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Message from the Archbishop of Dublin to Clergy and Parishioners of Dublin & Glendalough United Dioceses

Psalm 23.4: Even were I to walk through a valley of deepest darkness I should fear no harm, for you are with me; your shepherd’s staff and crook afford me comfort.

This evening, St Patrick’s Day 2020, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation about the coronavirus pandemic. He said that the Government is asking people to come together as a nation by staying apart from each other. He underlined the need to keep our physical distance from others. This is an arresting message stemming from his clear understanding of the seriousness of the national situation.

The HSE Guidelines which have been in place have been implemented consistently in churches in this diocese where worship has been continuing since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Numbers have been significantly reduced and no pressure whatsoever has been put on any clergy to hold acts of worship where they have concluded that holding services would cause harm. A number of clergy has already decided temporarily to suspend worship. In all aspects of decision–making, current and future, clergy and others should keep abreast of developing and evolving HSE Guidelines and use the HSE Helpline.

The thinking behind not withholding the option of conducting worship has been a simple recognition that the real lies behind the virtual; and that the people of God are called to worship God in church buildings and in their everyday living. While this may seem naïve and inadequate in the situation in which we all, irrespective of our faith focus, human motivation and civic responsibility now find ourselves, it recognizes something of the role that the expression of faith has in making a contribution to God’s presence and to personal calm at the very heart of troubled times.

I have always said that if the HSE Guidelines change, the response in these dioceses to the provision of worship in churches will change. An Taoiseach said this evening we all have difficult decisions to make and, following what he said, I feel that there is wisdom now in suspending public worship in parish churches in these dioceses.

A number of clergy in conscience feels that it is a duty to conduct worship, either alone or with a very small number of people and in strict adherence to the HSE Guidelines. They have my love and prayer, as do those who have already decided to suspend public worship. It is not a question of playing off civic duty against religious observance, nor has it ever been. Prayer will continue to be offered, in whatever way appropriate, for those who are fearful and suffering from the coronavirus and it will include prayer for those who have no connection with the Church of Ireland community and for those who tend their many needs. The prayer below has been abroad in these dioceses for the last fortnight:

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 and 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.   

My request of those who cease to lead public worship is that they urgently redouble their efforts to reach spiritually those for whom public worship will no longer be a living option. We speak of virtual and electronic means of worshipping God. Care needs to be given to making available material for worship in the home and to ensuring personal and pastoral connectivity with those to whom electronic means of worshipping are a largely impenetrable mystery. An Taoiseach urged everyone in our society to show solidarity at this time of national sacrifice and we wish to assure him and the nation that we also will play our part.

My concern continues to be for those who are vulnerable to infection and illness, for those who are in the front line of response and care and for those who are frightened by what is happening – whoever and wherever they are. Again at the time of writing shops remain open to sell food and medicines, many people continue to work delivering and supporting delivery of essential services in their workplaces. All are doing their best to do this work while adhering to the HSE expert Guidelines, caring for themselves and for others. This too is the concern of Christian prayer and worship and my concern also. My hope is that a spirit of neighbourliness will come to the surface and continue to grow in strength and in action as the days and weeks progress.

St Luke 10.33: But a Samaritan who was going that way came upon him and when he saw him he was moved to pity.