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Keeping the faith in a pandemic: New virtual aspect to Church life brings so very many virtues

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Dr Tom McKnight

Dr Tom McKnight

Dr Tom McKnight

In his address at his online installation, the incoming Methodist President, Dr Tom McKnight, commented on the present situation of so-called "lockdown" to say one of the positives of the past few months has been less travel, which has been good for the environment.

That remark sparked this article and in it I want to consider some of the positives of life during the pandemic without in any way ignoring that, for some people, these have been hugely painful times.

I've ministered to parishioners who have been bereaved and have had to live with the restrictions of these months when it came to the funeral of a loved one.

At the start of the week, I was talking to a former parishioner, who had been shielding as he battled cancer, and how delighted he was to get the go-ahead so he could go for a walk after months of being confined to home.

Taking up Dr McKnight's point about travelling, I think about some of the committees of which I am a member and how, over the past few weeks, I've been able to take part in meetings, but have done so without leaving my own house.

I've noticed how I've hardly used my car and, consequently, have saved on petrol, which, albeit in a small way, has been good for the environment.

The question I ask is: is there some way of continuing this practice? I know people will say they would miss out on the interactions before or after meetings, or during breaks. I get that.

I would, however, suggest that, before we return to "normality", as we had before, we consider what we've gained by using technology for our committees.

Let me give an example. For the past two articles, I have written about the Irish Blessing. Those of us who organised it did so without leaving home.

The overall committee is made up of people from Cork, Dublin, Kells in Co Antrim and Belfast. Imagine the travel involved if we had been physically attending meetings, to say nothing about the time for travelling.

As I think about the various committees I am on, I've decided to talk to the committees about whether we need to meet physically for our monthly meeting.

Maybe once or twice a year, we meet physically, but for the routine meetings we continue to meet virtually and - dare I say it - virtuously.

With regards to greater use of technology within Church services, the message may have remained the same. The way we communicated it, however, was certainly different.

For me, one of the positives has been the learning from other clergy about what they have been doing to keep faith in these pandemic times.

Many of us have had to learn about Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom, to mention only a few. We have had to explore the world of streaming, which is the latest territory I've encountered.

Whether we like it or not, this is now part and parcel of Church life. It has been a real lifeline for some people, who have struggled mentally and spiritually over these months.

As technology continues to develop, there will be more and more members of our parishes unable to get out to services who will be able to watch these on their TV sets.

As we begin to return to some form of public worship in our churches, we will need to consider how we incorporate the positive use of technology into Church/parish life for the future, so that it will continue to be a blessing.

Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John's, Belfast

Some Scripture readings for the week ahead:

Monday: Psalm 102:27

Tuesday: Hebrews 13:8

Wednesday: James 1:17

Thursday: 1 Peter 1:23

Friday: Hebrews 1:12

Belfast Telegraph