Bishop steps up efforts to limit spread of virus in Derry and Raphoe

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has announced that the diocese is to step up efforts to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus. On Friday evening Rt Reverend Andrew Forster said that all churches in the diocese would remain closed for the foreseeable future. It had been hoped that churches could open briefly this weekend to facilitate private prayer by parishioners in accordance with social distancing protocols. However, Bishop Andrew has decided that even these restricted opportunities for worship should no longer be allowed and that all buildings would remain closed.

Here is Bishop Andrew’s full statement to diocesan clergy:

“It is with great regret that I have to update the guidance I gave to you on Wednesday regarding the opening of our churches for private prayer. Unfortunately, I must now insist that our buildings remain closed. This is in line with latest advice and is solely to ensure the health of our parishioners.

“I know many of you had plans to offer opportunities for prayer in church on Sunday and that is what I had hoped could happen. However, in this fast moving and fluid environment, we must do the right thing. Thank you for your incredible commitment to your parishioners and for your cooperation at this most challenging of times.

“Psalm 18 v 28: ‘You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light’.”

+Andrew Derry & Raphoe

 

Churches in Faughanvale respond to Coronavirus challenge

Eglinton Churches Together is responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis by introducing a free service for local people in the Eglinton and Greysteel areas who are self-isolating or feeling vulnerable.

Clergy and members of the three main Churches in the area are joining with Eglinton Community Centre to offer practical help and moral support. More than three thousand homes in the two villages and surrounding areas are to be leafletted with flyers explaining what assistance is available and providing contact details.

Three individuals from the churches have been nominated as ‘contact persons’ who can be telephoned by members of the community. Volunteers will be available to pick up and deliver shopping, collect medicines and other urgent supplies, and post mail. Church members will also be available for friendly phone calls to those who are feeling lonely or anxious.

The churches involved are St Canice’s Church of Ireland Church, Faughanvale Roman Catholic Parish and Faughanvale Presbyterian Church. The Rector of St Canice’s, Rev’d Canon Paul Hoey, said: “We, in Eglinton Churches Together, have already been responding prayerfully to the public health emergency, but we felt that it was important to respond in a practical way, too. There will be many people in our community – neighbours of ours – who will be hurting in the weeks and months ahead. Some will be self-isolating. Many will be anxious. Some will be experiencing financial distress. We want to be there for them, to help them and support them.”

Canon Hoey has urged those who are feeling vulnerable or who are self-isolating to call any of the numbers on the leaflet which is popped through their doors and assures them help will be on hand.

Caption (left to right): Fr Noel McDermott (PP Faughanvale), Elaine Way (St Canice’s Church Warden), Rev’d Lindsay Blair (Minister, Eglinton Presbyterian Church), Trevor Evans (secretary, Eglinton Presbyterian Church), Rev’d Canon Paul Hoey (Rector, St Canice’s Church of Ireland); and Debbie Caulfield (Manager of Eglinton Community Centre).

COVID-19 pandemic: Bishop Andrew suspends regular church services

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, has suspended all public acts of worship in the Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe, including Sunday services and regular midweek services. Baptisms, weddings and funerals will still be allowed as long as they adhere to public health authority guidance.

The Bishop said he had taken the decision “with a heavy heart” but with the firm conviction that it was “the right thing to do”. While parishioners found communal worship comforting in times of crisis, Bishop Andrew said the COVID-19 crisis presented a heightened risk of harm to all who took part, especially older and more vulnerable parishioners. “That is something I, as Bishop, will not countenance,” he said.

Here is Bishop Andrew’s statement in full:

Yesterday, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said “drastic action” was needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He called for an end to “non-essential contact with others”.  The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said he anticipated a 30% increase in cases of the coronavirus every day.

There is no denying the gravity of the present situation. At this time of not only international but global crisis, everyone in society has a duty to do what he or she can to protect people’s lives and minimise suffering.

We, in the Churches, are no exception.

Consequently, and with immediate effect, I am announcing the suspension of all public acts of worship in the United Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe. This includes Sunday services and regular midweek services. Baptisms, weddings and funerals will still be permitted as long as they comply with the guidance of the appropriate public health authority.

I have taken this decision with a heavy heart but with the firm conviction that it is the right thing to do.

Often, at times of great crisis, parishioners can be comforted by participation in acts of communal worship. However, the COVID-19 crisis poses an unprecedented danger to public health.

Communal worship at this time would present a heightened risk of harm to all who took part, especially older and more vulnerable parishioners. That is something I, as Bishop, will not countenance.

However, I want to reassure parishioners that while we, as a Church, are responding to the two governments’ call for social distancing, there will be no spiritual distancing. We will still be there for you.

Our church buildings will be open at service times for those who wish to pray privately. Clergy who are well enough will ensure that they are available to parishioners for pastoral support – if necessary by telephone or online. We are also investigating options for non-traditional forms of worship, such as radio and online religious services.

The Diocese of Derry and Raphoe is more than just a territory: it is a community – a caring, compassionate community. Now, in the midst of crisis, we have an opportunity to show what real Christian community is all about. And we all have a role to play in this.

Stay in touch with one another. Think of the people you usually sit beside in church. Pick up the phone and call them. Use online opportunities if you can. Keep an eye on your neighbours, especially those who are older, those who are more vulnerable and those who are lonely. Look after them. Don’t do anything that puts their health at risk. Make sure they’re okay.

Soon, some in our Church family and in the wider community will be experiencing financial hardship. Be generous. Give to charities. Support local foodbanks. Let us show what real community is all about.

As Christians, we have a moral obligation to observe social distancing protocols, but we should never distance ourselves from God. In fact, let us draw closer to Him now. Let us walk with Him. Let us pray without ceasing. Let us choose faith, not fear.

This is a rapidly evolving situation and we, at diocesan level, will be in regular communication with parishioners. The advice of governments and health authorities can change from one moment to the next, but the love of God remains constant.

No bishop wants to suspend services – especially not a Church of Ireland bishop on the Feast Day of St Patrick. But it is done for the right reasons and with people’s best interests at heart.

On this difficult day, at this difficult time, I commend to you the words of our patron saint, Patrick.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Amen.

+Andrew Derry and Raphoe

Advice to Clergy (Northern Province)

The following advice has been issued to Church of Ireland clergy in the Northern Province this afternoon following consultation with the General Secretaries of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland:

1. Until further notice, all parish organisations and activities should cease.

If some meetings are required (for example a meeting of Select Vestry), or deemed important to hold, these should follow current Public Health guidance:

– those who display symptoms such as a high temperature and/or a new continuous cough, or have been advised to self–isolate, should not attend;

– those in vulnerable groupings should be discouraged from attending.

‘Virtual meetings’, including decision taking by e–mail or other similar means, are permissible (and indeed encouraged) in the current circumstances.

2. Until further notice, all Sunday and midweek services (gatherings for worship) should be suspended.

– Please note the emphasis on ‘gatherings’ being suspended – creative means of enabling members to avail of worship resources should be sought.  If appropriate, church buildings can be left open so that parishioners can visit for private prayer provided public health guidelines on hygiene and sanitation can be observed.

– In the interim, clergy may be able to provide electronic resources themselves or could perhaps liaise with colleagues and sign–post resources provided by others.

– The Church of Ireland website will highlight some central resources and, if possible, give some more guidance regarding other liturgical material that is available.

3. Until further notice, steps should be taken to ensure that numbers attending funeral services and weddings are kept as low as possible.

– Consideration should be given to all funerals being private (for close family and friends only), with no public announcement of the funeral arrangements.

– Where there are formal government restrictions on numbers attending indoor or outdoor events, these should be strictly adhered to in all situations, including both weddings and funerals.

– In weeks to come, if additional restrictions are brought in regarding the funerals of certain categories of people, these should be followed.

Please note:

– At this stage, it is not possible to ascertain a realistic end date for the above restrictions, hence the phrase ‘until further notice’. However, be assured that this formal advice will be withdrawn as soon as government guidance permits.

– Similar advice is being issued today by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

‘We are people of faith, not fear” – Bishop Andrew

Bishop Andrew has urged clergy and parishioners in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe to support the most vulnerable in their communities while, at the same time, adhering to advice from public health authorities. He has encouraged clergy and parish teams to consider adopting or adapting an initiative shared by Archdeacon Terry Scott in Armagh, which seeks to help older and more vulnerable people in practical ways.

“As the COVID-19 Virus spreads around the world, we are, I believe, living through an epoch-defining moment in history,” the Bishop says. “For many of our loved ones, friends and neighbours – especially the elderly and vulnerable – this is a frightening time.

“In these days of darkness, we, as Christians, should let the light of Christ shine brightly. We are people of faith, not fear.

“Many of our more elderly and vulnerable parishioners and neighbours have begun self-isolating, and I expect many more will have to do likewise. Some of them live alone. Most are anxious. Many have practical needs. It is important that we – as a Church, as parishes and as a community – support the most vulnerable.

“This is a fast-moving situation and subject to change at a moment’s notice. It is essential that in everything we do, we abide by the guidance of our governments and public health services.

“’God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear’. (Psalm 46)

“God bless.”

+Andrew Derry and Raphoe

Statement from the Archbishop of Dublin and the Archbishop-elect of Armagh

Statement by The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson & The Rt Revd John McDowell

The people of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are passing through a period of considerable distress as the effects of the coronavirus are felt throughout the whole island.  We wish to add our voices to those of so many others to encourage a sense of solidarity and responsible citizenship as we help our Governments and our communities to plot a path through the various challenges which lie ahead.

We are confident that the people of the Church of Ireland will do all they can to act in the interests of the common good by following closely the guidance being issued, and regularly updated, by public health authorities in the respective jurisdictions.

Preparations in parishes

In doing so, we would urge parishes to do all they can to ensure that the necessary practices of self-isolation and social distancing do not leave already lonely and vulnerable people feeling abandoned.

That will require some ingenuity on the part of clergy and laypeople but may well be made easier by the many virtual ways of being alongside and remaining in contact with others that technology affords.  It will also provide an opportunity for a younger generation of tech-savvy people to reach out to those who are more immediately affected by isolation.

There will also be many new opportunities to do practical things for one’s neighbours.  Parishioners who have more freedom of movement may wish to volunteer to help out in practical ways.  Neighbouring parishes should consider how they can work together to best serve all those who will need assistance.

Above all, as people of faith, we should both pray and maintain a sense of balance and proportion. There is every reason to believe that, by acting together in solidarity, this challenging period can be humanely and effectively negotiated. We are confident that God, in the words of the Collect for Ash Wednesday which we use so often in Lent “who hates nothing that he has made,” will be present through his Church and in the gentleness of the Spirit to be a comfort and strength to all who are in need.

A Prayer for Peace of Mind

You will keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you

Heavenly Father, in your love and wisdom you know the fears and anxieties of all your children. Your Son, Jesus Christ, said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid, It is I,” and to the tempest: “Peace be still”.

We ask, not only for ourselves but for all others, especially our healthcare workers, that we may cast all our cares on you, for we know you care for us.

Give us peace of mind and unshaken trust in you and guide us into perfect peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Statement from Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, on the COVID-19 outbreak

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic poses an unprecedented risk to the lives and wellbeing of people all around the world, and requires specific responses from all walks of life – the Churches included.

The Coronavirus outbreak will have severe implications right across our United Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe: older people; those with underlying health conditions; health service workers; carers; and ministers – lay and ordained.

I am mindful of the fact that at a time of such grave concern on a global scale, there is a need for Churches to be there for people. We must also act responsibly.

As your Bishop, I believe our response should be pastoral, protective and prayerful.

I commend to you the following prayer which has been written by the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev’d Dr Michael Jackson.

A Prayer in the Time of the Coronavirus

Almighty and All–loving God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we pray to you through Christ the Healer
for those who suffer from the Coronavirus Covid–19
in Ireland and across the world.
We pray too for all who reach out to those who mourn the loss
of each and every person who has died as a result of contracting the disease.
Give wisdom to policymakers,
skill to healthcare professionals and researchers,
comfort to everyone in distress
and a sense of calm to us all in these days of uncertainty and distress.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord
who showed compassion to the outcast,
acceptance to the rejected
and love to those to whom no love was shown.
Amen.

The Coronavirus outbreak has enormous implications for life and worship in our parishes, and I pray that people will be understanding.

There are things that all of us can do in this situation.

I would ask our parishioners to support the vulnerable and those who are self-isolating, and to do so in a way consistent with public health advice.

Those who feel unwell or suspect they are exhibiting symptoms of the COVID-19 virus should self-isolate in line with the guidance from both governments. This means staying away from church. Alternative pastoral support can be arranged.

For the moment, I do not intend to suspend Sunday services in our churches. However, as well as following Church and state guidelines, there are sensible and practical things that parishes and clergy can and should do. These include:

The use of retiring offerings instead of passing collection plates

Standing to receive Communion so as to stop potential transmission from touching the communion rail

Observe social distancing (by sitting at least 2 metres apart in church)

No gathering for refreshments before or after Services

In the current climate it will be difficult for the whole parish family to take part in significant celebratory occasions such as Confirmation services. As a Diocese we have no desire to exclude the most vulnerable and the most isolated from such joyful occasions. Therefore, in line with government guidelines in the Diocese of Raphoe, celebrations of Confirmation are suspended until further notice. In the Diocese of Derry, where parishes choose to postpone such celebrations until a more opportune time, we will facilitate that.

Where weddings and baptisms go ahead, services should be consistent with the appropriate governmental advice.

Funerals are particularly sensitive. Clergy will be available to conduct services and provide pastoral support to the bereaved, but once again this will be done in a manner consistent with the most up-to-date health advice for the parish concerned.

Pastoral visits – and especially home communions – are immensely important to those believers who, for whatever reason, are unable to get to church. These visits will continue at the discretion of clergy and in consultation with the individuals concerned and their families, and will be consistent with the appropriate health guidance. Visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and residential homes should also follow guidance.

I would ask parishioners to support and pray for those who lead services. I would appeal to clergy who find themselves in vulnerable categories to contact their Rural Deans, either of the Archdeacons or myself. We may well find ourselves having to introduce contingency measures in areas where numbers of ministers become depleted.

I implore you to pray for the scientists who are searching for a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus and for policymakers who are working to keep us all safe.

This is a fast-moving situation and there will be ongoing communication from the Diocese. I again encourage all worshippers and clergy to familiarise themselves with the advisory guidelines issued by the Church of Ireland regarding the novel Coronavirus (Covid–19). They should also be aware of the latest advices given by the British and Irish governments for their respective jurisdictions.

Finally, let us encourage each other with these words from Verse One of the 46th Psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.”

+ Andrew Derry and Raphoe

 

COVID-19 fears hit Church events

Fears over the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus are taking their toll on Church of Ireland events in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.

Raphoe Cathedral was the first to announce the postponement of a major fund-raising – a Spring Gala Concert planned for St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry on Friday 13th March – which was called off at lunchtime on Thursday, minutes after the Irish government announced a raft of new measures to halt the transmission of the disease. These included a recommendation that there should be no gatherings of more than 100 people at indoor events until the 29th March at least. The Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev’d Arthur Barrett, had hoped that the concert would have raised a significant sum for the Raphoe Cathedral Restoration Appeal.

The Gala Concert postponement was followed quickly by the postponement of a Mothers’ Union Derry Area praise event, the ‘Big Sing’ on Wednesday 18th March; the postponement of ‘An Evening with Graham Kendrick’ – a fundraiser for St Canice’s Church in Eglinton – which had been planned for Waterside Theatre in Londonderry on Thursday 19th March; and the cancellation of a St Patrick’s Ceilidh scheduled for Donagheady Parish on Friday 20th March.

In a statement on behalf of Mothers’ Union’s Derry & Raphoe Trustee Board, the Diocesan President Jacqui Armstrong said: “In light of the unprecedented developing situation regarding Coronavirus Covid-19 across Ireland it would seem prudent and sensible that we show a duty of care and take measures to protect our members.”

The Derry & Raphoe Trustee Board has cancelled all diocesan and area events in March and April 2020, including ‘The Big Sing’, and recommended the postponement of all branch meetings until after the end of April. Ms Armstrong says, “The situation will be reviewed, and members informed as events unfold and guidelines change.

The Rector of St Canice’s, Rev’d Canon Paul Hoey, said the decision to postpone next Thursday’s Graham Kendrick event had been a response to public concern over the current Coronavirus situation. Apologising for the postponement, he said: “This decision has been taken only after extensive consultation, thought and prayer, and in the interests of the health of all concerned. We are hopeful that Graham Kendrick will be able to perform at a later date.”

If you booked your ticket for ‘An Evening with Graham Kendrick’ through the Waterside Theatre, it will be happy to provide a refund. If you booked through St Canice’s, please speak to the Rector or any of the Churchwardens about a refund.

Irish Inter–Church Committee congratulates new Archbishop of Armagh

The Co–Chairs of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting have released the following statement to congratulate Bishop John McDowell on his election as Archbishop of Armagh.
Bishop Brendan Leahy and the Rev Brian Anderson stated: “During his time as ICC President and Co–Chair of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting from 2016–2018 Bishop John led many important inter–church initiatives across the island of Ireland. His thoughtful contributions on the pastoral challenges arising from issues such as Brexit, commemorations and the unfinished work of reconciliation have shaped and informed our inter–church dialogue and we look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role. Bishop John will bring many gifts to the leadership of the Archdiocese of Armagh and we wish him every blessing for the future.”