The time is not yet right to re-open church buildings, Archbishop John McDowell and the leaders of the other main churches in Ireland have stated.
The Church leaders discussed the re-opening of churches and church buildings for collective worship and the possibility of their re-opening for private personal prayer at a video conference meeting on Friday May 1.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches, said that ‘while we all look forward to the day when we can again gather together for collective worship in our churches, we accept that at this time it would not be appropriate to consider a full return to such gatherings.’
The Church leaders did, however, call on the Northern Ireland Executive to keep the issue under regular review, ‘so that when it is safe to do so, there can be an easing of the restrictions.’
With regards to individual visits to church buildings for private prayer, which is a different and a separate matter, the Church leaders said that where this is desired locally, and can be done safely, ‘we would urge government to consider easing this particular restriction sooner rather than later.’
The joint statement in full:
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.
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. We recognise, however, as we have said previously, that to be a community in the real sense of the word, means that as individuals we acknowledge our interdependence. In loving our neighbours, it is important that we all look out for one another and continue to adhere to government advice on social distancing and other measures. The current restrictions are challenging, but are for the common good and the protection of everyone across our island.
While we all look forward to the day when we can again gather together for collective worship in our churches, we accept that at this time it would not be appropriate to consider a full return to such 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.
The issue of church buildings being permitted to open for individual visits and private prayer, where this is desired locally and can be done so safely with appropriate social distancing in place, is however a different and a separate matter. Where the medical and scientific advice indicates that this limited step is possible, we would urge the Executive to consider easing this particular restriction sooner rather than later.
Over the past number of weeks, we have seen the vast majority of the people embracing these challenging, but very necessary, restrictions – working together for the benefit and good of all. We give thanks for this demonstration of love and concern for all in our 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.
The Rt Rev Dr William Henry
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Most Rev Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
The Most Rev John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
The Rev Sam McGuffin
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
The Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson
President of the Irish Council of Churches