News

Longing to return: Thoughts on returning to church

3.7.2020 | Congregational Life, Moderator, Ministry, Church Life, Congregational News, COVID-19 Emergency

With churches able to return to worship this Sunday, writing in today’s edition of the News Letter, Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, offers four thoughts to help churchgoers who may be making their way back to church this Sunday, or in the coming weeks.

Here is a question: How can you be a church if you can’t meet? Being in a service of worship on Sunday is only part of what Christians mean by ‘church’ – but it’s an important part. How welcome then, was the announcement from the Northern Ireland Executive that churches could begin to meet again this week.

Much has changed since Sunday, 15 March, since we were last able to go to church. Lockdown has placed significant pressure on all of us, so its gradual relaxation in meeting our physical and practical needs is to be welcomed. As are the reopening of churches, since our spiritual and pastoral needs remain.

Ministers, pastors and priests have been busy working to meet these needs, making a difference to many people during this time. Now they can begin to turn their attention to meeting again. In my own tradition, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland issued a comprehensive set of guidelines for ministers, with advice on everything from designing one-way systems in corridors, to the cleansing of equipment and rooms, which might be used.

The practical detail of how to administer the sacrament of baptism to an infant while remaining at a distance, or how to distribute bread and wine safely during communion, are matters needing an inventive mind. This is church, but not as we remember it.

So here are four thoughts to help church goers who may be making their way back to places of worship in coming weeks.

Firstly, we must stay safe.The virus remains, and the best advice is that it will remain for a long time to come. Your local church leaders will have made arrangements to ensure the safety of everyone. This might mean that a church member will find their usual place is not available to them, or that some of the much-loved patterns of worship may be missing. To be safe, we will need to set aside some things we love to do, and be ready to embrace some changes. Be patient if you find yourself asked to do things differently. Safety first.

Secondly, we need to be wise. While the NI Executive has permitted worship to happen from this week, and some congregations may be intending to go back immediately, many are not and shouldn’t be pressurised into doing so. Some have told me they don’t think they can return until August or September – and that should be fine with us.The practical arrangements for cleansing and re-organising the flow of people through a building, and possibly limiting numbers at services, will all require signage, some equipment, and possibly training for stewards and others. Wisdom requires patience.

Some churches have released funds to purchase computer equipment for children to home study, while others have used Zoom to continue their prayer meetings and Bible studies, or organised virtual social events for teens.

Chaplains in our hospitals have had a special ministry among families facing bereavement without the ‘normal’ means of support, which comes at such times of loss – and they also have been available to hard-pressed staff teams, who have been working so hard.

Throughout the community, there has been an army of unsung heroes getting on with the job – and we are so very grateful to them. Saying ‘well done’ to them may seem inadequate, but it’s a good place to start.

Fourthly, we plan to emerge stronger. During lockdown, many churches have found new and imaginative ways to gather online for worship – and surveys show that many more people have been engaging with church digitally than might have attended a service in person in the past.

Many people have been asking big questions about life, death and their own place in the world. The relative anonymity of online services has meant they can ‘listen in’ to a service without showing up in person. This is a cherished space, which needs to be preserved and encouraged. These months of lockdown mustn’t be wasted.

We have longed for and prayed for this return, yet the worst impact of this pandemic remains to be felt in many parts of the world. In our country, we have seen the best of hi-tech western medicine struggle to contain this virus. Imagine then, how things are for half the world’s population who do not have access to a properly functioning healthcare system – or for the three billion people who do not have soap and running water in their homes.

Our joy to be back together in God’s house is seasoned with deep concern that all is not well elsewhere. Our responsibility as global citizens to act in support of people facing the calamity of COVID-19 among the poor, is a serious and present call of God to all of us. We must not forget them.

Shock & sadness at abortion statistics

2.7.2020 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs, Referenda

Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, has expressed his ‘shock’ and ‘deep sadness’ at the  first set of figures published by the Department of Health in the Republic of Ireland, that show 6,666 abortions were undertaken in the first year since the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Bruce said, “Announcing the decision to hold the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, the then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that ‘abortion in Ireland will become safe, legal and rare’. When you think of an event, or circumstance as being ‘rare’, it brings to mind something that is infrequent, uncommon, or not often found. Like myself, many in Ireland today, Christians and non-Christians alike, will be shocked and deeply saddened to discover, therefore, 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland in 2019. This is more than double those accessed by women from Ireland in the UK throughout 2018.

“For every 10 children born in Ireland in 2019, the life of another unborn child was terminated. On only 3 occasions were abortions carried out where there was an immediate risk to the life of the mother.”

The Moderator continued by saying, “The Department’s figures don’t change the fact that all human life remains sacred and special and that the lives of women and unborn children matter profoundly, and are deeply precious to God. We recognise the great pain involved in the extremely difficult circumstances faced by women and their families who experience a pregnancy crisis. We therefore renew our call for the Government, and wider society, to place a greater focus on the provision of world-leading, compassionate care for women, children and families, including comprehensive support in the perinatal period for those facing pregnancy crisis.”

Moderator congratulates new Taoiseach

28.6.2020 | Moderator, Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs

Following Saturday’s historic meeting of Dáil Éireann outside of Leinster House, Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, has written to congratulate Micheál Martin on his election as Taoiseach. In his letter, Dr Bruce talked of the ‘unprecedented fight against Covid-19 and its devastating impact in so many different areas of life.’ He continued by saying, ‘We Presbyterians see this island as our home and are part of this fight. In that, you can be assured of our support and our prayers.’

Talking about the formation of the coalition government, the Moderator said, ‘For all elected representatives, to know when to compromise is a quality that speaks of humility. Many on this island will not fail to note the significance of the putting aside of past enmities to form this new government, especially as we approach significant anniversaries in the history of the State and the life of the island of Ireland.’

Full text of the Moderator’s letter to An Taoiseach

As someone who also came to office this month, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, I would like to offer my congratulations on your election as Taoiseach.

Since January’s General Election, the road to the formation of Ireland’s new government hasn’t been easy, and has been constrained by the most exceptional of circumstances. What there has been, however, is a willingness from all parties to compromise for the common good and move forward.

For all elected representatives, to know when to compromise is a quality that speaks of humility. Many on this island will not fail to note the significance of the putting aside of past enmities to form this new government, especially as we approach significant anniversaries in the history of the State and the life of the island of Ireland. As we move towards the centenary of partition next May, for example, I sincerely hope that we will be able to speak of this in ways that are nourishing, both to those who welcome partition, and those who lament it.

While it is important that we acknowledge the past and learn from it, your government, and its partners, face the unprecedented fight against Covid-19 and its devastating impact in so many different areas of life. We Presbyterians see this island as our home and are part of this fight. In that, you can be assured of our support and our prayers.

As we move into the second half of 2020, Brexit will also again become headline news. This will require leadership across these islands, leadership that meets people’s hopes and fears as relationships are redefined. While island-wide, the potential effects of Brexit may come into sharper focus on those living and working in the border counties. Looking ahead, we also look forward to engaging with the new Government on areas of mutual interest and in support of the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.

Finally, as you begin your first full week as Taoiseach, I am reminded that the call to leadership, especially in the political sphere, is a great honour and a great challenge. For those of us who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to pray for those in authority and you – and the coalition government that you lead – can be assured of my prayers and many in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.