A Pastoral Letter from the Archbishop of Armagh to be read at Services on 16 May 2021: Sunday after Ascension Day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, As a Church family we have come through a great deal since St Patrick’s Day 2020 when the first lockdown came into effect. Many restrictions, a number of subsequent lockdowns and all the weariness these have brought. For centuries parish churches have stayed together by worshipping together, so not being able to do that (at least as we would have wished) had the potential to cause a great deal of long term damage to parish life.

I know that as individuals many people have suffered much, with demoralising periods of isolation, lack of contact with those who we love and even desolating bereavements. But as a Church we have come through this dark period a good deal better than most people anticipated. I was able to thank the clergy for the part they played in that effort in a Zoom meeting last week.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to accommodate the whole Diocese on a Zoom call, so I have written this short Pastoral Letter to be read out on 16 May, the Sunday after The Ascension Day. I simply want to say a very heartfelt “thank you” to every parishioner in the Diocese. Thank you for your faithfulness to God and His Church and for living out your vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ during a very uncertain time. Thank you for finding ways of sustaining the Church by online participation, by community involvement, and by giving of your substance as you have always done. These have been testing times for parishes and you have not allowed the test to wholly overwhelm you. Perhaps it’s a little bit of an exaggerated parallel but I think we can look to St Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians for inspiration “…we are hard pressed on all sides but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair….struck down but not destroyed…”

We can say this only because you have been faithful, and have done what you could to maintain the life of your parishes. When we could not meet I have no doubt you prayed and persevered. When we returned to worship, those of you who were able, came back with joy. As far as I can tell you have served God and your parishes cheerfully. And God loves a cheerful giver.

That is not to say that everything will soon return to the way it always has been; or even as it was on St Patrick’s Day 2020. There could yet be setbacks. And as a very wise Irishman once said “Things must change in order to remain the same”. We cannot say with 100% confidence that Covid-19 has been defeated; but it has not beaten us in our believing lives. The terrible scenes in other countries, and especially in India, are truly heart rending and I know that we will all be doing what we can to relieve that suffering.

But for now, for us, thank you for all you have done and I trust will continue to do to “build back better” in the parishes which lie so close to your hearts, and for the God who you love and serve. It is my sincere prayer that you can have a refreshing summer, enjoying the beauties of our own countryside and seaside and that you can join with me in saying “Thanks be to God”

+John Armagh
Ascensiontide 2021