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‘Kindness has been the unfailing source of connection during Covid–19’

As the Irish Inter–Church Committee met this week to reflect on the impact of Covid–19, participants were conscious that this is Mental Health Awareness Week (in the United Kingdom) and emphasised the need for care of mental health in all aspects of planning for the pandemic and its aftermath. 

Co–Chairs Bishop Brendan Leahy and the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson issued the following statement after the meeting:

The mission statement of the Irish Inter–Church Committee is ‘Churches in Ireland — Connecting in Christ’. As we met this week, using video conference for the first time, we were talking a lot about connection — the things we miss, and the new opportunities we’ve begun to explore. 

Foremost in our minds have been the people who are suffering most from the lack of connection at this time of social distancing and we were very conscious that we were meeting during Mental Health Awareness Week. The focus on kindness as this year’s theme is deeply meaningful in the context of a global pandemic. Where Covid–19 has kept us physically apart, kindness, compassion and solidarity have brought us together as local communities and as a global human family. 

The mental health and wellbeing of those who are isolated has been a priority concern for our member churches and many have put in place initiatives for befriending and keeping in contact with people. We particularly appreciate the recognition by Government, in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, that prayer, worship and spiritual wellbeing are important to the holistic health of people of faith. We have been grateful for their willingness to work with us as we prioritise the need to keep people safe. We wish to acknowledge also the important contribution of broadcast worship and prayer opportunities in the digital space. Although these can initiatives cannot replace the experience of coming together as a community in prayer, they have undoubtedly provided a lifeline for many at a difficult time. We thank all who have brought their energy, enthusiasm and creativity to this work. 

Meeting as an Inter–Church Committee we were mindful that this can be a very stressful time for people in positions of leadership in our local churches, whether clergy or lay, employees or volunteers. The demand for pastoral support is great and it is painful that we are unable to visit people in their homes, and draw physically near to them in their suffering. There is still much we can do as a church community to remind people they are not forgotten and we encourage those in leadership to remember also the importance of self–compassion as they seek to care for others. 

The experience of bereavement at this time has been traumatic for many. Christians are called to “carry one another’s burdens” following the example of Christ (Galatians 6:2). We draw on the Scriptural practice of lament as we journey alongside the bereaved in their grief and loss, and seek to support our local communities in responding with sensitivity and compassion to these individual and collective experiences of trauma. 

It is encouraging to hear that Government announcements about easing of restrictions in both jurisdictions are already beginning to restore hope. The same spirit of kindness and solidarity that characterised our initial response to Covid–19 can help sustain that hope through the challenging times ahead, keeping us truly connected and protective of the most vulnerable.

The Inter–Church Committee comprises representation from the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Co–Chairs are the Most Rev Brendan Leahy, Catholic Bishop of Limerick, and the Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.