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Coronavirus: Derry churches join forces to support people in isolated rural areas

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From left: Fr Noel McDermott (PP Faughanvale), Elaine Way (St Canice’s church warden), Rev Lindsay Blair (minister, Eglinton Presbyterian), Trevor Evans (secretary, Eglinton Presbyterian), Rev Canon Paul Hoey (rector, St Canice’s CoI); and Debbie Caulfield (manager, Eglinton Community Centre

From left: Fr Noel McDermott (PP Faughanvale), Elaine Way (St Canice’s church warden), Rev Lindsay Blair (minister, Eglinton Presbyterian), Trevor Evans (secretary, Eglinton Presbyterian), Rev Canon Paul Hoey (rector, St Canice’s CoI); and Debbie Caulfield (manager, Eglinton Community Centre

From left: Fr Noel McDermott (PP Faughanvale), Elaine Way (St Canice’s church warden), Rev Lindsay Blair (minister, Eglinton Presbyterian), Trevor Evans (secretary, Eglinton Presbyterian), Rev Canon Paul Hoey (rector, St Canice’s CoI); and Debbie Caulfield (manager, Eglinton Community Centre

Volunteers from the three main churches in the rural parish of Faughanvale outside Londonderry have come together to provide support and pastoral care to residents isolated as part of coronavirus control measures.

Catholic priest Fr Noel McDermott, Church of Ireland rector Rev Paul Hoey and Presbyterian minister Rev Lindsay Blair joined forces to make sure their elderly and vulnerable parishioners are looked after during this lockdown period.

Leaflets have been delivered to more than 3,000 homes in the parish's two villages of Eglinton and Greysteel and into the rural hinterlands with contact numbers for representatives of the three churches.

Offers to collect medication from the local pharmacy and shop for vital supplies of food were soon taken up, according to project co-ordinator Debbie Caulfield, manager of Eglinton Community Hall.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Caulfield explained: "This was very much the idea of Fr McDermott, Rev Blair and Rev Hoey who came together to see how they could best serve the needs of the parish during this time when so many people have been told to stay at home.

"Faughanvale parish is very rural and there are a lot of people who are literally living in the middle of nowhere so it would be easy for them to feel alone and isolated.

"The three clergymen are offering pastoral care but each church has appointed a contact person that can organise practical help and it is being co-ordinated through the community hall in Eglinton.

"Once someone gets in touch we can appoint a volunteer to go and get food, lift prescriptions or whatever is needed.

"I will contact the person and let them know the name of the volunteer and let them know they will be with them within the hour and that their food or medicine will be left outside."

Ms Caulfield said the scheme, which is still in its infancy, is already giving comfort to the elderly and vulnerable and their families.

She added: "We have had an incredible response to the scheme, not just from people who need our help but from their families too who can't get out of their own homes.

"What has been great to see is people using the scheme but not one person has been abusing it."

Rector of St Canice's, Rev Paul Hoey, said he and his clerical counterparts in the Catholic and Presbyterian churches wanted to provide both spiritual and practical help to their parishioners.

He said: "We in Eglinton Churches Together have already been responding prayerfully to the public health emergency, but we felt that it was important to respond in a practical way, too.

"There will be many people in our community who will be hurting in the weeks and months ahead. Many will be self-isolating. Many will be anxious. Some will be experiencing financial distress.

"We want to be there for them - to help them and support them."

A similar scheme is also operating in the Donaghmore and Castlecaulfield parishes in Co Tyrone, operated by parish priest Fr David Moore, Rev Peter Thompson from the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian minister Mark Dodds.

Belfast Telegraph