Keeping the faith in a pandemic
Over the past few weeks of the pandemic restrictions, we have seen throughout the world an outburst of creativity, or certainly more expressions of such creativity in social media.
I've been particularly interested in the number of choirs who have been able to produce some amazing songs and hymns in virtual performances.
In some of the more recent developments, choirs from various churches at national and local level have shared very impressive - and, indeed, moving - examples of a sung prayer blessing, such as the recent, highly acclaimed UK Churches blessing.
Following on from the incredible response to the UK Blessing (which, at the time of writing, has had almost two-and-a-half million views on YouTube), a Dublin-based Church of Ireland ordinand, Philip McKinley, posted on Facebook about the possibility of doing something for Ireland, north and south.
He had a huge response to this post, indicating the interest in doing so.
A mutual friend then connected Philip and I over the last week or so and we have been meeting (virtually) each day to co-ordinate a sung blessing for this land.
We now have a dedicated website - https://theirishblessing.com - as well as a social media presence.
During the week, we put out a call to singers and musicians in churches across Ireland to join together to praise God by providing a "virtual" tribute/blessing for frontline workers in recognition of their dedicated service.
The invitation is extended to all churches on the island of Ireland to support this unique opportunity.
At a local level, participants are asked to choose a facility which provides an essential service and to dedicate their rendition of a special arrangement of the hymn Be Thou My Vision.
Today, on our website, the backing track, with the hymn arrangement as well as guidelines on recording and uploading, will be available for singers and musicians.
The team delivering the project recognise it is a tight turn-around (the deadline is Friday, May 22 at 12 noon) for those who want to be part of the island-wide video. The time-frame needs to be very tight in order to launch it on Pentecost Sunday, May 31.
As I reflect on the experience of online worship and prayer, I have been surprised by how many people have found it to be helpful and supportive.
As I was writing this article, I was listening to the UK Churches blessing.
In terms of my parish online ministry, in a recent survey (online, of course) parishioners commented especially on the importance of Compline (Night Prayer) at 9pm to help bring some form of peaceful and reassuring closure to another day.
With the increase in the numbers tuning into online worship on a Sunday and with the opportunity to watch when it suits, it is my hope that the virtual choir and musicians taking part will be a blessing, not only for those who are frontline workers, but also for the rest of us.
The references in the prayer to armour and sword are thought to be inspired by some of the imagery in St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians 6:16-17, such as "shield of faith", "helmet of salvation" and "the sword of the Spirit":
Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight
Be Thou my armour and be Thou my might
Thou my soul shelter, and Thy my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenwards, oh power of my power.
Praying for protection and blessing is particularly apt during these times.
Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John's, Belfast
Monday: Ephesians 6:16-17
Tuesday: John 19:9
Wednesday: Psalm 148:13
Thursday: Psalm 98:1
Friday: John 16:22