A bishop has ditched the ceremonial trappings of his office to go undercover in a new television show in a bid to find out why people are turning away from his Church.
Trevor Williams, Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, was known as simply Trevor during his stint posing as an “RTÉ reporter” to get to know his parishioners.
In a format similar to the Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire series, the Limerick-based bishop got to rub shoulders with unsung heroes around Ireland in the documentary.
He presides over 16 parishes and 64 churches across five counties but is facing dwindling numbers, with only about 3,000 regularly attending his churches.
In Would You Believe? Rev Williams believes the Church is now competing with science and human intellect for its place in society.
“For all sorts of reasons in terms of our particular history, religion was seen as a binding force for community in the formation of the Irish State.
“That’s an artificial role for religion.
“Alternative means are on offer now through science and human intellect, through all sorts of explorations,” he said.
“Religion is now seen to be one of the options and for many people quite a discredited option because it is not cool and not fashionable.”
He said it was refreshing to meet people without his crozier and purple bishop’s garb.
He said: “Certainly, not being dressed up as a bishop makes it easier when you start up conversations.
“All the paraphernalia and rig-out of a bishop just says ‘Gosh, this is a person who thinks they are much more important than I am’.
“Who wants to meet a person like that? I was excited to meet people I wouldn’t normally meet and people who are different from me because it is from them that I have the most to learn.”
The bishop decided to be filmed because he realises the Church seems outdated to a lot of the population.
“I am aware that most people feel that religion is something of the past and just not relevant.
During the filming of the series, the bishop poses as a reporter called Trevor and happily dons a hairnet and rolls up his sleeves to peel potatoes to help make Meals On Wheels in the kitchen at the St Munchin’s Family Resource Centre in Limerick.
“The Roman Catholic Church has been such a part of the community but the Church of Ireland has been a different story.
“It is only now beginning to relate to the community in a very free and natural way.
“I needed to go to good people doing great things in the community to see what motivated them.”
In Kenmare, he joined a church-run Men’s Shed Club, where men are learning practical skills.
* Part one of Bishop Undercover: Would You Believe? will air on RTÉ 1 tomorrow at 10.35pm.
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