Members of staff from some of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) residential care homes, supported living schemes and community based programmes received a standing ovation from members of the Church’s General Assembly (4th October 2021), when those watching the livestream from PCI’s various locations across the island of Ireland were shown on the large video screens in the Assembly Hall.
Led by the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, the show of support and appreciation came on the opening day of PCI’s three-day in person General Assembly in Belfast, where Presbyterian’s from 500-plus congregations across Ireland thanked and paid tribute to those working on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the introduction of the Report of the General Council before the Assembly, entitled ‘The Era of Covid-19’, it described the lives of individuals, families and church families having been ‘turned upside down’, with the impact on church life having been ‘significant, [and] at times, almost overwhelming.’
In two resolutions the General Assembly expressed its ‘thanks to front-line workers in all sectors throughout the island of Ireland, whose dedication and sacrificial self-giving during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic enabled essential services to be maintained and the vulnerable to be cared for in often stressful and challenging circumstances and situations.’
The General Assembly also paid tribute ‘to local ministers, elders and leaders for their dedicated and innovative service enabling congregational life and witness to continue in the ways that were possible during the long months of restrictions and shut-downs…’
It its report, the Council for Social Witness had a significant focus on the pandemic. The Council is tasked with the delivery of an effective social care service for the denomination. As a Church, PCI is called to demonstrate God’s love for people. This means the putting of faith into practical action and simple Christian caring, which is a very special kind of witness, and a powerful social witness of the gospel. As a service provider with a budget of £10 million, the Council manages PCI’s provision of residential, nursing, supported housing, respite and day care, and community based programmes, employing around 400 people, some of whom were ‘zoomed’ into the Assembly and received this afternoon’s standing ovation.
The Council reported on each sector of its work, saying, ‘…the work of Social Witness has been disrupted by the assault of Covid-19 on our society and the restrictions that the various degrees of lockdown imposed on us. Where perhaps we differed was that the work of our homes and units became even more intense and vital. Just as emergency workers find themselves walking toward danger while all others run from it, so our staff became key workers in the fight against Covid-19…’
The report also describes as ‘humbling’ ‘…the professionalism, dedication and Christian compassion that our staff have shown to residents and their families. The heroic interventions by staff are too numerous to mention, their care and dedication has been immense.
Speaking to the Assembly, the retiring Secretary to the Council for Social Witness, Lindsay Conway OBE said, “The Covid pandemic has redefined the essential role of Social Care and has permanently changed how that service will be delivered and that the Council for Social Witness would be at the sharp end of life saving service delivery for nearly two years.”
Mr Conway described how PCI’s dedicated staff “placed their own lives at risk to look after those in our care…” He also described how staff would become “…the only point of contact with the outside world for months on end for residents and tenants. We as a church, as a community owe an unpayable debt to all who work in the Health and Social Care Sector, their contribution needs to be acknowledged and rewarded.”
With that in mind, the General Assembly expressed its gratitude ‘to all who have worked in PCI’s care facilities during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, recognising the sacrificial service of both locally based staff and senior management that always put the care of residents to the fore.’
A resolution from the Council for Mission in Ireland, recognises ‘with sincere gratitude…’ ‘…the dedicated work of chaplains serving in hospitals, prisons, the armed forces, and universities and colleges, during the restrictions and challenges of Covid-19’.