The Digital Parish

We continue our Facebook series today here on The Digital Parish asking some questions of priests, religious, bishops, lay people, who have been using digital media before and during the Covid-19 pandemic to reach out online. As well as finding out how people are reaching out online, we are also interested in knowing how they themselves are coping in lockdown and what they miss most at this time of social distancing.

Our latest respondent is Nóirin Lynch, Director of the Margaret Aylward Centre in Glasnevin. She is a native of Limerick, a Clare and Dublin resident and she describes herself as someone learning to live more slowly especially during these days!

Q1. How are you coping day to day with lockdown/social distancing?
I’m coping well I think. I live alone in a one bedroom flat in Dublin, but I’m lucky to have lovely neighbours and to live in an old street with loads of light. So, there are lots of places to walk with nice gardens to admire.

I set up a series of weekly Zoom calls with family and friends at the start and that’s been a lifesaver. Something I’ve realised is that we laugh with people mostly, so I need people to keep me laughing at myself!

Q2. What do you miss most?
I miss hugs and the freedom to go places. I have a newfound respect for prisoners and hermits who have to live with themselves in small spaces!!

I miss the Atlantic seashores a lot – Clare is my home and I usually visit the sea weekly. I miss the smell of seaweed and salt and sand. The colour of foam and stone and shells. The silence of sitting on a windy outcrop and letting it all flow through and around you. I have found morning meditation with dear friends to be a huge support in reclaiming that stillness for my heart.

Q3. How are you reaching out online as a priest/parish/individual? Will you continue this post-Coivid 19?
I am blessed to be employed by the Holy Faith sisters as Director of the Margaret Aylward Centre for Faith and Dialogue in Glasnevin. It’s a stunning space, facing the Botanic Gardens. We closed as soon as the schools did and faced the question of how to minister to people we couldn’t meet in person.

We decided to try three things to offer support at this time:
Firstly a weekly text to all on our contact lists, as a contact which didn’t require internet or unlimited data. This has been very well received.

Secondly is our monthly newsletter which has now become a weekly one, containing a reflection and a resource for the week ahead. Again a positive, gentle connection intended to support.

Finally we decided to offer some courses on Zoom. This was a new medium for us so we offered only nine courses, to small numbers, asking for a donation not a fee so that people weren’t under pressure. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect huge uptake but thought it was important to offer some gentle spaces for engagement. The courses were poetry, singing, creative writing, Christian justice, Soul stories (reflection on spiritual stories), mindfulness, and yoga. To our surprise they all booked up and have proved to be very popular.

In terms of outreach, I’ve come to see both the huge benefits and the limitations of this technology. I am so grateful that we can continue to offer moments of connection, but hugely aware that it is mainly available to people who can afford a laptop and good WiFi. How to stay grounded in the real lived experience of the community is a challenge.

Post Covid-19, I hope that we can continue to stay connected with that wider network (some courses like creative writing work very well online), but also that the wide green spaces we offer here can be a source of healing and nourishment for north side Dubliners as we find our way back into one another’s safe company again. The image of the Emmaus walk strikes me as very valuable for the months ahead – slowly making sense of it all in twos and threes, as we walk under the old Cedar, Yew and Oak trees here.

Q4. What’s the first thing you will do after lockdown/social distancing is eased?
The first thing I want to do is go home to Limerick and to get a good look at my parents and family! Zoom has been a blessing, but nothing beats a hug or a cup of tea with the people you love.

Then the sea. I will probably run into it, cry inappropriately, laugh out loud and sing a song at the same time! I hope I don’t frighten all the other people who are rushing to get there on that day too!!

It will take time, I know, to re ground ourselves after this. I hope I will be kind to those struggling to make sense of life after Covid-19.

Q5. What’s your message to those in need of hope and encouragement at this time?
My message is you are stronger and braver than you give yourself credit for, but that doesn’t mean you have to always feel strong and brave. Please allow yourself some silence in each day to notice how you are, and to feel your feelings. If you can’t love everything at the moment, love some particular moment of the day or some part of life (Sarah Bessey).

In these moments of stillness, of honesty and of love, we can recognise God who has been with us as we walked and worried, who isn’t rushing us or judging us but who is always always walking us home. We are never alone.

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