Church of Ireland – Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
Pastoral Letter from the Bishop
Friday 19th March 2021
Feast of Saint Joseph of Nazareth
One year ago I wrote to you and asked you not to gather for public worship in Cork, Cloyne and Ross in response to the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic to the shores of our island home. This coming Sunday will mark the first anniversary of the implementation of that approach when our church buildings closed for public worship for the first time.
It was a decision then that I myself took in the light of the unfolding situation, on foot of comments from, and discussions with, many of you, including the clergy of this Diocese and with my fellow bishops, and also in the light of the Government’s requests and early information about gatherings, social distancing and hygiene.
This weekend marks, as I say, the first anniversary of the disruption of our Church life, in general, and of our public worship, the rhythm of our liturgy and public prayer.
We did what we did to stay safe ourselves and to protect others. It’s what we needed to do. We were also fearful as we faced the unknown. Since then the Government has incorporated the closure of churches for usual public Services (with limitations on attendances at funerals and weddings) into its own roadmap and strategic response to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
In my Pastoral Statement issued at this time last year (see HERE) I referred also to the disparity of approaches and the absence of a common approach, North and South, in the two jurisdictions, and was criticised by a few on social media for doing so. This absence of coordination has been commented upon by others increasingly regularly in the months since, and again in recent days as we continue in our efforts across this island in response to the pandemic.
The purpose of my letter today is not, however, to mark this anniversary, painful as it is and cathartic as it has been in our life together, but to thank all of you in Cork, Cloyne and Ross. We would much rather that there would be no such anniversary. However, I cannot let this milestone pass without acknowledging you and thanking you. Thank you, again and again, from me as your Bishop.
You, as part of the worldwide Church, here, in this most southern diocese of the Church of Ireland, in the midst of all the burdens and challenges, personal and communal, that this pandemic has caused, have shown resolve, determination, creativity, and adaptability. You have been faithful in your calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. You have found ways – traditional and contemporary – to do what needed to be done. You have cared for your neighbour and taken part voluntarily in the common cause of our society’s practical responses to these times, for the well-being of those around us. You have maintained your solidarity with those beyond our shores. You have dug deeply in uncertain and vulnerable economic and commercial times to continue to support the ministry, mission and work of the Church here and elsewhere.
As Christians we emphasise how important our privately said prayers have been throughout this year. The round of daily readings and prayer, nourished by the words of the Book of Common Prayer and in many spiritual disciplines put into practice in families and homes, have, without doubt, strengthened us all on this journey we are making.
Public worship – gathering to do the liturgy of the Church publicly – has, to say the least, been disrupted. We have missed being together to sing God’s praises, to listen to God’s Word and to receive the Holy Sacrament of the Holy Communion.
We have had to respond to this disruption in ways which are both traditional and innovative, but none of it is the normality of public worship that is at the heart of our gathering as the people of God. You have all done more than the best you can; you have gone the extra distance.
In our schools, parishes and homes the people of Cork, Cloyne and Ross have adapted. New skills have been learnt, technology has been harnessed and traditional methods have been pressed back into action. Not everywhere, as we know, has adequate broadband; large numbers of our people are not on the internet. Clergy and lay volunteers have walked, cycled and driven around parishes to deliver by hand Services for use at home each Sunday. The postal service has come into its own.
Others have harnessed social media, and the internet regularly to broadcast Services from local churches, supplementing with a truly local feel, the work of public service broadcasters on our radio and television. Online technologies have allowed us to see and hear one another at a time of isolation when we have been unable to gather as we normally do.
As I conclude I wish to mention those whose wedding day plans have been disrupted and, most especially, those who have been unable to give their loved ones the Funeral Services they would have wished to give them. I, and all, our hearts have gone out to you. Our prayers and sympathy have been in solidarity with you in these far from normal times. What you have been through is most distressing.
We do not know what the future will bring. We know that the way things are now is not normal, and let us not dignify it by calling it ‘the new normal’.
Throughout history, God’s people have experienced times in the wilderness. As a good friend said to me a year ago ‘the Church does not like being in the wilderness.’ This is very true. We know it to be true. However, when we look at the Scriptures we see that again and again in wilderness places, people encounter God, Jesus himself included. In those bereft places people grow in their understanding of themselves, of their purpose, and their faith, and emerge with new vision and strength to engage with whatever lies ahead.
Let us continue in our resolve faithfully to be the Church, as you have done since all this started, and let us look forward to the time when we can gather together again – all of us, not merely a few – to join in public worship to Almighty God, and in our shared calling to proclaim and build the Kingdom of God, ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’
Dr Paul Colton
The Right Rev. Dr. Paul Colton
Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross