By Ann Marie Foley - 05 May, 2020
The Irish government’s phased lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is expected to see churches and places of worship re-open as of 20 July in the penultimate Phase Four of the plan.
It is anticipated that the easing of restrictions in Phase 2 beginning on 8 June will mean that slightly larger groups of people are allowed to attend funerals. As of 20 July, small social gatherings of family and close friends may be allowed, including small weddings and baptisms.
The plan is subject to change depending on how the lifting of the restrictions affects the numbers of people becoming ill with COVID-19.
On the same day that the announcements were made by government (Friday 1 May), the leaders of Ireland’s main churches held a video conference in which they discussed the re-opening of churches and church buildings for collective worship and the possibility of re-opening for private personal prayer.
“As leaders of main churches in Ireland, we recognise that Christians across our land long for the day when we can all gather again inside our church buildings for fellowship and collective worship,” said a joint statement of the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches.
They added: “We want to commend our ministers and clergy for their prayerful and creative use of various online platforms and other means that have brought encouragement, through God’s word and through prayer, to His scattered people. At the same time, we lament the fact that our congregations are unable to gather together in person for worship.”
However, they noted that to be a community means recognising our interdependence and continuing to adhere to government advice on social distancing and other measures. While the current restrictions are challenging, they are for the “common good” and the protection of everyone on the island of Ireland, they stated.
The church leaders added that at this time it is not appropriate to consider a full return to church gatherings, apart from the limited number of people who are able to meet for funeral services.
“At this time, we are not calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to remove the current general restrictions on gathering together for church services, but we are asking that the issue is kept under regular review, so that when it is safe to do so there can be an easing of these restrictions,” they stated.
The issue of church buildings being opened for individual visits and private prayer might be something to be considered when desired locally and when it can be done safely, with appropriate social distancing in place.
“Where the medical and scientific advice indicates that this limited step is possible, we would urge the Executive [in Northern Ireland] to consider easing this particular restriction sooner rather than later,” they stated.
The leaders noted that the vast majority of the people had embraced the challenging, but very necessary, restrictions, and they had worked together for the benefit and good of all. They gave thanks for this demonstration of love and concern for all in the community.
“As we enter into the second full month of this emergency on our island, we urge everyone to remain resolute and vigilant, encouraging one another on, so that we can come through this together,” they concluded.
The statement came from: Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore & Primate of all Ireland; Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland; Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; and Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches.