It’s good to be together again. It’s good to be in the place that we are loved”
Bishop Andrew talked to the congregation about the impact of Covid-19. It had led to unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’, he said. Describing himself as a ‘huggy’ person, he said he could no longer embrace people or shake hands. We were now having to stand back from our normal interactions. “It’s changed everything,” he said, “how we act, how we think, how we live our daily lives.
“In many ways, life is often like the twin tracks of a railway. On one track, during this time, we felt instability, and uncertainty, and fear, and illness and even death. But on the other track we have seen kindness, and generosity, and community, and hope, and love and faith in a way we have never experienced before. So, there’s so much that we can celebrate in this. And often in life it’s like those twin tracks, isn’t it? On the one hand we feel this uncertainty and fear, and on the other hand we feel a growth in faith and prayer and love.”
Bishop Andrew said Sunday’s Gospel illustrated this ‘dualism’. In the reading, Jesus identified the confusion that was at the very heart of humanity. “Maybe, in lockdown, we’ve begun to see again what really matters,” the Bishop said, “that it’s not just about accumulation of wealth or success or our own wellbeing; that life is about community, it’s about love, it’s about worship, it’s about serving, and we’ve begun to see that again.”
Sunday’s Service was led by the Rector of Dunfanaghy, Raymunterdoney and Tullaghobegley, Rev David Skuce, assisted by Parish Reader Patrick Knowles. Rev Skuce reminded the congregation that the coronavirus was still present in the community. He urged his parishioners to continue to exercise caution as they returned to worship and as they went about their lives generally. “Don’t be like the cattle released from the byre after the winter, running wild into the field. Do things gradually, be careful and take it easy.”