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- Christmas 2020 Edition -


From the Editor:  Another New Christmas

I recall that last year Virginia and I were happily introducing an American visitor to the joys of the panto, a local Christmas tradition that we had only discovered a year prior, after our own arrival in Cork.

Little did we anticipate the COVID-19 Christmas. Of course, epidemiologists had for at least a few decades, accurately anticipated the characteristics that they already termed “pandemic”, but why us and why now. I suppose that 100 years ago, when Christmas here was marked by the burning of Cork, local people wondered in the same fashion.

There is inherent tension between our human Christmas desire to grasp traditions and the inherent rebirth theme of Christmas that goes back to its earliest winter solstice origins.  It is as if Charles Dickens’ three Christmas ghosts all appeared simultaneously and began wrestling as to determine whether to place the focus of Christmas in the past, present, or future. 

Our imagined Christmas past, reflected in our traditions, does reflect our aspirational wish for the future. Yet our memories of the past are as subjective, just as our anticipations for the future are uncertain. My Christmas prayer is that we can quiet both the subjectivity of the past and anticipation of the future - just enough to appreciate that this present time is a new birth. A birth that is built upon the past, but not belonging to the past. A birth that is destined for the future, but whose presence graces us today.

In the same way, I see in this COVID-19 Christmas another rebirth of Cork Unitarian Church. In this rebirthing process, our community is rediscovering the deepest principles held within our traditions, even as we find new opportunities for expressing them. 

One of those opportunities is this newsletter. In keeping with the times, this newsletter is designed for on-line delivery.  The name “Echoes” is taken from our new courtyard art installation (see accompanying story). It is also reflects our newspaper neighbour on Princes St.  An appropriate association as it ties back to the Christian concept of “the gospel” as “the good news”. More fundamentally, as with an echo, we are looking to play back, in periodic rebirth, that intrinsic good news about who we are and who we hope to be.

Peace, blessings, and a happy New Christmas
Neal Dunnigan, Editor

A Word or Two from the Minister!!!

I cannot in all honesty say that this has been the hardest year in our churches 300-year-old history. It has lived through the famine, two world wars, the War of Independence and the burning of Patrick St in 1920. It has faced near extinction many times, in 1955, we were down to one congregant and plans were afoot to sell the building to a supermarket chain. So, the  hardest, maybe not but the strangest, most definitely.

The work of every minister faces its testing times, it’s the nature of the job, especially in a world where so many more things are more appealing than church but having said that the challenges we have faced as a congregation have been unique in the history of our church. As you will read in an article later in the newsletter, we had to hit he ground running in terms of on-line ministry and for a church with not a lot money and professional resources this proved challenging. I don’t think any of my predecessors were ever faced with a government closure of places of worship, had to lead service with a congregation of masked avengers or take the painful decision not to reopen the church for Christmas in order to protect the well being of our congregation and their loved ones. Then of course. ,like all other churches and businesses, we were hit hard financially. All our rental income from the church hall dried up.

It forced us to reimagine our ideas about church, to realise that church is not about the building, as historic as it is, it is only bricks and mortar, it is not the church.

On a practical note, we have used this time to plan for the future, thanks to hard work of our secretary, Colm Noonan and the Mgt Committee we now have a three- year financial plan and things look a little more optimistic than they did.

We have done much work behind the scenes to strengthen “ our brand” to use a marketing term. Much has been done around, Mission, Vision and Values.
We have sustained virtual services throughout Covid-19, even live streaming on a Sunday from the ministers home and our night prayer services earlier this month reached the landmark of 9 months continuous broadcasting.

Having said all of that, people are the heartbeat of our church, our vibrant, diverse congregation, all shapes and sizes, differing views and opinions, different life stories and different life journeys and so, at the end of the day, we look forward to gathering once again in safety.

Have a wonderful Christmas and raise a glass or two to 2021!!

Mike O’Sullivan, Minister

(Cork Unitarian Church Mnister Rev. William Weatherall & friend)

The Burning of Patrick St, 1920

On the 11th of December, this year our city marked the centenary of the burning of Patrick Street by British forces in 1920. The wider context of the attack was the war of Independence in which the city and county had played a pivotal role. The burning was preceded earlier that evening by an attack on British forces in Dillons Cross on the northside of the city.

That night, in retaliation the Black and Tans set about the systematic burning of Patrick Street. The last fire would be started at 6 am the morning of the 12th. The attack saw the city’s main street completely destroyed. In all over 5 acres of buildings were raised to the ground. Many iconic businesses were destroyed including Cash’s department store and the iconic Munster Arcade. In all, in the weeks before Christmas over 2,000 people lost their jobs. Unlike today, the city centre was also a residential area, with many as a result left homeless. The cost of the damage was in the millions of pounds.

In the weeks leading up to the attack, tensions had been high, as the city was under a curfew. In a strange and ironic twist, in 1920, many Corkonians were doing their shopping by post.

Our church stands just about ten yards from Patrick street and managed to escape unscathed However, the minister didn’t escape the attention of the British forces. The Rev. William Weatherall woke in the dead of night to find a member of the Black and Tans attempting to set fire to the curtains in his front room. The good reverend tackled the man, over- powering him and tying him up with the cord from his dressing gown before calling the police.

Rev Weatherall served as minister of our church from 1912 until his retirement in 1954. He died in 1956 and is buried in the NSPCI church, Moira, Co. Down. His grand- daughter, Dianne is a member of our congregation.


2020 and the COVID-19 Christmas
I remember sitting in my office in the church, almost a year to the day. Joe Duffy’s “Liveline” was on the radio. I was in the middle of writing a sermon and I stopped what I was doing to listen more closely. Joe was talking a man named Peter, an Irishman and a resident of the Chinese city of Wuhan. He was describing how the city was under attack from a virus that originated in a local market. The virus was running rampant. It was the first time I heard a word that would become a part of our everyday vocabulary, “lockdown.” Peter explained that Wuhan was in Lockdown, that the streets were deserted and that he was only able to leave his apartment to get essential food shopping. All life in Wuhan he explained had ground to a halt. 

While fascinated by his story, no doubt like many others listening that day, I really didn’t give it a second thought. To me from a far- away vantage point, it was a problem confined to a city in China I had never even heard of before. Little did I know! The rest as they say is history, it is a history that we will be glad to see the back of.

 We learnt a new vocabulary; lockdown, social distancing, and sanitizing. Pictures we had seen on the news, that perhaps made us smile of people walking around cities like Beijing wearing face masks, were now the very pictures we were taking of each other. Life has been turned upside down and inside out. Many couldn’t work, others worked from home, still more lost jobs. Everything changed, the way we met, the way we shopped., how and where we socialized. Sadly, thousands died here in our own country, tens of thousands caught the virus, most thankfully returning to full health. For elderly and vulnerable it has been particularly hard, theirs has been the greatest shock, many still isolating. 

Perhaps the most tragic part of this year was seeing the families of those who died unable to say goodbye in a time- honoured way, it added and deepened both the loss and the grief. Funerals are part of Irish life, often a community wants to show its combined respect, wants to play its part in the final farewell. Sadly, this was not and still is not the case. 

This article could go on for pages and still barely scratch the surface of how Covid has impacted each of our lives and our country. As I write Christmas is around the corner, the hope and light echoed by Christmas reflected in the imminent arrival on our shores of a vaccine. If ever we needed a “ shot in the arm” it is now.

Mike O'Sullivan, Minister

The Church and Online Ministry
On Sunday the 15th of March, this year before service, I was standing at the church gates before taking service. I was chatting to our Chair, Brian Cluer. Rumours were rife of a Lockdown, though we had no idea what that would entail for us a church. We took the decision that morning that that mornings service would be the last, as we would close the church for three weeks. In my short time as a Minister, I have been blessed not too have many sad moments in my ministry but standing in front of the congregation and telling them services were being suspended was one of them. The sadness in the church that day was palpable. Those weeks would turn into months.

One of the things we realised was that because the building had been closed, the same should not apply to the church. While a great theory, the practicalities of such a statement were new to us. Yes, we had a website and a Facebook page, but broadcasting services was something we had never contemplated. Eager and maybe a little mad, we jumped right into the deep end. The following Sunday, using our Facebook page we both broadcast service from the church and at times from the ministers house, we launched into Night Prayer broadcast twice a week. Mistakes were made, bad sound, no sound, framing all over the place, bad lighting and bad backgrounds.

In the meantime, Rev Mike did a video presentation course with the Video Ministry Academy, an American based Unitarian ministry run by Peter Bowden, himself a Unitarian an TV producer with PBS. Our services have continued consistently right through out the pandemic, be it from home or the church, we have not missed a single service or Night Prayer.

Our Night Prayer expanded to include guest service leaders, members of our congregation, ministers of the NSPCI, a minister of the United Reformed Church and a Roman Catholic missionary priest.

As a member of the Friday Jazz Vespers team, those too have been on-line, our minister took part in the 3 Faith Forum's Inter Faith Zoom Service. Along with our church in Dublin we took part in a Zoom Carol Service with the Unitarian Church in Manhattan New York and our minister was asked to contribute a video reflection for the Glimmer of Light campaign run by the church in the UK.

In terms of a consistent on-line presence, for our size and resources, we have done extraordinarily well.

Worship Program for Christmas:
  • Christmas Eve: Carol Service broadcast from the NSPCI, time and Facebook link to be confirmed. Please watch our Facebook page for details. Time, expected to be 6pm
  • Christmas Day Service: 11 am, Live streamed from the church on our Facebook page. Led by the Minister.
  • Sunday, 27th: Sunday Service, live streamed. Led by minister, this will be a shorter service with no sermon. From here on, Sunday services run as normal.
  • Night Prayer: Wed 23rd Live streamed on our Facebook page at 10pm.

  • Night Prayer then takes a break and returns on 6th January 2021.
  • A decision about the continuation of Night Prayer Services will be taken toward the end of that month.

A Spiritual Artistic Work for Distressed Times

(Artist and Church Member Virginia Giglio explains a bit about her contribution to her congregation at Cork Unitarian Church)

Before we all became aware of the seriousness of Covid-19 (around mid-March 2020) people were waking up to the fact of climate change and were making mindful changes in their own ways of living. 

When Covid-19 took hold, those environmental concerns got far less attention. Our hospitals, healthcare workers and their patients took centre stage and rightly so.

I became committed, during lockdown, to increased personal recycling efforts due to all the increased plastic waste that I knew would be generated in hospitals. I felt it was incumbent on all of us as good citizens to redouble our efforts.

To my surprise, experiments I made with a few Tayto crisp bags and household rubbish turned into full blown artistic efforts. I began to make greeting cards, jewellery, Christmas garlands, playhouses, funny hats, puppets, and other toys for neighbour children from materials that ordinarily go into the rubbish or recycling bin. 

My magnum opus, incorporating the processing of six months full of colourful rubbish, was a large wall collage that I entitled “Shebang” as in “the whole shebang.”

Shebang incorporates everything from coloured paper food store circulars to old wiring to discarded PVC pipe to cans. It hangs in my studio as inspiration to find beauty where others might miss it

When my minister from Cork Unitarian Church, Reverend Mike O’Sullivan, saw Shebang, he got an idea. Kay, his wife, had called his attention to a boarded-up window at our church. They wondered if I might be inspired to create a work of art there. Mike suggested that I incorporate some quote from a spiritual book, or poetry - it was up to me. Exciting!

An idea flashed in my head. During lockdown I had subscribed to the Cork Echo newspaper home delivery. Whereas before Covid I had bought the paper on the street, more frequent home delivery was something I ordered to support the Echo during the lockdown. Therefore, I had stacks waiting to become art!

I decided to use words clipped from Echo headlines to create a piece of visual poetry. This was a departure from any established scripture and would leave the message open and up to the viewer. It could be read from up, down, or sideways - viewer’s choice. This struck me as a very Unitarian concept.

Reverend O’Sullivan’s challenge would also involve making the art stand up to Irish weather. That means I needed to treat everything with waterproofing sprays and test them outside. I also made as many doodads out of wrapping, parcels, or other plastic articles as I could to complement the visual poetry: spirals, stripes, painted metal, and things that jiggle. All of this became the collage entitled “Unitarian Echoes.”

Nothing can stand up to weather forever, but Unitarian Echoes should last a long time and provoke a lot of thought. As I put it together, I meditated on members of the church and words that might represent them. In the piece you might read “hope of recovery”, “peaceful demonstration”, a different path”, and “we’re not there yet.” Single words include “thrills”, “tasty” and even “coffee” in honour of our friendly fellowship before and after the service. The poem is a result of prayer, imagination, and a generous dose of humour.

The unveiling of Unitarian Echoes included my signing of the work and people gathered around as social distance would allow to “find themselves” and other messages in the art. 

When you are in Cork, please come by the Unitarian Church courtyard on Prince’s Street near the end of the English Market. Maybe you will see an echo of yourself there somewhere!

Virginia Giglio, PhD

Cork Community Chaplaincy Services
(CCCS) is a new ministry of Cork Unitarian Church

CCCS provides support to the client-facing volunteers in organisations that service clients who have experienced some form of trauma. The helping organisations that CCCS supports include both secular community organisations and faith-based ministries. The focus of  CCCS is to help volunteers become more emotionally resilient for themselves and more effective for their clients and sponsoring organisations. 

You may have encountered various kinds of chaplains in a school, hospital, military, or even fire brigade. CCCS is a first in Ireland as it is a community chaplaincy and not aligned to serving a single specific organisation. CCCS is a chaplaincy without walls. The CCCS concept was developed by Neal Dunnigan who saw a need to move chaplaincy services (increasingly known as spiritual care services) beyond the organisational constraints of hospitals, schools , and other institutions.  "I see CCCS' work to be very expressive of Cork Unitarian Church's values about love and concern for humanity and our collective efforts to express it" says CCCS founder Neal.

Many denominations, including Unitarian churches are now incorporating some form of chaplaincy services as one of their ministries. These new chaplaincy ministries typically serve church members, and often they are an external outreach service of the local church to the broader community.

For CCCS, chaplaincy services follow the model set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO defines spirituality as those things that provide us with meaning, purpose, and connectedness. This approach resonates with
Cork Unitarian Church's value statement on the freedom to individually search for, develop and express our own sense of personal spirituality.

With many churches starting to adopt chaplaincy programs of different sorts, there is naturally a lot of variation in focus and in training.  The “gold standard” for chaplaincy training is the board certification available to qualified healthcare chaplains. The standardised training for healthcare chaplains consist of 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).  CPE is very much a chaplain internship program usually run in a properly qualified hospital. Each of those CPE units consists of 100 hours of classroom training, and 300 hours of clinical work. In addition to the CPE training, board certification also requires a theology or related degree. This November, Neal Dunnigan was board certified as an Irish healthcare chaplain by the Chaplaincy Accreditation Board.  Neal’s board certification brings CCCS up to the highest professional standards for chaplaincy.

Recent CCCS activities include Zoom training sessions on Stress First Aid (SFA). “I’m glad that were able to work with the Unitarian church to offer this SFA training via Zoom and focus it on some of the current COVID-19 issues”, said Neal.

More information about CCCS and its services can be found on its web site:

Support the Good  Work of  Your Church

We are not a large church, we do not have vast bank accounts or huge tracts of rental properties, infact, we have none!! Our income is derived from the generosity of those who feel a connection with our church in whatever way.

Like everybody else, we too have been hit hard by this COVID-19 pandemic. The Sunday collection plate is a tradition which is rich in symbolism, but much less effective in the days where financial services are increasingly moving to virtual.

We believe that  you feel drawn to financially support the Cork Unitarian Church's mission and work. Your financial contributions will be thankfully accepted and used with our best stewardship. You will have not only our deepest thanks but continuing place in our thoughts and prayers.

You can now contribute your support electronically, be it a once off or a reoccurring payment. You may do so, through the safety and security of PayPal by using the link. Simply, click here:

​Thank you for your generosity and your commitment to our church and its work.

Our Church and Interfaith Work

Being Unitarians, we do not see ourselves as “the one true faith”, we do not see any particular path as having exclusive bragging rights. The minister often uses the example of a quote he heard that refers to many different rivers flowing through many different landscapes, all to flow into the one ocean. 

As such, Interfaith work is important to us, a chance to show that whatever our concept of God, whatever the nuances of theology, we are all on the same unpredictable, topsy turvy journey that is life.  

Throughout this year, restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued our approach of being an Open and Affirming church through our engagement with other faiths. At the start of the year in January, we welcomed members of the Buddhist community to use our church for their celebrations of the Chinese New Year. Amongst other things it involved the lighting of a thousand candles, something that had never been done in the over 300-year history of our church. 

This year also saw not only the continuation of but the growth of a First Friday Jazz Vespers service with the Methodist church in Cork under the leadership of their minister The Rev Andrew Robinson. Since March, the services have moved on-line. 

Here in Cork, our church is a part of the 3 Faiths Forum. It is a clerical and lay collaboration of churches/members of the three Abrahamic faiths ( Christianity, Islam and Judaism ). Earlier this year, our minister was elected secretary of the group which has members from the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and YMCA traditions, along with members of the Munster Jewish Community and members of Islam, representing the mosques in Cork city. 

Indeed, plans to hold a 3 Faith Forum multi faith, multi- cultural event in our church, had to be put on hold because of COVID-19. But hopefully, sometime in 2021!

Emmanuel  By Sarah 

Emmanuel means "God is with us."

Who is your Emmanuel?
Who is your "God is with us," the one you were promised, the one you have been waiting for?

For the ancient prophet Isaiah, he was a boy soon to be born who would guide the people of Judah back to peace and harmony with God. He would bring hope for victory and greatness in the tribe. He would be a gift from God to his chosen people.

Who is your Emmanuel, your "God is with us"?

For Christians, he is Jesus of Nazareth. The baby in the Christmas story who grew to be a remarkable teacher among the Jewish people; whose ideas about love, forgiveness, and justice changed the world forever.

Who is your Emmanuel, your "God is with us"?

Perhaps your Emmanuel is a political leader, standing for the rights of the oppressed—a Martin Luther King, a Gandhi, a Mother Jones. Perhaps in their work with people you feel God is with us.

Who is your Emmanuel, your "God is with us"?

Perhaps your Emmanuel is an artist, bringing transcendence to the human spirit and lifting our hopes and dreams into the light—a J.S. Bach, a Vincent Van Gogh, a William Shakespeare. Perhaps in the presence of great beauty and creativity you feel God is with us.

Who is your Emmanuel, your "God is with us"?

Perhaps it is a child. Created from our bodies, the child who is filled with the potential to do every great thing. Your promise from God that the world has hope for justice and beauty. For in the presence of a child we too can feel that God is with us all.

Have a very...



and Safe

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