05 Oct 2022

FAITH FEATURE THREE: Celebrating Easter ‘a challenge’ during coronavirus - Reverend Judi McGaffin

‘We can confidently rely upon the word and promise of God'

Reverend Judi McGaffin

Celebrating Easter ‘a challenge’ during coronavirus - Reverend Judi McGaffin

“Easter is by definition a celebration,” said Reverend Judi McGaffin, Inishowen Church of Ireland Minister, “and I understand a lot of people will be feeling like celebrating this year, so that is a challenge,” added the self-proclaimed “technophobe.”

Speaking to Inish Times for the third ‘Faith Feature’, Reverend McGaffin said she now was broadcasting her services on Facebook Live (Fahanandbuncranachurchofireland) as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reverend McGaffin said: “We are broadcasting our services on Facebook Live. That is a Morning Prayer on a Sunday morning at 11.00am and a service of Compline on a Wednesday at 7.00pm.

“The interactivity is fantastic, as people join the service and send messages to me and to each other! There is a preview of the services the day before the services, in writing and in video on Facebook.

“I am very keen to ensure people have the ability to comment and make suggestions as to the worship, as it is such a different way of communication for us all. So, on Facebook or by email or text or phone, I can be contacted, not only for this but for anything.

“Our weekly news sheet is emailed to those who have email, along with the links to the Facebook Live service. For those who don’t have email or are not on Facebook, a news sheet is posted to them or a member of their family that they are living with, on a weekly basis,” said Reverend McGaffin.

Reverend McGaffin was also in constant touch with the parents of the Church’s Sunday School children.

She said: “I wanted the young people to be ‘involved’ through writing prayers or poems or drawing pictures for our service and for our Facebook pages.

“In addition, I have a rota of phone calls that I make, just to make sure that everyone hears a human voice as often as possible.

“I have to say it is so far, so good in terms of the digital and social media connectivity. It is so different and a very strange way to conduct a service, watching yourself instead of a congregation. I’m struggling a bit with getting music inserted well into the services, but I will persevere!

“I am delighted to say we are reaching hundreds of people. We normally get about 50 people at our services on a Saturday night and Sunday morning and maybe 10 midweek during Lent. Now we have people joining in from Australia, Hong Kong, Lanzarote, Liverpool, Scotland and all over Ireland and they aren’t just family,” smiled Reverend McGaffin.

Reflecting on this new form of outreach, Judi McGaffin described it as “a bit scary.”

She explained: “It is a bit scary as I am looking at myself on a computer screen. Now I know how the congregation on a Sunday feel.

“I can still say ‘hello’ to people who are there and say ‘goodbye’ to them too, as well as people I haven’t seen for years. It all feels very inclusive and interactive.

“The coronavirus crisis has thrown us technophobes in at the deep end and it has shown me that there are many and varied ways to communicate and I have to take time to work out the best way to communicate with people on a global scale, in the most appropriate way.

“Ask me that question in a few months again, but I suspect that some of what we do now will live on into the future as we refine it,” mused Reverend McGaffin.

In this time of “great anxiety and uncertainty” for people, Judi McGaffin has taken solace in her favourite bible verse.

She said: “It is Psalm 23 verse 4: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ It was my favourite before coronavirus, and now it seems even more relevant.

“I get hope and comfort, firstly in knowing that we are walking through the valley. We do not dwell in the valley of the shadow but walk through it.

“Secondly, every shadow needs light to make it a shadow. There is light shining even though we may not see it as we are moving through the dark valley.

“Thirdly, the rod and staff of God will guide and defend us however long the walk and however dreary the way through the dark valley is. We can confidently rely upon the word and promise of God,” said Judi McGaffin.

This is even though Reverend McGaffin said she had no answer to the question how she made sense of the current coronavirus crisis.

She said: “We need to have faith that there is a reason for this chaos and terror and that God will guide us through. We may not see the reason for many years, if at all on this side of the grave but I do believe that all will be revealed some day.

“I cannot begin to understand what affected families will be going through at this time. The Irish wake and funeral is well known for being the beginning of a healing process. Now these landmarks have been washed away and people are at sea, in what is already an anxious time.

“I hope that we as clergy will be able to find ways of communicating with families that relieves even a small bit of their grief at the time of a bereavement and in the days and months and even years afterwards. Again, we are going to have to be creative in our ways of communication, said Reverend McGaffin.

Reverend McGaffin revealed she was maintaining her own spiritual good health by more prayer and a “better” daily morning and evening prayer service routine.

“In terms of my physical health, I have been challenged to do 22 push ups in 22 days by my daughter in Australia. I am also on Joe Wickes for older people exercise programme. I am not running around to meetings at night, so I am eating more healthily and regularly. I have also started to do a bit of gardening.

“In each of the four houses of my families, we have planted sunflowers and we are going to watch them grow. I have also planted some flowers and vegetables, and again, I look forward to watching the miracle of growth there too.

“For my emotional wellbeing, I have a weekly WhatsApp date with my family all over the world and a virtual coffee date on Zoom with my four very good and ‘old’ friends. I have also managed to get time to connect with people I haven’t chatted to at any length for years. I would like to keep it up into the future if the ‘new normal’ will permit, or maybe if I make the changes to my life that I know that I should.”

Reverend McGaffin will be conducting Holy Week services as normal, but on Facebook Live.

She outlined: “I normally have a service around dawn on the shores of the Swilly on Easter day, which I will also broadcast on Facebook, this year it will be from my conservatory overlooking the garden, technology permitting.

“I am trying to get the children involved in some way for the main Easter service and hopefully by that time I will have some music too.

“Easter is by definition a celebration and I understand a lot of people will be feeling like celebrating this year, so that is a challenge,” said Reverend Judi McGaffin.



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