The following statement has been issued by the Most Rev John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, on the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement in relation to the Coronavirus Recovery Plan and returning to public worship:
“I warmly welcome the Northern Ireland Executive’s approach to the next phase of the roadmap out of lockdown and the announcement regarding how church buildings may be used again for public worship and associated activities from June 29 2020.
“As we have said in the Church of Ireland’s Return to In-Church Worship Protocols, the reopening of our buildings and public gatherings for worship will only commence when this can be done safely, observing all the public health advice and guidance to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
“Parishes are therefore not under any pressure to open for public worship on any specified date – they should only open when the clergyperson and Select Vestry are sure that they can do so safely. The health and well-being of parishioners and of the whole community is paramount.
“Social distancing, hand sanitisation, and respiratory hygiene will need to be guaranteed and practised within our buildings so that members of our parishes can feel safe when they return to public worship. Although some discretion in relation to social distancing has been announced, the two-metre rule will be followed for the foreseeable future, for the assurance of all and until people’s confidence builds.
“The layout of our buildings and the services provided will be different in this new reality and I would ask for patience, understanding and active co-operation as we adapt to new ways of doing familiar things. Hopefully, these new arrangements will be on a temporary basis; for exactly how long will not be clear. It will all depend on how long the threat of coronavirus remains.
“If it makes them feel more comfortable when gathering with others, people may wish to wear face coverings. Others may not. As singing may carry an increased risk of dispersing the virus, innovative ways of using music within the liturgy will need to be developed.
“As we slowly move towards a new normality, worship across the Church will be offered through both online and in-church services to facilitate those who may find themselves unable to worship with others in corporate worship for the time being.
“The Church will find ways to minister to those who will, of necessity, continue shielding because of their dangerous vulnerability to the virus. For them, the experience of lockdown has been particularly difficult and they are advised to take great care to keep safe from harm. Those at greatest risk and those who have suffered most, have not, and will not, be forgotten.
“More than three months have now passed since the introduction of the lockdown and our next steps will need to be careful, cautious, and gradual. I again express my gratitude to all in parish leadership for the way they continue to adapt and to serve the needs of parishioners and the wider community.”