Church of Ireland leaders are calling on parishes across the island to ensure that the lonely and vulnerable in their communities are not left feeling “abandoned” in the wake of increasing social distancing measures.
The Irish Government has banned mass gatherings and asked pubs and bars to close until 29 March. People have also been asked to refrain from holding house parties, effectively putting an end to any St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
In Northern Ireland, the Belfast Marathon has been postponed, and some bars and clubs are closing voluntarily.
In a joint statement, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, and Archbishop-elect of Armagh, the Rt Rev John McDowell, said that with coronavirus causing “considerable distress” to many, there was the need for “a sense of solidarity and responsible citizenship”.
“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,” they said.
The Archbishops said it would take “ingenuity” on the part of churches to be a presence and support for people in the community as social distancing measures take effect, although they added that digital technology was making the challenges easier.
They also urged churches to be there for the vulnerable in particular, and encouraged parishes to find ways of working together to serve those in need of help.
“[W]e 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,” they said.
They continued: “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.”
The Archbishops concluded with a call to prayer as they encouraged people to see beyond the pandemic.
“Above all, as people of faith, we should both pray and maintain a sense of balance and proportion,” they wrote.
“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.”
The Archbishops have written a prayer for peace of mind to be used in conjunction with the coronavirus outbreak:
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
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