Little did we imagine that life would change so suddenly and so dramatically for us all. It seems within a few days our world has been turned upside down. What was accepted as our normal daily routine is now far from normal. For many of us in full-time employment it is as if we’ve had to step off the treadmill and we are bewildered. Others, however, are being called upon to work night and day, or called out of retirement back to work and let us keep constantly in our minds all health workers and all those whose labours at this critical time are the life-blood in ensuring we are kept safe and well.

So, suddenly life is very different; instead of reaching out the hand in friendship we are being encouraged to draw apart. Sporting and others major events have been cancelled; schools, bars, clubs, some shops and other public venues have closed their doors. New phrases such as ‘hand sanitising’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘virtual communications’ are fast becoming the new norm.

Coronavirus (Covid 19) has taken hold with unbelievable speed. People are frightened – we are frightened; no matter what age we are and the state of our own health. Suddenly we are all potentially instruments of transmission and we need to be aware that one false move on our part may have serious consequences for ourselves and for those we love and come into contact with.

At such a time, we usually find ourselves turning to the Church and to God. But on this occasion, even our churches are closed – it is simply too dangerous to hold services with the risk of spreading the virus further. Let me assure you, however, the Church has not gone away and neither has God. It may not be business as usual but the Church and your local clergy are still at work. Work may have changed but work, within the Government’s restrictions, there is to do. For example, over the last few days, a weekly Diocesan ‘virtual’ Common Prayer Service has been organised with the support of our team of clergy. This will be available on the Diocesan Website and I encourage you to tune in to it each Sunday at your normal service time. Services for Holy Week will also be recorded and your clergy are taking turns in leading these. I know too that the clergy are responding in their own particular context as best they can, but they too, must take care of themselves.

Hence, the need for all of us to play our part as Church. We, each one of us, are the people of God with a role to play. The Government and HSE are asking us to act responsibly in complying strictly with their requests for hygiene, keeping our distance and, where necessary, self-isolating. Equally important as Christians, however, is our care of one another, for all who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. At a time like this, such solidarity demands that we are at the forefront of providing practical support for those who are the most vulnerable members of our local community, whether church attenders or not, whether Church of Ireland or not! So, what might you be doing in your locality – who is it that needs a helping hand or even something as simple as an occasional phone call asking ‘How are you?’

I said that God has not deserted us – ‘and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (St Matt 28:20) God is as much with us in bad times as in good times. He will not forsake us. So, let us continue to hold each other before Him in prayer. My main reason in writing this letter is to assure you, as your episcopal shepherd, that you are all in my thoughts and prayers at this time. I pray you and your loved ones will keep safe. Some will inevitably catch the virus but may you be reassured by all our prayers. You may even need medical support and let us pray too for all our health care professionals. Other, sadly, may find yourselves facing a bereavement – but there too God is with us and I want to assure you of our ministry, in whatever form is possible.

Sometimes it takes the worst of situations to bring the best out in people. I feel sure that this is such a time. My hope is that you, the people of TKA, will not be found wanting. Do all you can to keep safe yourself; do all you can for others; and remember that this too will pass and in the words of St Julian of Norwich; ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

God bless you all, +Patrick