We are now at the end of the first year of the Covid pandemic. It has been a year which we are unlikely to forget very quickly and which our children will be telling their children of in many years to come.
Inch parish church was faced with unique challenges: how to operate and give support in a time of uncertainty and fear, and how to give pastoral support to people facing the ordinary issues of life, such as births, deaths and marriages, all within Lockdown guidelines and restrictions.
The answer has been to go online with our services and to develop a telephone pastoral support ministry.
Easter Sunday 2020 saw our first virtual service recorded at Inch Abbey. It was well received and because of the wonderful weather last spring and summer we were able to follow up with a series of services from a variety of beautiful venues, including the grounds of Inch Parish Church, Christ Church Kilmore, the banks of Finnebrogue Lake and the shores of Strangford Lough.
We were also able to reach out into the local community with the good news of the Gospel and recorded services in some of our local schools with support and participation from enthusiastic staff members.
Sunday worship, though, is only a small component of Christian ministry. Pastoral visits became nigh on impossible (except in the most exceptional circumstances), all weddings had to be postponed, funerals became a small family affair and there were no social gatherings permitted under the Lockdown restrictions.
In the circumstances communication became an important priority for us. We worked on updating our database, trying to get as many email addresses for our folk as possible and initially circulating a weekly resource and notices sheet.
This became a weekly newsletter, fittingly called Cabin Fever (inspired by the Muppet Treasure Island song) and has now evolved into a permanent monthly publication called Connect, which is hand delivered to over forty elderly parishioners and to the rest of our congregation by email.
Additionally two websites were developed, one for Inch Parish Church (www.theinch.church) and one for our sister church Christ Church Kilmore (www.kilmore.church).
Our joint Facebook page was also enhanced and all online services were made available through our dedicated YouTube channel. It has been really rewarding to find that people as far flung as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been joining us for Sunday worship.
During the Lockdown period, we have also taken the opportunity to progress other projects in and around the church, one of which is a welcome visitors’ area planned for the back of the church with work to commence shortly. This area is to be dedicated to the memory of the late Patrick Cross a stalwart of the church and community over many years. Plans are also in progress for a major refurbishment of our glebe cottage.
Mention must also be made of our food bank, which is run in conjunction with Christ Church Kilmore. The food bank has remained open and fully functional throughout the Lockdown period, but the primary responsibility for this ministry has fallen to our rector, the Rev Stephen Smith, and his wife, Debbie, as many of our other volunteers, being in the older age category, were required to shield.
One of the other exciting developments of the past year has been the opportunity to make our church hall available to a new church group – Cornerstone Christian fellowship. We look forward to a close working relationship with them in the coming years as we both seek the growth and advancement of Christ Kingdom here on earth.
We thank God for his providence over the past year. We look forward to opening our doors in April for in-church worship. Please note, visitors are always welcome and we are always open for the European Heritage Weekend which is scheduled for September 18-19 this year. Bring a picnic, explore our heritage and enjoy the beauty of a unique setting.
– Roderick Downer is a member of Inch Parish Church.