New Guidance from the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross to the Clergy and People of the Diocese

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, has issued a new statement on Monday morning 16th March.  It is below.

Pastoral Statement of Bishop Paul Colton on Monday, 16th March

Since the start of the crisis brought about by the Novel Corona Virus – SARS-CoV-2 – and COVID-19, I have, as a local leader of one small community of people (the Church of Ireland in Cork, Cloyne and Ross), adhered strictly to the appeals that organisations such as ours do not take unilateral action, albeit having evaluated the risks locally.  Before the Saint Patrick’s Day Parades were officially cancelled, and evaluating the risks in our home, my wife Susan and I cancelled our usual invitation to 100s of guests to our home which was reported HERE.

Last Thursday, again following the given advice on the day announced by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, T.D., and knowing that the average attendance at most of our Church Services throughout this Diocese is under 40 people, yet alone the prescribed 100, we pressed on yesterday with very strict adherence to the other instructions about hygiene and social distancing.

By lunch time yesterday I had reached out to all clergy in the Diocese to receive their feedback and reports.  Many lay people said to them that they appreciated the opportunity to pray together, albeit in smaller numbers.  Equally, my colleagues in the Diocese expressed understandable uncertainty and anxiety about what should happen in the days ahead.  My statement now is with a view to ending that uncertainty for the coming weeks.

Like many of you, there has not been much sleep of late, and plenty of practical thinking and prayerful reflection about trying to do the right thing.   In this Diocese, I have discovered that clergy and laity alike have a myriad of different views about what the right thing is:  often mutually contradictory viewpoints.  The situation is not helped, I feel, in an All-Ireland Church such us as ours by the fact that there is not a common approach to ‘mass gatherings’ within the two jurisdictions.

All that said, in the light of the request yesterday afternoon to so many other businesses and places of meeting in our community to close; and in the light of the shared conversations and consultation I have had with colleagues in this Diocese; for the avoidance of uncertainty which adds to anxiety; having re-evaluated the local risk assessment also called for, and to err on the side of greater caution, I have decided to ask that all Services in this Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, with the exception of essential pastoral Services (within the constraints set out below), be cancelled from today until the given review date of 29th March, inclusive.

I am also mindful that in this small Diocese there are 66 Church Services each Sunday for our regular attendance of about 2200 people but, in order to sustain that level of worship, we are dependent also on 78 ministers – lay and ordained – to take those Services.  Of those 78, the majority – 47 – are themselves in the ‘at risk’ age group.  A number have already had to self-isolate on medical advice.

So, just to underscore, I am asking that all Services in this Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, be cancelled from today (16th March) until the given review date of 29th March, inclusive.  Where certain pastoral Services are essential they should be confined to immediate family members only, with all other guidelines relating to risk being adhered to.  My heart and prayers go out to people and families who find themselves in this situation at this time.

Naturally, the request I am making at this time is subject also to such further guidance as may be issued by the Government and the HSE.

As I said in my monthly letter to the Diocese earlier today – HERE – as Christians we are a people of faith who cling to and proclaim the Good News, even when it seems to many that there is little by way of ‘good news’.

On Saturday, Bishop Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork and Ross, and I had an extended and mutually supportive telephone conversation. We spoke again by telephone this morning.  It is a time to pool our resources and insights not only within churches, but between faiths, and regardless of belief and philosophical outlook.

In this Diocese I urge everyone to pray more than ever, to find ways to worship at home, and to discover imaginatively what it is to be the Church in these extraordinary times.  Already parishes have been broadcasting Services and keeping in touch with the vulnerable in particular and with each other generally, using a host of inventive ways.  I thank you all. Efforts are being made to expedite the planned installation of webcam at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork and a further announcement will be made in this connection.

I pray that the Lord God who has been with our forebears throughout the ages, including at times of great uncertainty and danger, in being with us all now too, will give us fortitude and calm, wisdom and perseverance, and enable us to live in the Christian way of faith, hope and love.  Amen.

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